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Tradition Rules?


Published April 5, 2000 at 1:00 a.m.

It starts tomorrow, bursting forth like a flowering magnolia bulb. Tomorrow marks the beginning of a certifiable tradition. For four very special days, those who follow the little white ball will be fixated on their TV screens, religiously watching the greens and fairways of the Augusta National golf course. It's the Masters, one of golf's four majors, but for most fans it's the epitome of golfing tradition.

It's all there amid the towering pines of Georgia's cathedral of golf, where the magnolias bloom and a hungry Rae's Creek swallows dreams and golf balls like M&Ms. It's where fathers show their sons the very spot on the 15th fairway where on a Sunday afternoon in 1935 Gene Sarazen pulled off his miracle shot.

Talk about tradition! Sarazen was 230 yards from the pin in one stroke on the par five. His caddy, Stovepipe, reached for the 3-wood, but Sarazen overruled him and selected his new Wilson Turf Rider 4-wood with the hollowed-out back. There were only about 20 spectators standing around the green, since everyone figured Craig Wood (who later built the golf course in Lake Placid that bears his name), had already won the tournament. In fact, as Sarazen's ball skipped across the putting surface, officials had already written Wood the check for the $1500 first-place money and sportswriters were congratulating him as he posed for the newsreel cameras.

But back on 15, a miracle was about to happen, a miracle that today is one of the eternal logs on the fireplace of Masters tradition.

Sarazen toed his 4-wood and let it rip. The ball carried the stream and in two bounces was on the green. It took a curving path from right to left and then dropped in the cup for a 2!

The sportswriters quickly held a little powwow to figure out what to call the shot. A birdie is one under par. An eagle is two under. But Sarazen's 2 on the par 5 was a horse of a different color, and the scribes as yet didn't have a name for such a feat since it had been considered impossible. They agreed on "double eagle" and that was that. Sarazen tied Wood at 6-under and the following day won their 36-hole playoff.

Today Sarazen’s shot is part of the hallowed tradition of golf. But at the time, nobody was thinking tradition. In fact, it wasn’t even called the Masters back then; rather, it was the Augusta National Invitational. And it wasn’t until the 1950s that the club commemorated Sarazen’s feat.

But just invoke the word “tradition” and heads bow in reverence, tongues quiet. Tradition conjures views of the ancient pyramids of Egypt. Of giant redwoods. Of Old Faithful at Yosemite. Of things to be revered. Of … marriage?

In December’s historic ruling, the Vermont Supreme Court said committed gay couples in Vermont have a right to receive the same benefits as committed, married straight couples. Opponents have since wrapped themselves in the banner of traditional marriage. Their traditional marriage picture is the one that once filled the old picture-palace screens with the Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies of the 1930s and 1940s. After the war, it glowed on the black-and-white television sets of the 1950s with "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Leave It to Beaver."

But things change, and so has marriage. When my father was born in his little part of rural Catholic Ireland, marriages were about land, property rights and inheritance. You married who your father told you to marry and that was that. Romance was for novels. And if the husband turned out to be a lout who followed the traditional "rule of thumb" like a good husband, there was no Women Helping Battered Women hotline for the traditional wife to call. No court to issue a relief-from-abuse order. She bore her wounds in the silence of suffering. That was the tradition of the day.

Surely that's not the marriage tradition Ruth Dwyer, Rep. George Schiavone and Roman Catholic Bishop Ken Angell are standing up for — or is it? Surely, they're referring to a different tradition, aren't they?

Okay, let's trace this traditional marriage concept that so many wear on their sleeve today. Let's go way back on the marriage trail to the early days of Christianity. Way back to when centuries were counted in single digits. And guess what?

It turns out early Christians didn't think too highly of marriage. In fact, it wasn't until the second millennium, more than one thousand years later, that marriage was elevated to the status of a sacrament.

"When the Romans were passing laws to penalize celibacy," notes distinguished family sociologist Gerald R. Leslie in his magnum opus The Family in Social Context, “the Christians taught that the virgin state was a more exalted one than marriage.” Good old-fashioned traditional marriage came in third. Oh, dear.

In good old traditional marriage as it once was, Christians viewed sex as “a necessary evil, not a source of pleasure.” At the Council of Carthage in 398 A.D., the bishops went so far as to declare that the bride and groom should abstain from sex on their wedding night.

Hey, these guys really knew how to live.

But certainly, that’s not the traditional marriage Ruth Dwyer, George Schiavone and the Bingo Bishop want to protect, is it?

It turns out for the first few hundred years, Christians didn’t even have their own wedding ceremonies. Instead they obtained civil marriages like any good Roman from the local justice of the peace.

“Under the Christian influence,” writes Leslie, “marriage and the family were more lowly regarded than ever before or since in Western history.” And as they attacked the evils of Rome, the Christians “became victims of a conception of marriage as a purely sexual union — a slightly more desirable alternative than fornication.”

In the good old days of traditional marriage, nuns and priests got to join in, too. Surely the Bingo Bishop isn’t advocating a revival of that tradition? Let me tell you, a lot of contemporary nuns and priests as well as former nuns and priests wish that tradition hadn’t been dropped.

But that's life. Things change. And when one looks at the big picture, it's clear that the cry to defend traditional marriage is about sex rather than marriage. It's little more than a vain attempt to sacramentalize the sexual practices of heterosexuals while demonizing those of homosexuals.

Traditional marriage, as we commonly think of it, says Dr. Brookes Cowan, a distinguished UVM clinical sociologist and lecturer, "died in the 1960s." Marriage in the context of coming together in a life-long commitment, says Cowan, was replaced by a new form called "companionate marriage." Companionate marriage, she points out, has replaced traditional marriage in content and expectation. This new form of marriage, says the professor, "provides emotional and sexual satisfaction...and children are viewed as an option."

Once upon a time a couple stayed together in the face of great unhappiness. Women had few alternatives for economic survival outside the home. Emancipation has changed that. The career housewives of the 1950s, like June Cleaver and Harriet Nelson, are today’s lawyers, doctors, publishers and police officers.

Things change. In fact, they really never stop changing. And one day soon, long before the next double eagle on the 15th hole at Augusta, state recognition of committed relationships by people of the same gender will seem like tradition, too.

Speaking of Ruth Dwyer — Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ruthless Ruth of Thetford had a rough time last week. Gov. Howard Dean called her an “extremist” and columnists Chris Graff and Jack Hoffman trashed her but good in their weekly weekend missives.

Ruth the Truth accused Ho-Ho of bribing House lawmakers to vote for the civil unions bill. Using the “B” word was a bit extreme, but, hey, it was just a freakin’ euphemism. Ho-Ho put her in the same boat as Randall Terry, the out-of-state right-wing wacko, and Brian Pearl the in-state right-wing wacko. What’s that line about if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck?

But seriously, as Barry Goldwater once said, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” Ruth Dwyer isn’t that extreme. Just check her campaign Web site — — and you’ll see. Ruthless Ruth can’t be a true extremist if Barbara Snelling likes her.

In fact, Lady Babs of Shelburne is the only leading Vermont Republican mentioned by name on Ruth’s Web site. Ruth proudly notes that she was “appointed by Barbara Snelling to serve on her Committee on Educational Quality.”

We called Barbara Tuesday. She didn’t know Ruth had used her for name-dropping purposes. Asked if she is supporting Ruthie’s candidacy, Babs replied, “I will be attending Bill Meub’s announcement next week.”

Meub, who ain’t no boob, is challenging Dwyer in the GOP primary. By the way, Mrs. Snelling is presently planning on another run for the state senate this year. What a trooper!

As for Dr. Dean slapping the extremist label on Mrs. Dwyer, well, not everyone agrees. Anthony Pollina, the Progressive Party candidate for governor told Seven Days, “There is no doubt that Dwyer is far more conservative than the majority of Vermonters. On the other hand, I don’t think name-calling is a productive way to run a campaign. And from what I can tell, Howard Dean is out of touch with both his Democratic Party and the majority of Vermonters.”

Good answer.

Out of State Reaction? — Opponents of civil unions for gays and lesbians repeatedly claim Vermont is becoming a laughingstock because of the current legislation. Not so. In fact, there’s been quite a bit of praise for our blessed little state.

“With its historic vote creating ‘civil unions,’” wrote the Arizona Daily Star, “the Vermont House of Representatives has shown the nation a civil solution to the emotional debate over gay marriages.”

The Star-Tribue of Minneapolis (that’s Jesse Ventura country), lauded the quality and dignity of the debate in the Vermont House. “Legislator’s heartfelt debate before House passage of a civil unions bill,” wrote the Trib, “should be replicated elsewhere. If it were, the indignities gay couples endure throughout the nation would illuminate a subject seen too often through the distorting lens of prejudice and myth.”

And there was also praise from our neighbor to the east. New Hampshire’s Concord Monitor wrote “Vermont is heading in the right direction. Eventually, we should all reach the same destination, leaving any sort of discrimination based on sexual orientation in our past.”

As well as high praise from the Big Apple. “Vermonters should be proud,” wrote The New York Times, “that they are leading the way toward a society that values stable gay relationships… In time, Vermont’s example will show the rest of the country that same-sex unions are not a threat to traditional marriage and deserve the name of marriage as well as the law’s full protection.”

'Course, around the Statehouse, all the talk has been about the one daily newspaper that hasn’t written an editorial on civil unions — The Burlington Free Press.

Hey, Freeps, cat got your tongue? Or is it, as our sources indicate, the obstinacy of one person — President and Publisher Jim Carey?


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