TV & Radio
Gay-wed split hurts cause, proves no guarantees in love
By Margery Eagan
Boston Herald Columnist
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Just two years ago Julie and Hillary Goodridge - with their girl-next-door good looks and adorable child - became the perfect poster family for gay marriage in Massachusetts. They were the lead plaintiffs, in fact, in the case Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health.
But now the couple so publicly wed is separating. And that private, personal decision has become, like their decision to marry, a subject of contentious public debate.
Alex Westerhoff is tough and critical. With his spouse, Tom Lang, he publishes names of anti-gay-marriage citizens on their Web site, Know thy Neighbor.org. Westerhoff called the separation “irresponsible. It hurts the cause, especially since the decision was named after them.”
At Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway theater in Somerville, gay comedian Julie Goldman just performed a very funny bit about her conservative Jewish mother coming to terms with her daughter, the groom. Yet Goldman worries, too, that the split of the gay movement’s star couple does matter, “even though half of heterosexual marriages end in divorce.”
One of those divorced heterosexuals admitted Friday that he’s reveling, perversely - taking the misery-loves-company perspective on the Goodridge breakup. What bothered him in news about gay marriage were all these gay couples proclaiming everlasting, deep, abiding, unending love.
“Nice to know it doesn’t last for them, either,” he said.
Whatever the Goodridges’ specific problems (they did not respond to a Herald interview request) one aspect of their relationship is decidedly not the same.
They married at the end of a crusade. They were pioneers in a social revolution. As one gay woman who knows them put it Friday, “Most couples don’t have to declare their perfect love, to talk about it publicly in endless poetic terms” to prove to a suspect, doubting world that they are worthy of matrimony.
“In some sense,” the friend said, “they volunteered to be used by a social movement that needed just such a regular couple. We took advantage of that, and that’s part of why I feel why bad. No one can ever anticipate the toll (public scrutiny) can take.” Or the stress of maintaining that public image.
Clearly at some point one or both women decided that the public image and private reality were painfully at odds. One or both decided to do something about it. Then came what’s common ground in any family breakup: the withering sense of loss, failure and disorientation.
Gloria and Linda Bailey-Davies also were among the original seven couples who sued the state to marry. Gloria Bailey-Davies says it’s important to remember, “No matter what happens, that Julie and Hillary Goodridge made a huge contribution to equal rights.” That if they were not married, there would not now be the same legal protections for their little girl or each other.
“It works both ways,” she said. “Protections if we stay married or if we break up.”
Bailey-Davies also remembered how everybody swarmed the Goodridges during the gay marriage rallies.
“Everyone wanted to talk to them, and so they became the couple who bared their soul,” she said.
Google their names. They’re everywhere - in People magazine, in Spanish and French newspapers. Theirs became the international image of wedded gay bliss: two joyous young women running across Beacon Street in white pants suits, holding hands and spring bouquets on their wedding day, driving off with their laughing daughter in a blue VW Beetle, “Just Married” on the window and cans trailing.
Yet in only two years, something changed. Said Bailey-Davies, “They love each other very much. . . . It’s very sad.”
A heavy, symbolic load
By Eileen McNamara, Boston Globe Columnist | July 23, 2006
No married couple is meant to live under a microscope. Not Brad and Jen, not Charles and Diana, not Julie and Hillary Goodridge.
The separation of the Jamaica Plain couple would be a private family matter had the Goodridges not lent their name to the lawsuit that led to the state Supreme Judicial Court's landmark decision legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts. Because they invited us to the wedding, we feel entitled to the details of any possible divorce. A place in history has a price, and that price in modern America is privacy.
This is what happens when a nation, shaped by complex ideas, devolves into a tabloid culture preoccupied with personal narratives. A social movement gains legitimacy only when it can be personified on the cover of People magazine.
The Goodridges were the poster couple for same-sex marriage, chosen by lawyers as schooled in public relations as they were in discrimination law. Attractive, professional women -- 49-year-old Julie runs an investment firm, and Hillary, 50, works for the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program. Telegenic and articulate, they had been together as a committed couple for 17 years before the state legally recognized their union. Living in a lovely Victorian house, they had been parenting their daughter, Annie, for seven of those years.
The lawsuit that would win them the right to marry would confer that same right on the men in boas marching in the annual Gay Pride parade, but it was the Goodridges that were meant to be the face of same-sex marriage.
Gay rights activists had learned something about marketing from the abortion rights movement. They wanted to avoid another Norma McCorvey. McCorvey was a 21-year-old waitress, pregnant and unmarried, when she agreed to become the lead plaintiff in a class-action suit challenging a Texas antiabortion statute. Three years later, as the Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade, she made history when the US Supreme Court overturned the Texas statute in the milestone decision that legalized abortion in every state .
Norma's hard luck story found a receptive audience among abortion-rights supporters, eager to portray abortion as a necessity for poor, desperate women rather than a convenience for unhappily pregnant college students, even though the reality encompasses both.
Twenty-two years later, Operation Rescue set up shop next to the clinic in Dallas where McCorvey worked, and the other side seized the opportunity to use her for its own ends. McCorvey soon was denouncing abortion as murder; the networks carried news of her baptism in a Dallas swimming pool. In interviews, she suggested that abortion providers were bombing their own clinics to collect insurance money. One of her former attorneys wished aloud that she had chosen her plaintiff more carefully.
It was an unfair burden for McCorvey then, and it is an unfair burden for Goodridges now. It takes broad shoulders to carry a social movement. No single person, no single couple should bear that load alone, even symbolically.
More than 7,000 couples have married since same-sex marriage won legal recognition in Massachusetts. Most of those unions are the successful culmination of deep and abiding commitments. Some of those unions have frayed at the edges. But no marriage carried the dual pressure of private promise and public symbol as that of Julie and Hillary Goodridge.
Their long-established relationship insulates them from the inevitable ugliness that comes in the wake of their separation when gay marriage is again on the public agenda as opponents work to place a constitutional amendment on the 2008 ballot that would outlaw same-sex unions in Massachusetts. ``The timing of the split is causing many to wonder if their `love' at the time of the lawsuit was a sham," sneered the haters at the right-wing website MassNews.com .
Honorable people know better. Their separation, as much as their marriage, underscores how similar the Goodridges are to the heterosexuals next door.
Eileen McNamara is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.