Posted by: smstrouse | March 25, 2011

Liz Taylor and the Defense of Marriage Act

Elizabeth Taylor once ascribed her much-married reputation as being due to her “rather puritanical upbringing and beliefs.”  She said, “I couldn’t just have a romance; it had to be marriage.” 

As much as we’ve poked fun at “Mrs. Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky,” surely the most fitting tribute for this iconic woman is her humanitarian work on behalf of those with HIV and AIDS.  In the early 1980s, when fear and stigma kept most people from speaking out about the AIDS virus, Elizabeth Taylor did.  Even though it was highly controversial, she became a spokesperson for raising funds and awareness. She even testified before Congress, spoke before the National Press Club, and addressed the General Assembly at the United Nations on World AIDS Day.

In 1985, she joined with a group of physicians and scientists to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research.  As founding National Chairperson, she was able to take the issue to the mainstream media. In 1991, she established The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which raises funds for HIV/AIDS service organizations throughout the world.  As the foundation website says: “We mourn the loss of legendary actress, businesswoman, and fearless activist Elizabeth Taylor.”  And so do we – especially the ‘fearless activist’ part. May we all have that kind of courage.

But back to the marriages for just a moment – not to dwell on the emotional state or moral character of an individual – but to point out the often absurd mental and societal gymnastics we put ourselves through when it comes to the issue of marriage. Liz Taylor, by walking down the aisle eight times, was actually defending the institution of marriage (although she did attribute it to her puritanical upbringing). But does anyone else see the irony of serial marriage and divorce as being the better alternative to having a serious, committed relationship with someone, that possibly could, but not necessarily lead to marriage?  Is this what proponents of the Defense of Marriage Act want?  I’m sure the answer to that it a resounding “No!” but it does raise the question.

We need a thorough overhaul of the institution of marriage.  The wrangling going on around same-sex marriage is only part of the issue.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s welcome change in policy about lgbtq clergy still wants ‘proof’ of a PALM – publically accountable, lifelong, monogamous relationship.  But when marriage is not an option, what does that mean?  What about single straight clergy?  I believe that in our contemporary world we need a contemporary investigation into the theology and ethics of human sexuality and human relationships. We need a ‘fearless activist’ or two or more to challenge the prevailing ethic.

Rest in peace, Liz.  May we finally put that puritanical upbringing to rest as well.


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