Sunday, November 30, 2008


In Western cultures, for the most part we marry for love. The idea that someone else has the right to choose a spouse for us and we are honour/tradition/legally bound to marry the chosen person is outrageous to us, a clear violation of our right to self-determination.

Equally repugnant is the idea that we can be told who not to marry. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that miscegenation laws were still on the books of many US states and that right to our freedom of choice in marriage partners was abridged. In 1958 in the state of Virginia, a black woman and her white husband were arrested in their own bedroom for living together as an interracial couple. The judge offered to suspend their sentence if they would agree to exile: they were to leave their home state of Virginia for a minimum of 25 years.

It took nearly ten years of that time for their case to come to the US Supreme Court, but in 1967 the Court ruled: “Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis…so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious…discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not to marry, a person…resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”*

At the time of this ruling, 17 Southern states (all of the former slave states plus Oklahoma) still enforced miscegenation laws. After this ruling, those laws were no longer in effect and numerous states repealed them. But it took South Carolina until 1998 and Alabama until 2000 to officially amend their constitutions. The laws were repealed, but hardly by a landslide. More than 30 years after the federal government prohibited racial discrimination in marriage, 38% of voters in South Carolina and 41% of voters in Alabama were against repeal of these discriminatory statutes.

Interestingly, when we marry we accrue to ourselves and our partners a host of legal and customary rights that are not available to us when we cohabit. The “it’s just a piece of paper” argument isn’t really correct because without that maligned piece of paper, you are denied certain rights that automatically devolve onto you and your marriage partner. And while I am sure most of us do not have those rights in mind as we blissfully march down the aisle, they exist for us whether we take them into consideration at the moment we whisper “I do” or not.

As many as 1400 federal rights alone, I have heard, exist for married partners that are denied the unmarried. People who cavalierly dismiss marriage as an unnecessary formality surely have not considered the end-of-life dramas involving who is legally next-of-kin in terms of hospitalization, insurance coverage, inheritance, even custody of the body and funeral arrangements. There are immigration rights, tax benefits, Social Security, pension, child custody and spousal maintenance…hundreds upon hundreds of rights that married people have that are denied cohabiting couples, regardless of how long or heartfelt the relationship. A bride of two days has significantly more legal rights than a cohabiting partner of twenty years.

Domestic partnerships and civil unions have been suggested as a viable alternative to those who decide to live together without the benefit of marriage…either by choice or by laws that prohibit their marriage. The problem with domestic partnerships is that while they can address a few legal situations that are controlled by the state in which they register their partnership, they are denied all federal marital benefits and, if the partners are out of their home state, the protections they enjoy under that state’s domestic partnership laws are not necessarily enforceable in a neighbouring state. Imagine falling ill on holiday and finding your partner prohibited from visiting you in the hospital because your family doesn’t like him? Imagine losing your partner in an accident and suddenly finding your home invaded and picked clean by his family, the house you have called home for so long sold out from under you, maybe even your car spirited away because it was all in his name and you have no legal claim because you never bothered to get that oft disdained piece of paper?

Too often when we are in love we don’t look at the future with our eyes wide open. Paul McCartney was love-struck and, smitten, trusted that his love for Heather Mills would last a lifetime…it had with Linda Eastman, after all. Besotted, he refused to acknowledge reality and ask for a pre-nup, much to his later chagrin. In that same vein, we often overlook other practical matters when we partner up, failing to take into account the disastrous potential consequences of our failure to tidy up our relationship with all the legal bits and bobs that protect us…and our partner…in the future.

These laws exist to protect us…well, most of us. Just as Mildred and Richard Loving were denied equal protection under the law in 1958 in Virginia, so are legions of Americans being denied the same protections today in the form of laws that prevent consenting adults from entering into the protected status of marriage. A majority of their fellow citizens agreed that the Lovings should not be allowed to marry, some states even had constitutional prohibitions against such marriages.

But under US law, while states have the right to make certain laws…marriage laws in particular…for their residents, states cannot make or enforce laws that are contrary to federal law. And so, despite the constitutions of South Carolina and Alabama prohibiting interracial relationships, on that day in 1967, Mildred and Richard Loving caused interracial marriage prohibitions to be invalidated in every state in the union, regardless of whether those prohibitions were enshrined in the state constitutions or they were simply in the state’s codified body of law. Two people wrangling with one state over the right to marry the person of their choice changed the law for every person of every colour in every state of the union.

How different is this from the current flap over gay marriage? If you’ll look at the quote in the third paragraph, you probably didn’t notice that I removed the language that refers specifically to race. Doesn’t the principle hold true, whether the discriminating factor is colour, gender, or something else? The judge who exiled them, when asked to reconsider, stated “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”* This contention, of course, was struck down by the Supreme Court as being irrelevant in the face of the rights of citizens to have equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Today people argue that same sex people should not marry because physiologically, they were never intended to do so. This, of course, echoes the same specious logic used by Judge Leon Bazile above, citing God having placed the various races on different continents, with the intent to keep them separate. It takes rather a lot of hubris to speak the mind of an omnipotent, omniscient being when you are neither…how could Bazile know the mind of that omniscient being? How can we know whether or not same-gender attraction is intended or not? And who, after all, has the right to deny his neighbour the same rights he, himself, is allowed to exercise?

I have come to the conclusion that the passing of Prop 8 in California is not the disaster I initially thought it to be. While it does present an immediate setback to gay marriage in California, surely someone is going to appeal this to the US Supreme Court and test it against the Fourteenth Amendment. Bearing in mind that, in the Loving case, miscegenation laws were supported by a majority of voters in the affected states and the Supreme Court didn’t care, I think Loving v Virginia may well set the perfect precedent for not only overturning California’s proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage, but, like the Loving case, end the discrimination nationwide.

We can only hope!


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On the mend

Snot does not make good brain matter.

No matter how hard you try to think, no matter how experienced your fingers are at finding the right keys on the keyboard, if snot has taken over your brain matter, you are intellectually doomed. At least until your brain reasserts itself.

It's times like this that I am almost willing to bow down and kiss the feet of the Micro Soft monolith for inventing spell check and a grammar checker, otherwise my snot-tainted mental efforts would be even more puerile than they are. I cannot even correct half of the typos, my befuddled brain guiding my fingers over and over again to the wrong keys. Sludge behind the eyes keeps them half closed and contributes to the slowness of logic function. The "Aha! I get it!" moments are few and far between, and when they do occur, they are sufficiently after the event to be embarrassing.

Everything about me is slow except my nose, which runs with alacrity. My brain is slow, my comprehension, my composition, my life seems to be running in slow motion in comparison to the giddy antics of my dogs, who are enjoying my poor reflexes and the treats they can snatch when my attention is drawn away from my lunch or snacks. Of course I try to foil them with snacks of fruit but that doesn't work on Candy, who shows an alarming propensity to eat anything that crosses her nostrils, from curry to almonds to cauliflower to sweet fruits.

My nose, on the other hand, seems to have moved into superspeed. It can go from clear to "ACK! I CAN'T BREATHE!" to a compromise of one side open, the other side closed, all in the matter of a single minute. I should be owning stock in Kimberly-Clark so I could get some dividends back on the gross of Kleenex boxes I've gone through in the past few days.

Little by little my brain functions seem to be returning, soldiering through the sticky sludge that pollutes their environs to begin to rebuild what is left of my inundated brain, rather like slogging through the layer of mud after a flood. I'm still tired...I wanted a nap after I expended all that energy on a shower a couple of hours ago!...but Hubby says I must be improving since my curiosity is returning and I am asking questions again, instead of just groaning and hacking.

Speaking of Hubby, there's the one bright spot in this, one of my less enthusiastic adventures. Without complaint he has endured my crankiness, whining, moaning and various unpleasant noises that go with an upper repiratory infection. He's brought me tea and fruit and juice, opened and closed windows and doors, endured my alternating needs for heating and cooling, and has generally been a really great sport about this whole thing.

On balance, icky germ or no, I think I'm pretty lucky.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ohhhh...sick sick sick!

I got a flu. I keep trying to write more about the wedding...I have some killer pics for you all...but the flu won't let my brain put words together correctly.

I'll be back when the flu decamps and my brain is working properly again.

Love you all


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Showers of blessing

So, it rained the whole time we were in Durban. It was a cooling rain, leaving the air fresh smelling. For a wedding weekend, it was ideal, as the heat was kept in abeyance and the breezes kept the humidity at bay. All weekend there were mentions of “showers of blessings” from my husband to his mother to the wedding guests. Everyone seemed pleased at the rain.

Durban is a hilly city…a San Franciscan would feel right at home there! So undulating is the landscape that a house on a flat plot of land is a rare…and costly…find. So I was not surprised when we went to visit my mother-in-law’s cousin and found her house perched precariously on the edge of a dizzyingly steep hill. That I had to scamper down that hill on a narrow, roughly-poured set of stairs, however, was a surprise.

Saturday morning saw us at Mum’s house, a suitcase containing my sari and other accoutrements in hand. She had made arrangements for the daughter of her cousin to do my hair, and flowers in the hair is a necessary part of the bride’s attire. The cousin’s daughter is a hair dresser, and the cousin is considered some kind of an expert at draping and tying wedding saris, so I was bundled off to be made presentable. After two stops for flowers, we were on our way to the hair dresser. What nobody told me was that the cousin worked out of her house!

And so I came to this little brick house clinging to the side of a hillside steep enough to make a mountain goat swoon, and I had to clamber down these rough stairs to the miniscule cement pad outside the door. Thank goodness the door opened into the room because if I had had to step off that little pad to allow the door to swing, I would surely have rolled down that hill like a cheese wheel in Gloucestershire! The inside of the little salon was far from glam, but she had all the necessary tools and equipment and four women were packed inside the tiny room! Clearly, the lack of glamour and upmarket cachet was no barrier to business success and I was soon to see why…this girl could do magic with hair!

I have cranky hair. It is fine, thin, aggressively straight, and abundant. I keep it cut in a graduated bob, the kind that is short in the back, but has long, chin-length sides. Think Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux, just blonde and without the pointy bits on the cheeks. Yes…like Posh Spice, but I had the haircut a full year before she stole it from me. Anyway, my challenge to this young lady was to find a way to give me an “up do” sufficient to anchor a bunch of flowers at the crown of my head…and I mean anchor. It was going to have to stay in place for better than 12 hours, with no slipping and sliding in hair so baby fine that bobby pins slide out of it…no mean task!

Well, to my absolute amazement, she succeeded! That night, exhausted and unable to get the pins out alone, I begged Hubby to help. “Good grief!” he exclaimed upon seeing the pins. “She’s built a whole superstructure in there!” And indeed she had! She had started by putting a baby ponytail at the crown of my head and then building a grid of pins…affixed to the pony tail elastic... to use as a platform to secure the flowers to. It was amazing! And effective! And damned difficult to undo!

Once she was done with my hair I hiked back up that narrow, uneven flight of stairs to the dooryard. The driveway from the road to the dooryard was so steep that hubby parked our little rent-a-Polo on the street for fear up being unable to get it up the driveway and into the road again! Inside the main house now, I was led to a room where I shucked my jeans and T-shirt and started climbing into my wedding finery. First the petticoat, or underskirt. This was gold-coloured cotton, red and gold being the traditional Hindu wedding colours. The skirt has a draw string waist which must be tied tightly and securely, for the success or failure of draping a sari depends on this petticoat and it’s snug fit.

Next the blouse, a short, midriff-baring scoop-necked top. Mine was of gold silk shantung, custom made for my full figure and bosom. A row of tiny, hidden hooks and eyes march up the front of this little scrap of a top, making the front closure look like a seam.

Now the sari. Starting at the plain end, a corner is tucked into the right side waistband of my petticoat and the six+ yards of fabric wrapped around me until it comes to the front again and overlaps the original tuck. The sari fabric is now yanked and pulled and twitched and adjusted until the proper length is achieved. Since I was getting married and that is done barefoot, the sari was adjusted for the flat sandals I was wearing. Eventually the length was properly adjusted and now it was time to pleat. Seven pleats of approximately 4 inches in depth were made over my left leg and tucked into the waistband of the petticoat. More tugging and twitching and adjusting, and finally the pallau was thrown over my shoulder.

Now, the pallau has to be draped and secured so it doesn’t keep falling down. Cousin took a single safety pin and secured the back of the pallau through my bra strap and blouse, and then began the job of draping the front of the sari so that I would not have it in my way during the ceremony. Finally satisfied, she took the decorative sari pin and secured the pallau to my left shoulder. I was dressed!

Now, the mad dash back to Mum’s…Hubby still hadn’t changed…and then on to the temple. We arrived late…“we wondered if the had bride run away!” one of the uncles quipped…but eventually we arrived at the tiny private temple, took our seats at the front of the assembled guests, and waited for the Brahmin (priest) to call us forward.

We kicked off our shoes and stood and, accompanied by the soft rains showering blessings upon us, stepped into the temple.

An Auspicious Day: Sweet Violet gets married

Rain is a good omen in the Hindu culture and so the rain that greeted us upon landing at Durban International was a good sign. My husband called it “showers of blessing” which, of course, dissipated my initial annoyance at their unanticipated appearance.

I am not a good flyer and the flight was a bit bumpy but otherwise uneventful. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the minutes pre-boarding. Neither Cape Town International nor Durban International have jetways which means that passengers have to hike out to the tarmac and up a set of stairs to board the plane. Well, the airport back in Silicon Valley has much the same set up, so I’m fairly accustomed to it except for one thing: here in South Africa, they park the planes waaaaaaay out in the boonies instead of nose up to the terminal building. To accommodate passengers, however, the local airports supply large busses…think diesel-powered subway car with seats only at the front and back, the rest of the car just poles and hang straps…to take the passengers from the boarding lounge to the aircraft. It was here that I ran into trouble.

At first I thought myself lucky to get one of the few seats on the bus but the young man seated to my right was so drenched in some kind of peppery-scented cologne that my eyes literally began to water. Before the bus actually got into gear and on its way, I was sneezing. And it went downhill from there. Two allergy pills, a complete shower, a shampoo and 24 hours later I was on the road to recovery, eyes still red and puffy and nose starting to dry up. Whatever it was that guy had on, particles of it apparently clung to my hair and clothing and continued to provoke an allergic reaction long after he had disappeared into the vast landscape that is Durban.

Thursday evening saw us at Mum’s house for a prayer dinner: prayers for the dead. It was a vegetarian affair, with offerings and prayers for those who have gone before us, inviting them to dinner and to the wedding. I concentrated on inviting his relatives, particularly his father, as mine would probably not be particularly pleased. My mother and grandparents were not terribly impressed with my sister’s marriage, and her African-American husband is Christian. Imagine their opinion on my marrying an Indian gentleman whose family is Hindu (or, in their vernacular, heathen)?

Friday was your basic “last minute errands” day. The rain continued off and on, always light and gentle, more showers of blessing washing away cares and difficulties. We shopped for last minute items and drove over to visit Mum, where I got my first look at my thali. I had never seen one before.

Several large green leaves lined a small silver-coloured plastic tray. On the leaves was an array of items, from a folded length of yellow-orange cord to a yellow string wrapped around a turmeric stick, a betel nut, and five pieces of wrought gold. Wrapped with a piece of cling-film to keep everything together, this small tray held the essential items to present to the Brahmin (priest), who would, with the assistance of a married auntie, string the pieces together on the cord and bless them. The thali already bore marks of kum kum, a powdered vermilion, have been blessed by the goldsmith after he created it.

The morning of our anniversary dawned with more showers of blessing. Not only was this an auspicious day to begin any venture, according to the priest, the gentle rains were also blessing us. This, in the customs of my husband’s culture, was fated to be a good marriage. I have to admit, this was the nicest weather I had ever experienced in Durban. Usually is it hot and humid and rain only exacerbates that. But this trip was temperate…warm enough to keep away any chill, but cool enough that Dear Hubby, who perspires at the merest hint of heat, got through the whole ceremony without needing to mop his brow! Truly, it was an auspicious day!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations, Barack Obama!

Congratulations are in order...Barack Obama is America's first non-white President and that, all by itself, is a reason to celebrate.

This election had shaped up to be noteworthy in more ways than one as many of the presidential hopefuls were "firsts." Hillary was the first woman for stump for the highest office, McCain was the first man of his age to run for a presidential first term, and the Republicans fielded their first female candidate for a shot at the top job. Obama, of course, hit more than one first: the first African-American, the first non-white, the first person of Muslim heritage to even apply for the top job, let alone win it.

But the closeness of the popular vote is troubling, indicating that while some people who are losing their jobs and their homes and the lives of their brothers and sons are wanting a change, others in the same situation are putting political ideology ahead of the welfare of the country and their fellow countrymen.

I think Hillary was a better candidate all around: more experienced, more savvy, and with her husband, the architect of the most prosperous administration of the entire 20th century, at her side should she need an advisor with a proven track record. But the American people went for a pair of amateurs, ignoring the most experienced candidate. Fortunately for America, Bush's fiscal debacle combined with McCain's unfathomable choice of a person with no political acumen or ethical standards as his running mate, combined to taint his candidacy, giving Obama the win.

I hope Obama can pull off his vision for America. But as Bill Clinton can tell him, just winning the election isn't enough...when the other party is out for your blood, they will stop at nothing to find it, even if they have to spill it themselves.

Barack Obama, watch your back...the Republicans certainly are!