Saturday, February 07, 2004

On Robes

A tiny part of my current medical gig is to review premarital blood tests and sign premarital medical forms. For coding purposes this is called (rather grandiosely, in my estimation) "pre-marital counseling." The phrase suggests that I take folks aside and offer grave and learned advice apropos the wisdom of undertaking marriage or the secrets of the wedding night boudoir. Couldn't be farther from the truth.

My part of the encounter mostly runs like this:

Hi ! I'm Dr. X. Your premarital test is fine. You don't have syphilis. We don't test for HIV but the state asks me to give you this information sheet. Sign here . When's your wedding ? Congratulations !

(Of course the script runs a little differently when someone does turn out, as happens rarely, to have syphilis.)

I am looking forward to May and to signing the premarital medical certificates of my first same sex couple. I feel that we should have flowers on hand or champaigne, however one spells it, on ice for the occasion. This is a civil rights victory for gay and lesbian couples who wish to wed. I am proud of our Supreme Judicial Court for taking a courageous, principled and progressive stance, in great contradistinction to such "leaders" as Governor Mitt Romney, Speaker Tom Finneran, Archbishop Sean O'Malley and President George Bush who are currently falling all over themselves in their rush to express distaste and outrage at the thought of certain currently excluded people and families being given the important rights that the majority currently possesses.

I keep returning to the State Supreme Court's decision and its recent affirmation of it with joy. When was the last time you felt choked up (in a good way) about something that you saw on the news ? Incredibly enough, joy is exactly the right word. Joy that the black judicial robe can be a breathtaking symbol of conscience and justice. Joy that, from time to time, a brave and moral stand is still taken in public life.

Which, as we know, is an ugly morass of influence peddling, bigotry, greed and compromise. Take, as a foil, US Supreme Court Justice Scalia. He'll be deciding on the legitimacy of Vice President Cheney's claim the the documents surrounding his energy policy meetings (AKA Big Oil Brunches) are covered by executive privilege. And he refused to recuse himself from the case after going with Cheney on a duck hunting trip. Which, furthermore, was hosted by by a person from the energy industry. This chokes one in a very bad way. His black judicial robe stands for oil. As in slick, slippery, unctuous.

I want to like Boston's new archbishop. Cardinal Law was a repugnant politico, enamoured of power and the trappings of power, complicit in covering up the sexual abuse of hundreds of children. I remember him from a visit to the prison where I worked in the 1980's. His rich robes, the red cummerbund stretched over his massive gut, a gold ornament the size of a dinnerplate on his chest. And how, safe behind the closed door of the infirmary's nurse's station, he nervously declared a man "crazy" who had rushed up to him speaking loudly of religious visions.

Archbishop Sean O'Malley is a Franciscan friar who wears a brown robe and sandals. He has done stellar, hands-on work with poor and immigrant communities. He's a polyglot, and has even given sermons in Haitian creole -- later vetted by the parisioners as passably fluent. He is smart, devout, educated, compassionate. He declined to reside in the archdiocesan mansion, visibly living out his own vow of poverty.

I want to like him. I like the parts of him I describe above.

But when I heard him lobby politically against civil marriage rights for gays and lesbians last week, I suddenly -- forgive me, I know this is rhetorically extreme -- saw the humble brown Franciscan robe turn off-white and sprout a hood.

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