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Is it safe?

Well, is it? Marilyn Riedel can’t get married to Connie Guardino, through no fault of her own, and yet the government’s refusing to give her the aid it would give any other veteran in her shoes.

Marilyn Riedel, 61, a disabled Army veteran, has trouble moving, drinking and eating. It’s difficult for her to talk because her worsening Parkinson’s disease makes her tongue quiver. But she’s so lucky. She’s lucky because a woman named Connie Guardino, 58, loves her with her whole heart. Whatever the future may offer, this couple will face it together, and they’d like to do it in a cute little two-bedroom home on Illinois Street. If they were married, they could have it. But because they are a same-sex couple, they’ve been rejected for a loan by the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

So is it safe? Not quite yet, apparently. Delaware’s banning same-sex marriages and civil unions. They’re going to try to write this exclusion into the state constitution. This is apparently very important business—

I don’t know of anything that disgusts me more than seeing two women get married on television, where one is dressed like a man and has a haircut like a man. I guess they take turns being the man on different nights.

So says Senator Robert L. Venables, a proud Democrat. Will that make it safe, Bob? Maybe not. There’s a county in Tennessee wants charge homosexuals with crimes against nature.

The Rhea County commissioners approved the request 8-0 Tuesday.

Commissioner J.C. Fugate, who introduced the measure, also asked the county attorney to find a way to enact an ordinance banning homosexuals from living in the county.

Will that make it safe? Will it?

Of course not. It will never be safe. It isn’t about keeping marriage safe, and it isn’t about morality, and it isn’t about Christ, and it isn’t about the Bible. The Real Live Preacher already ripped the lid off that pathetic lie

Show me your scriptures. Show me how you justify condemning homosexual people.

Show me what you got, Christian. The Sodom story? That story is about people who wanted to commit a brutal rape. Let’s all say it together, “God doesn’t like rape.” You could have listened to your heart and learned that, Christian. Move on. What else you got?

A weak-ass little passage from Leviticus? Are you kidding me? Are you prepared to adhere to the whole Levitical code of behavior? No? Then why would you expect others to? What else?

Two little passages—two verses from Romans and one from I Corinthians. There you stand, your justification for a worldwide campaign of hatred is written on two limp pieces of paper. I know these passages, both their greater context and the original language. I could show you why you have nothing, but there is something more important you need to see.

Come with me to the church cellar. Come now and don’t delay. I am shaking with anger and fighting the urge to grab you by the collar and drag you down these steps.

You didn’t know the church had a cellar? Oh yes, every church does. Down, down we go into the darkness. Don’t slip on the flagstone and never mind the heat.

There, do you see the iron furnace door, gaping open? Do you see the roaring flames? Do you see the huge man with glistening muscles, covered with soot? Do you see him feeding the fire as fast as can with his massive, scooped shovel?

He feeds these flames with the bible, with every book, chapter, and verse that American Christians must burn to support our bloated lifestyles, our selfishness, our materialism, our love of power, our neglect of the poor, our support of injustice, our nationalism, and our pride.

See how frantically he works? Time is short, and he has much to burn. The prophets, the Shema, whole sections of Matthew, most of Luke, the entire book of James. Your blessed 10 commandments? Why would you want to post them on courtroom walls when you’ve burned them in your own cellar?

Do you see? DO YOU SEE? Do you see how we rip, tear, and burn scripture to justify our lives?

The heat from this cursed furnace rises up and warms the complacent worshippers in the pews above. The soot from the fire blackens our stained glass so that we may not see out and no one wants to see in.

Do you smell the reek of this injustice? It is a stink in the nostrils of the very living God. We are dressed in beautiful clothes and we wear pretty smiles, but we stink of this blasphemous holocaust.

Every church in America has a cellar like this. We must shovel 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, because every chapter and book we ignore must be burned to warm our comfy pews.

And you come to me with two little scraps of scripture to justify your persecution of God’s children?

Sit down Christian. Sit down and be you silent.

What use is marriage, if I have to treat so many people like so much shit to keep it safe? People I know and love? Why would I want any part of it? Why would you?

(We’re still marrying same-sex couples in Multnomah County. Benton County joins us in a few days. Massachusetts will be here soon enough, out here in the wider world, out here in the twenty-first century. And look! The world keeps keeping on. —Marriage is as safe as ever it was.)

Cocks crowing; dogs barking.

Five days after 9/11, I got my birthday presents. They Might Be Giants were supposed to play the Crystal Ballroom that night, so there was something of a theme: Mink Car and McSweeney’s no. 6, the one they did the soundtrack for. That McSweeney’s came as a long, low, hardbound book, and the front cover is stamped with the following:


I still get shivers.

So I open it up to Breyten Breytenbach’s essay, “Notes from the Middle World,” which, he says, “is, and is not, the same as the Global Village.

Let’s say that those of the Middle World—I think of them as uncitizens, the way you have un-American activities as opposed to non- or anti-American—are global village vagrants, knights of the naked star. They are defined by what they are not, or no longer, and not so much by what they oppose or even reject. They ventured into zones where truths no longer fit snugly and where certainties do not overlap, and most likely they get lost there.

Which was rather shockingly rendered obsolete five days before I first cracked the cover. (Except it wasn’t: nothing was changed that day, not anything like that, because the terrorists didn’t win after all, not yet, and the Middle World is still very much where we left it; what else is Eastern Standard Tribe about, if not life in the Middle World?) —Breytenbach quotes a letter from a West African poet named Ka’afit:

The word “peace.” Ah, how voluptuous. Like “democracy.” It just fills the mouth with its familiar, well-sucked, inoffensive, satisfying taste. As if one were experiencing one’s goodness. No indigestion. No burnt lips. It won’t cause constipation and you won’t grow fat on it either. In fact, it carries no nutritional connotation whatsoever. And guaranteed to have no secondary effects: it won’t provoke a rash of freedom, let alone the aches of justice. Ah, “peace,” “democracy,” soft drugs of self-absorption—how we love to talk sweet nothings with them tucked in the cheek hard by the tongue, chew them, take them out at international conferences to lick the contours before plopping them back in the mouth…

And then I close the book, because that’s about all I’d want to say to anyone who seems to think it’s somehow unseemly to have an election as scheduled after a terrorist attack. —They’re sucking on different words, but the effect’s much the same.

Always remember that genre lies; that a division is made to keep apart that which would naturally flow together; that something there is that does not love a wall. (“Art in life is not life,” Ad Reinhardt is kind enough to remind us, at the end of that McSweeney’s. “Life in art is not life. People in art are not people. Dogs in art are dogs.”) The 60-year-old and the 16-year-old are the same person, really, for all that they’re at each other’s throats. I’ve put aside Breytenbach’s cosmopolitan utopia so I can read you some Dennis McBride—this is a poem called “The Future of Rome,” and I keep it clipped up on the commonplace board above my desk:

Let’s say having increases hunger,
that light makes it harder to really see.
Then suppose, like me, you don’t have eyes,
suppose you don’t have ears to hear
and there is no nose.
Imagine, like me,
you don’t even have a mouth
to put the sweet soft black berry in.
But suppose there are Red and Green and Yellow,
that you feel them.
Then suppose you had a lamp
bigger than you are to lean against,
a dark maroon red carpet to sit on
and a blue teacup large as your chest.
Then imagine, like me
you were made of gold,
that you were willing to be idle
and were the one to come after Man.
Think of having only to sit,
of the heart’s thoughts,
of fear leading finally to safety,
speech to silence.
Think of enough.

And so I do, I close my eyes and suppose for a minute, and then, well, that’s enough, right? And so I get up and head back out into—what?

I don’t know. It’s after midnight. I’m putting off other work.

But I’ll let you know as soon as I figure it out.