Marriage Equality got a lot of attention this week, as the Supreme Court heard arguments on two cases related to the subject. One was California’s Proposition 8, which sought to outlaw marriage between individuals of the same sex in the state when it was first passed in 2008. The other was the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars Federal recognition of marriage between people of the same sex, and therefore prohibits their access to rights available to married people with more “traditional” gender roles, including (but not limited to) tax exemptions, adoption, and even the ability to freely visit one’s dying partner in the hospital.
Comparing the present state of Marriages vs. Civil Unions to the “separate but equal” policies of Jim Crow and Racial Segregation is far from a new idea: I myself already made the comparison in 2008 with this relatively well-known illustration.
I was searching for a novel or otherwise more interesting way of addressing the concept further when I was reminded of Norman Rockwell’s painting The Problem We All Live With, which depicts Ruby Bridges being escorted by U.S. Marshals, as the first black student at a previously all-white school. The painting illustrates the trials Bridges faced in taking this important step against Segregation by juxtaposing her innocence with racist hate-speech written on the wall, and a tomato hurled by an angry white crowd.
I immediately noticed Bridges’ immaculate white dress, which of course connects easily with the imagery of a traditional Western wedding, but after looking at the painting more closely, I also noticed the wedding bands on the fingers of some of the men escorting her. I thought that was a neat coincidence, given the subject matter I hoped to address.
That was enough for me to decide to go ahead with an adaptation of Rockwell’s painting, but what really took the idea to another level was the realization, shortly afterwards, that I could make one of the subjects’ escorts black, and another female, and thus have a cartoon that actually builds on the sentiments of the original painting, instead of merely quoting them in a new context.
It was difficult to choose a homophobic epithet to replace the racist one in the painting. I knew the figures getting married had to be wearing white dresses, to maintain the visual relationship with Ruby Bridges, and I knew they had to be female, since cross-dressing would potentially lessen the image’s seriousness. This ruled out the closest equivalent, since it typically refers to men, and none of the terms I could find for lesbians seemed quite vicious or succinct enough.
I settled on “queer” as a gender-neutral blanket term, even though there has been some successful effort by the LGBT community to take it back. At first I thought that might be a liability for the cartoon, but now I’m thinking differently, since it gives it an additional reading that balances the dissonance between the concepts of hate-speech and violence, and the proud, resolute smiles I wanted the two women to have, in spite of the odds.
The original painting also has the letters “K.K.K.” scrawled or carved into the wall in the background. I’ll admit that changing that to “G.O.P.” may be a cheap shot, but hey: at least I’m not calling them pedophiles!