Just a Love Story

Four-time Tony Award winner Terrence McNally's new play, "The Stendhal Syndrome," opens Monday off-Broadway.

Just before Christmas, my partner, Tom Kirdahy, and I went to Vermont to get married. It was high time. We’d been together for more than two years, and we were confident and happy in our love.

We thought that it was time to notarize our bliss and maybe flaunt it a bit as well. After all, our “civil union” was featured in the Sunday New York Times Style section, right next to Sen. John Warner’s fifth or sixth attempt at getting it right. My Shallow Hal side exulted: Surely our two names, so definitely masculine, would attract Elizabeth Taylor’s eye as she read about an ex, and she would read about us!

It was a five-hour drive and a pleasant one, but we could not help wondering why the state where we live and work (and pay taxes) does not recognize our desire to be a loving, committed and legal couple. Neither does our federal government. In their eyes, we are marginal people and consequently entitled only to marginal rights. It is as if we asked for a driver’s license, passed the written and driving tests with flying colors (you should see us parallel-park!) and were issued a permanent learner’s permit instead. We drive as well as Dick and Jane (definitely better than Dick), but that was not the point.


You’re different from Dick and Jane. You’re both men. Duh! All right then, Tom and Terrence, marriage is a profound and deeply spiritual institution. Committed relationships are the bedrock of a society. We couldn’t agree more. That’s why we went to Vermont. Boys, you still don’t understand. Dick and Jane are a man and a woman, and marriage is a sacred contract between a man and a woman. Who says? Their dog Spot? No, God. Oh, Him.

At this point I throw up my hands and say if we are going to have an intelligent dialogue about this issue of “gay” marriage, we have got to keep Him out of it.

My God, you see, delights in my relationship with Tom. He sees that we are happy, and that makes Him happy. Buddha said the meaning of life was “to be happy,” and my God, essentially the one with the robes and long white beard, totally agrees.

Separation of church and state is a fundamental tenet of the American experience. That it is being challenged everywhere is apparent to even the most casual citizen of this country, and people like Tom and me refuse to stand silently by while we and others of our “persuasion” and “orientation” (how I loathe the euphemisms that litter this debate) are denied the same rights as Dick and Jane and their healthy heterosexual appetites -- all in the name of some God and some religion. And please, what about my healthy homosexual appetites? I can’t conjure up others just to qualify for a marriage certificate.

No, the name of this game is homophobia. I know the Falwells and Bushes of the world say they hate the sin and not the sinner, but that is just so much hogwash. I know it, they know it, let’s just admit it. They don’t like liberal Democrats either, but they allow them to marry and even multiply. They reserve a special detestation for people like Tom and me.

In the mid-1970s I wrote a farce called “The Ritz.” It took place in a gay bathhouse. It played on Broadway to packed houses for more than a year. It was filmed by Warner Bros. In it there was a line that I regretted having to write but I believed to be true. Unfortunately, 30 years later I still do.


The character who spoke it was called Chris. He was a “flamer” but a pretty tough customer too. If he thought you were looking at him “funny” he’d be in your face before you had time to look away. He was in ACT UP before the AIDS epidemic started.

“I’ll tell you something about straight people,” he said to a heterosexual man who had wandered into the bathhouse by mistake and was doing his best to be tolerant of the queers and perverts who were suddenly in the majority. “And sometimes I think it’s the only thing worth knowing about them. They don’t like gay people. They never have, they never will. Anything else you say about them is just talk.”

F. Murray Abraham spoke the line brilliantly: tough and straight to the point. He didn’t try to sell or soften it. I always expected the straight members of the audience -- and after the first weeks of the run they were definitely in the majority -- to walk out or shout back when this line was spoken. But they sat there and took it -- this deadly, scathing line in the middle of a farce. So maybe there was some truth in it.

I said it was a line I regretted having to write 30 years ago. I regret even more repeating it now. But if it looks, talks and smells like homophobia -- and that is exactly what this Defense of Marriage stuff does -- then I say it is homophobia, and let’s talk about it in these most basic of terms.

Refusing gay men and women the right to marry is reinforcing the same deadly concepts that we have been raised on: that we are simply not as good as everyone else. That my love for Tom is less than your love for Dick or Jane. Why? Because. Most nice people won’t say “because you and Tom are gay and if we allow you to marry we’re saying your relationship is as valid as ours.” Isn’t it? “No, not really. This is the sacred institution of marriage we’re talking about. Allow you guys to get married, and we’re opening the floodgates of depravity.”

Our president has threatened to amend the Constitution to prevent the likes of Tom and me getting married. In that sad and, I hope, unlikely event, it is the floodgates of naked bigotry, not immorality, that will be opened.


Tom and I are married in our eyes. We ask you to respect and honor that in every legal detail. Nothing less, nothing more. Get to know us, you might even like us, too, but let’s keep our priorities in the proper order.

Next stop, Massachusetts.