Jane Addams was the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize, as the Peace Prize laureate in 1931. She was also a woman who saw herself as married - not just 'as good as' - to another woman. In fact, she wrote as much - clear as day. In 1902.
We are starting off our vintage married lesbians - okay, fine, vintage lesbians who were married/as good as married/should have totally been married - week with two of my favorites: the pretty spectacular Peaches Stevens and Edna Knowles, whose 1970 marriage at Liz's Mark III Lounge gay bar on the south side of Chicago was written up in Jet magazine! The piece describes their celebration, which included happy family and friends on hand to support them, as well as a 'type of marriage license' which was, of course, unofficial.
They're our first featured couple for several reasons. First, the expression on Peaches's face! So. Much. Joy. Second, queer women of color have been integral to the fight for equality, and they do not, unfortunately, receive the recognition they deserve in mass media coverage. Third, since I'm writing as a girl getting married in the near-ish future: I really, really love Edna's dress. And would like a close-up like yesterday. Is that a watteau train? Want.
Most importantly, we chose Peaches and Edna because they were two women who formalized their relationship well before the Dutch in 2001, or the state of Massachusetts in 2004. Despite the lack of legal recognition - after all, it's 45 years later, and we're still waiting on that - Peaches and Edna were married before family and friends who affirmed that commitment. Their wedding was written up in Jet, photo and all.
While the editorial team at Jet stopped shy of full-on celebrating, as other articles have pointed out - although to my editor's eye, the quotes around 'bridegroom' is actually more of a slight than those around 'married,' since the article explains that their marriage is not legally recognized and the word bride, referencing Edna, has no quotes - they still ran a photo and piece about two women getting married. In 1970! And said that they were happy! (For perspective, newspapers running same-sex engagement or marriage announcements is still making the news.)
So, here's one example of a society - a small one, to be sure - prior to the Netherlands in 2001 who not only recognized a same-sex marriage, but celebrated it. There's even a magazine that printed it. And most importantly, here are two beautiful women on their wedding day, making a commitment to each other out of love. Isn't that what all marriages are about?
The line of questioning directed to Mary Bonauto in last Tuesday's oral arguments before the Supreme Court on the right to marry curiously focused on one point: the 'millennia' during which the definition of marriage excluded homosexual couples. I didn't find this idea of 'millennia' to be particularly persuasive, and neither did Bonauto, who did an excellent job refuting it. But it got me thinking: is it really so that there was no 'gay marriage' prior to the Netherlands in 2001? In this instance, in reply to this complex issue, the answer is a nuanced 'no.' It is true that legal marriage was not extended to gay couples prior to 2001, but to say that gay couples prior to 2001 did not seek marriage, did not live in marriage-like relationships, were not accepted by their communities as 'married' is simply not true. There were many couples who were 'as good as' married but who couldn't possibly have been recognized as such by the state. As Bonauto insisted yesterday, it took a long time to convince the courts of the basic human dignity of LGBT people. Marriage wasn't on the horizon when the fight was for recognition as people. We see examples of similarly committed gay couples throughout history, but for the sake of argument and time, I'll confine myself to a very brief overview historical American lesbians (and also because the Wikipedia page focuses on gay male couples).