Eight years ago, my wife and I, visiting the Netherlands, were staying in the sleepy Dutch town of Oisterwijk, in the southern province of Brabant. The place is geographically and culturally quite a distance from cosmopolitan, anything-goes Amsterdam. Late one morning, we sat on a terrace facing the town square, surrounded by perhaps 20 other (local) people, all strangers. Most seemed moderately affluent, and especially the older guests were conservatively dressed in the way of the Dutch countryside: the men in dark sports coats, the women mostly in pleated skirts and high-buttoned blouses.
Suddenly, the door of the centuries-old city hall building in front of us swung open, and out came a radiant bride. She was followed by … radiant bride number two, who had a whole wedding party in her wake. Smiling into the sun, bride number one reached for bride number two’s hand, and, with fingers interlocked, they strode down the old stone steps, beaming.
The entire outdoor cafe full of people, my wife and myself included, burst into smiles and applause. “Best of luck!” exclaimed an older woman behind us, and the couple gave a friendly wave in acknowledgment before disappearing into a limo.
After that, everyone around us went back to the business of reading the paper and drinking coffee, as if nothing had happened.
And really, nothing much had. Two people who love each other had gotten hitched. Thousands of couples do it every day.
Since then, every time I hear some of my fellow U.S. citizens explain why heterosexual marriages like mine need “defending” from “gay activists,” I think back to that magical 15-second scene on that Dutch town square — a picture of cheer and goodwill — and I wish I could mind-beam the whole thing to the naysayers.
The memory still sometimes plays through my mind today, when I’m at work. I’m a wedding photojournalist. I shoot about 25 mostly high-end, mostly “straight” weddings every year, in the U.S. and in Europe, but primarily in Maine. And almost every time, I’m touched to observe, through my lens, moments of endearing sweetness and humanity: a loving glance; a quiet, unselfconscious smile; fingers touching as if by magnetic force; faces swept with awe and joy. I take it all in and wonder: Why would anyone want to deny this to any two people who earnestly, deeply love each other?
It makes even less sense to me when I look at the economic picture. Weddings are big business. The average U.S. couple spends $28,000 on the event. A just-released study by the Williams Institute, a research organization affiliated with the UCLA School of Law, estimates that if Maine OK’d marriage equality, the state would reap abundant economic revenues from thousands of same-sex couples tying the knot. Over a three-year period, the extra spending going directly into Mainers’ pockets will be close to $60 million. That’ll boost tax revenues too, benefiting everyone. Also, according to the Williams report, Maine marriage equality will create roughly 1,000 new jobs.
Speaking as an entrepreneur and as someone who wishes to see our beautiful state thrive, saying no to such a bounty would be peculiar, especially in a time of severe economic crisis.
I’m not suggesting that people who oppose same-sex marriage change their tune purely because of economic considerations. So let’s back up. Let’s reach across the divide and mutually concur that marriage strengthens the social fabric of our communities, intensifies intra-family bonds, and provides stability to parents and children alike. Are we agreed on this? Then let’s make sure that we don’t just pay lip service to the importance of the family, but resolve to really mean it when we say that families are worthy of our moral and political support — families of all stripes.
Also, let’s face the fact that same-sex marriage won’t do the slightest thing to diminish “traditional” marriage. Think about it: No club has ever been weakened by gaining lots of members who fully embrace its tenets.
The economic benefits I mentioned earlier are merely delicious icing on the wedding cake.
One thing I’ve always loved about Maine is the independent streak that runs through its people. Most Mainers are live-and-let-live kinds of folks, unpuritanical and fair-minded. I believe that collectively, we and our elected representatives will decide that marriage equality is good for Maine — good for our same-sex neighbors, friends, and relatives; good for our communities; and good for the state’s bottom line.
Rogier van Bakel is the founder of Eager Eye Photography, a wedding photography business on Mount Desert Island. He can be reached at email@example.com.