Sunday, April 26, 2015

A same sex marriage, 200 years ago

Is same sex marriage a recent phenomenon? Actually, it isn't. Let me explain.

On Tuesday, the odd legal team of David Boies and Ted Olsen (who opposed each other in the infamous Bush vs Gore debacle) will try to build on their previous victories in striking down Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Now, they're going for the jugular at the US Supreme Court and trying to legalize same sex marriage everywhere in America.

But for those who think this is a civil rights movement of recent vintage, it may come as a shock that the battle has been going on for more than two centuries in America. And in the early 1800s, two women actually got away with it and set the precedent. Let me explain.

In the recently published book Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachel Hope Cleves, we learn a surprising fact.

Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake used a loophole in Vermont's common-law marriage statute and lived as a married couple from 1807 to 1851. In fact, Bryant had had at least two lesbian lovers before she settled down with Drake. This is an incredibly moving and sentimental story of love at its purest by two women who were both teachers and tailors by trade, poets by hobby, and deeply religious by practice.

Remarkably, their marriage was tolerated by the community they lived in and prospered. Sadly, much of their shared correspondence was burned so we will never know the true extent of how deeply they were into each other. But the writer does specify that when Vermont formally legalized civil unions and later gay and lesbian marriage, many legislators noted Charity and Sylvia's marriage as their precedent. It was truly a surprising story for me and a delight to read.

That's right, folks, gay marriage is two hundred years old. Let's hope it becomes a permanent fixture in the States just as it is here in Canada. It doesn't bother me, and I don't can't understand why it bothers anyone.

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