Saturday, April 18, 2009

- How Gay Spouses Became International Poster Couple for Same-Sex Marriage -

Brendan and Tom are friends and fellow activists

Dispatches - How Gay Spouses Became International Poster Couple for Same-Sex Marriage -

Published: April 16, 2009

ON July 27, 2003, about six weeks after a court in Ontario legalized same-sex marriage in the province, Dr. Thomas Moulton and Brendan Fay were married outside St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto. A few minutes later, they were talking with Judge Harvey Brownstone, who had officiated. It was a busy day — the couple had flown in from New York, where they live — but something Judge Brownstone said still sticks in Mr. Fay’s mind.

“He said, ‘Wherever you go, anywhere in the world, you are still a legally married couple,’ ” Mr. Fay recalled one morning last week, sitting at his kitchen table in Astoria, Queens. “ ‘Whatever the recognition, you are as married as anyone who has been married in Canada.’ ”

It was a nice sentiment and, legally speaking, accurate. But it would be tested, bizarrely, in a multinational controversy that started five years later, on March 17, 2008. On that day, Mr. Fay, a filmmaker who grew up in Ireland, was focused on the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York, which he has lobbied to allow gay and lesbian marchers. Dr. Moulton, a pediatric oncologist and hematologist, was at work at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

And in Poland, that country’s president, Lech Kaczynski, was delivering a nationally televised speech that touched, in part, on the perils of the European Union. One peril, he charged, was that Poland could be forced to accept same-sex marriage. The visual aid chosen to accompany this claim — no one has said how or why — was a picture of Dr. Moulton and Mr. Fay’s marriage certificate, and a three-second clip of the couple at their wedding.

The next day, Mr. Fay was at home when his phone rang. A Polish radio reporter who had read his name on the marriage certificate was seeking comment. Mr. Fay thinks that he said something like, “You must be joking!”

So began a strange year, in which Mr. Fay and Dr. Moulton found themselves discussing their Canadian wedding and their New York lives in the Polish news media. Two weeks after the broadcast, a Polish television station flew them to Warsaw, where they spent three days as a tabloid fixation. They have even kept up contact — albeit of a strained and intermittent nature — with Mr. Kaczynski’s administration.

Now the couple, who are leaving on a trip to Ireland this weekend, say that a return to Poland, and maybe even a meeting with Mr. Kaczynski or an underling, may be in the cards while they are in Europe. The meeting, at least, does not look especially likely: A presidential aide was quoted last year referring to the Toronto ceremony as a “quasi-wedding.” The only letter from Mr. Kaczynski’s government to the couple, in February, stopped just short of an official invitation to visit, though it did recommend Warsaw’s Beethoven festival, which ended April 10.

Regardless, Mr. Fay said the other day over a cup of tea, the couple’s improbable Polish celebrity has been a learning experience all around. He and Dr. Moulton have met gay rights activists with whom they have stayed in touch. They have learned a few phrases of the language.

“I could not believe the number of people that reached out to us from Poland,” he added, people who said things like, ‘We disagree with our president; we’re sorry about what our president said about you.’ ”

Those sentiments, in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country, have only occasionally been accompanied by endorsements of same-sex marriage, Mr. Fay acknowledged. But, he added, devout Poles may have more in common with him and Dr. Moulton than they think.

The couple first met, years ago, at a Catholic Mass at a church in Greenwich Village. Mr. Fay has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theology. During their visit to Warsaw, they went to church. If their image was chosen by Mr. Kaczynski to represent godless decadence, something may have gone awry.

Among people who know them, Mr. Fay said, “everybody said he picked the wrong couple. Or said: ‘It’s divine providence. He couldn’t have picked a better couple.’ ”

The marriage certificate sits these days on an end table in the couple’s living room, between a bronze Celtic cross — a wedding gift — and a megaphone. Most couples do not display their marriage certificates, Mr. Fay said; none of his five sisters do.

But in a week when Governor Paterson unveiled a same-sex marriage bill, in the face of doubt about its chances in the State Senate, Mr. Fay said the decoration is significant. He did, after all, have to fly to Canada to get married in the first place.

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