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Tea Tea and Marriage Marriage

By Frank Gruber

One of my obscure interests is the history of the 19th century unification of Italy, the "Risorgimento."

It was a great, decades-long story of diplomacy, idealism (often betrayed), and soldiers wearing plumed helmets.

The architect of reunification was Camillo Cavour, the prime minister of Piedmont under King Victor Emanuel II. One of Cavour's great diplomatic coups was the secret deal he reached with Emperor Napoleon III of France in 1858. They agreed that if Cavour could provoke a war between Piedmont and Austria in such a way that Austria appeared to be the aggressor, France would send an army to help the Italians, Piedmont would obtain various northern Italian territories from Austria, and, for France's aid, Piedmont would cede Nice and Savoy to France.

It was all hush-hush, but, as if to seal the deal publicly, Napoleon wanted a marriage first to be made between Victor Emanuel's fifteen-year-old daughter, Princess Clotilde, and the Emperor's 36-year-old cousin, Prince Napoleon-Jerome. The latter had an unfortunate reputation, and Cavour had to sell the idea to the king.

There exists a fascinating letter from Cavour to Victor Emanuel in which he tries to persuade the king that it would not be beneath the dignity of his ancient House of Savoy for his daughter to marry one of the somewhat arriviste French royals, and that, notwithstanding what the king may have heard about Napoleon-Jerome, the lad had a good heart. (You can read the letter -- it's fascinating.)

Victor Emmanuel ultimately agreed with Cavour, and so did Princess Clotilde, who was pious and considered it her duty to do what was best for her royal family.

Clotilde and Napoleon-Jerome married in January 1859 about a week after he formally proposed (through an intermediary, a French general). Within a few months Cavour had manipulated Austria into invading Piedmont. France sent its army and the rest is history.

Before I forget, Clotilde and Napoleon-Jerome were married in church. The marriage was sacred.

Which brings me to my point, which is to say, "Gavin Newsom for President in 2024."

The institution of marriage is one of those institutions, like football, where the rules change over time. It wasn't that long ago that both the forward pass and divorce were illegal in most places. Most Americans today would consider sinful and sordid what was sacred to Cavour and Victor Emanuel and presumably to the priest who performed the Clotilde and Napoleon-Jerome nuptials.

Divorce, which used to be viewed as the enemy of marriage, is for most Americans, obsessed with free will and carrying out their desires, what makes marriage sacred. I.e., that my wife and I could get divorced gives meaning to our staying together.

But as much as I tend to take a rather catholic (small c) view of the evolution of institutions, I have to say that up until the recent events in San Francisco, I opposed "gay marriage."

My opposition was political in part. I was afraid, as were most gay politicians, that pushing marriage for gays was going to feed, unnecessarily and futilely, and counter-productively, the right-wing culture war machine. I was a "civil unions" guy.

Although my fears were political, my rationalization was grammatical, or etymological. I objected to using an adjective, "gay," to take the meaning from a good noun, "marriage."

It's like tea. First there was tea: the leaves of the tea plant, Theaceae Camellia sinensis. There was black tea and green tea, and oolong tea and Earl Gray, but it was all tea.

Then came herbal infusions. These became popular and people called them "herb teas." The word tea lost its meaning, leading to the double noun phenomenon, whereby a noun becomes an adjective of the same noun for the purpose of confirming the original meaning.

You know what I mean: when you offer someone a hot beverage, after you offer coffee, you say, "herb tea, or tea tea."

I told myself I didn't like the idea of gay marriage because I didn't want to have to distinguish between "gay marriage" and "marriage marriage." As I said, I was a civil unions guy.

But you know what? That was then, pre-Gavin, and now is now, post-Gavin, because at some point the political and even, heaven forbid, the etymological, must yield to the emotional, and I get absolutely misty over civil rights.

Seeing so many happy monogendered couples pledging their monogamy is enough to persuade me that the best use of the word marriage is to describe a state of love and commitment rather than any particular constellation of genitalia.

I suspect I am not alone. The joy radiating from San Francisco is palpable.

It takes two-thirds of the House and the Senate to amend the Constitution, and there's no poll out there saying that two-thirds of Americans want to amend the 14th Amendment preemptively to exclude gays from the Equal Protection Clause. I predict that Pres. Bush's amendment will find a place on the Congressional shelf next to his Mars exploration plan.

As for me, I will no longer begrudge a double noun. Black, green, chamomile, red zinger, lemon ginger: it's all tea.
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