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News & Features » October 2013 » We Do!: David McConnell: Still All About the Tradition

We Do!: David McConnell: Still All About the Tradition

To celebrate the release of We Do!: American Leaders Who Believe in Marriage Equality and the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, we’ve invited Akashic authors to share their thoughts on marriage. 

Today, we bring you David McConnell‘s thoughts on the recent moves toward marriage equality in America.


I used to go to a fatherly psychiatrist who had the good sense and the humanity to slough his doctorly reserve every so often. If something bad happened, he would hold my hand and say “I’m so sorry” like he meant it. Once, I had a new suit to be tailored and realized that, along with forgetting how to be a human being, I’d forgotten whether cuffs or straight pants were “correct.” It says a lot about my uptight upbringing that this was incredibly important to me. I had to know. “Come on! You wear a suit every day at the hospital. Just remind me which it is.” He hemmed and hawed, not wanting to be doctrinaire about something as remote from human feeling as the proper way to dress. But at last, like a pal, he relented. “Cuffs, actually.” I was very fond of him. After he took off for High Holy Days and revealed that he’d been to temple with his family, I bantered with him, “You can’t possibly believe in God.” He shrugged amiably. “Or even if it’s not about belief,” I insisted, “You can’t accept all that religious rigmarole!” He answered, “I just do it for the kids.” He wore a gentle smile and in his delivery was a faint nod to Jewish stereotype. “I just do it for the kids. It’s the tradition.”

His answer wasn’t simply mild self-satire, nor was it only his way of dodging a pushy patient’s questions. Whether he intended it or not, he was saying something profound. Important things we do in life may be only gestures. It doesn’t matter what they mean. It doesn’t matter how well we’ve thought them through. It doesn’t matter if they hang together logically with everything else we do. Sometimes we go through the motions without analysis, and by some awe-inspiring transmutation, a seemingly vapid or mindless exercise becomes significant. It fixes us in history and among the other people in our world.

Marriage for gay people is a little like religion was for that worldly psychiatrist. Gay marriage isn’t ultimately about a dewy-eyed sacrament or about gimlet-eyed tax fairness. You’re welcome to use the God of love in your argument or, if you prefer, vintage 1789 atheistic égalité. I know the argument has to be made. But in the end, marriage, in all its named and unnamed varieties, is one of those things we do as human beings. I can imagine myself looking back one day and shrugging, “Even though the point was changing the tradition, it was still all about the tradition.” By then I’ll be a part of history myself, something that always feels good and sociable, but I won’t really understand or be able to explain why we do the things we do.


DAVID McCONNELL is the author of the acclaimed novels The Silver Hearted (a finalist for Lambda and Ferro-Grumley awards) and Firebrat. His short fiction and journalism have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, including theLiterary Review (UK), Granta, and Prospect magazine (UK). He is the former cochair of the Lambda Literary Foundation, and lives in New York City. His latest book is American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men.

Posted: Oct 21, 2013

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