New York, NY New York, NY
New York, NY New York, NY

Pat & Bob, New York, NY – Married 1965

At the time that the Supreme Court issued its decision on Loving v. Virginia in the summer of 1967, interracial marriage was still a felony offense in sixteen states.  Despite the decision, some state laws banning interracial marriage have remained on the books until as recently as 2000.  Because of the historical timeline, it was difficult to locate an interracial couple who met the 40-year criterion for this project.  So I was thrilled to find Robert and Patricia Carey living across town from me, in a townhouse in East Harlem.

It was in the heady days of the Civil Rights Movement in America that they spent four years in an evolving romance, culminating in their wedding in the summer of 1965.  Bob, the son of a Connecticut doctor, and Pat, the daughter of a minister from Chicago, met during their college years, in 1961, as volunteers for a summer community service program called Operation Crossroads to Africa.  They wrote to each other while Bob helped to build a pair of schools in Dahomey (now Benin) and Pat went to Nigeria, where she helped to build cement steps enabling the villagers to reach the local stream and later attended a midwifery clinic.  Returning to the United States, they continued to develop their relationship from a distance.  Bob entered Union Theological Seminary and landed an internship at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, working with Drs. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sr.  Pat earned her Masters’ Degree in Psychology from Michigan State, interning at a hospital in Chicago before joining Bob in Atlanta.  They lived together in a communal Mennonite house that was a way station for all sorts of individuals involved in the civil rights movement of the day.

In the face of considerable resistance from their families and communities, Bob and Pat determined that they were serious enough to get married.  Unable to marry in Georgia without dangerous consequences, they defiantly managed to purchase their rings there before leaving for Chicago, where they were married by Pat’s father, a minister for the Church of God.

Today, Bob is a teacher and Dean of Graduate Studies at Empire State College, splitting his time between New York City and Saratoga; Pat is an Assistant Chancellor and an Associate Dean at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education.  They have two children.


Pat:
Our generation, we were expected to be married.

Bob:
Yeah, that’s one of the things you did.

Pat:
Women of my generation were expected to be married, certainly by, I don’t know, twenty-three, twenty-four.  Bob and I met when we were both participating in this project called Operation Crossroads to Africa.  This was an organization that was started to take college students to Africa to work on community service projects.  We met during orientation.  I thought he was kinda cute, but I wasn’t looking.  Actually, I thought he was a little obnoxious, because he was so energetic, and he loved the dances.  I thought he was quite interesting, and intellectual, and all of that.  But I didn’t have in my mind, “oh, this is gonna be my husband.”  Because I really was not looking.  Consciously.

Bob:
I was… somewhere between looking and hunting, I suppose.  In fact, I had been engaged when I was a senior in college, and that had sort of come apart, so at that point I was thinking, “mmm, yeah, well… let’s not be in any great rush.”

RF:
And this is ’60-’61?

Bob:
Summer of ’61.  That’s right.  Just the beginning of the civil rights movement.  I was at Wesleyan; the sit-ins had started.  Some friends and I organized a sympathy demonstration in Middletown in front of the Woolworth’s that was there.  So I think that was very much a kind of things-being-in-the-air.  As I think about it, it was an incredibly hopeful time.

Pat:
Mm-hmm.

Bob:
Kennedy really came to symbolize for a lot of us a sense of, “hey, our time is here.”

RF:
So you met at this orientation, you had these first impressions.  But you didn’t go to the same countries.

Pat:
No.  So we went off to do our thing.  But we stayed in touch over the summer, didn’t we?

Bob:
Yeah.  We wrote…

Pat:
You know, little notes.

Bob:
…a couple of times, notes, “how’s it going,” “what’s up,” that sort of thing.

Pat:
Within Africa.  When we were there.

Bob:
And we saw each other when we regrouped on the way back.

Pat:
We decided to stay in touch.

Bob:
I was going to Union Seminary.  I’d gotten a Rockefeller fellowship to go for a year.  It was the Fund for Theological Education, to encourage people to consider careers in Ministry.  So I thought it was worth taking the time to really explore that.  And the Rockefeller thing was a terrific incentive.  So, there I was at Union; Pat was at Michigan State—

Pat:
Doing my Master’s.  My direction was Psychology.  And then I did get my degree, and Bob, by that time, was in Atlanta, working with Dr. King and Dr. King’s father, at Ebenezer Baptist Church as an intern.

Bob:
Right.

Pat:
And living in this commune, Mennonite community.  We decided, by that time, that we needed sort of day-to-day contact to see if we really wanted to… be together.

RF:
So you had crossed into a romantic place somewhere along this arc.

Bob:
Yeah.

Pat:
Right.  Yes.

Bob:
Pat had come to Union a few times, and I’d been to Chicago…

Pat:
To visit my folks.

Bob:
Yeah.

Pat:
I had been to Meriden…

Bob:
Right.

Pat:
To visit your folks.  And then we decided that maybe we were serious.

Bob:
Yeah.

Pat:
I don’t know how it all began, but we stayed in touch; and then it was getting to be a little more than just, “let’s just stay in touch.”  (to Bob.)  Don’t you think?

Bob:
Yeah.  I think that’s right.  I think that the visits were probably another notch along the way.  It was beginning to sort of gather some mass and headway as it moved along.

RF:
Were you dating around as well at the same time?

Bob:
Yeah.  Yeah.

Pat:
Yeah…

Bob:
I was.

Pat:
(Dryly.)  Yes, I know.  (Laughter.)  Yeah, I guess… I was going out, but I wasn’t serious.  I wasn’t falling in love.

Bob:
There was a program—

Pat:
Internship.

Bob:
—that had started in the ‘60s called the Student Interracial Ministry.  The idea of the Student Interracial Ministry was to place ministerial students, white and black, in a variety of parishes, southern and northern; and, basically, sort of cross-place.  So, the luck of the draw, I went to Ebenezer Baptist Church.  It was really quite extraordinary.  Went down on the train; you could still go down to Atlanta on the train.  Seemed to take forever.  I was active in the church for both years, but the second year, I was also the Acting Director of the Atlanta Council on Human Relations.  So it was both the church community and other things.  And it was that second year that Pat and I said, “okay.  We’ve got to get down to cases here.”  So she came down, after much pulling and hauling.

Pat:
Mm-hmm.  I had already graduated with my Master’s, and I was working at Chicago State Hospital.  I was living with my father—he had gotten remarried by then, but—I’m there, in Chicago.  So I said to my father one day, “I think I’m going to move to Atlanta.  Bob is there, and we’re really trying to decide whether or not we are serious enough to be married.”

Well, my father had a fit.  This big-time minister in Chicago, his daughter is going to live in sin.  I just said, “really, this is my decision.”  “Well, he probably doesn’t want to marry you.”  I said, “but I’ve got to find that out for myself.”  “Well, I’m gonna call the police,” he said, “and they’re going to get you.”  I said, “yeah, and I probably won’t come out of jail.  Because they will find out that Bob and I are living together in this commune”—it was an interracial commune, but nevertheless—“they will get me, I will be in jail, and they will probably lynch me, and you’ll never see me again.”  And he just threw up his hands.

RF:
How much of that was the racial question, and how much was the premarital, living-in-sin question?

Pat:
Oh, it was absolutely the racial question.  Yeah.  And then he says, “I will disown you.  You will get nothing from me.”  I said, “well, you know what?  I don’t really need anything.”  He really thought I was losing my mind.  And I reminded him that he taught us, I was socialized, to present my argument.  And follow my mind, you know?  Stick with it.  So he called a council of all of my relatives and my friends who were in Chicago.  He said, “Pat is a little confused.  So we have to help her decide against going to Atlanta.”  And even my very best friend at that time says, “Pat, please, don’t do it this time.  Don’t go to Atlanta this time.”  I said, “but this is my only time.  I’m trying to decide whether Bob and I are really in love enough to get married.”

Bob:
I got a call from one of Pat’s friends saying, “you better get up here.”  So, I remember getting a flight out of Atlanta.  And her father and I had a very, very contentious discussion.  They lined up along the same lines as what I’d heard from my family.  Mine took a more New England style, which is to say, you know, in a—

Pat:
Less hysterical.

Bob:
Yes.  Right.  The ice approach.  But it was the same worry.  About friends, about reputation.  But, then… Pat came down to Atlanta.


Pat:
Over the time period of our trying to decide whether or not we were going to make this work—it was over a four year period, but it was a long-distance romance—we talked a lot about being an interracial couple, through our letters.

Bob:
Yeah, we still have the letters.

Pat:
And we used these two characters, Panther and Lion, to really talk through a lot of the racial issues.  I was Panther.  And you were Lion.

Bob:
Yeah.

Pat:
And so, our letters were, “well, Panther is confused, or wondering if Lion likes her even though she is a black person.”  And, “these things are going on this society, dah dah dah, and how are they going to deal with this?”

RF:
They were not only nicknames for yourselves and each other, but sort of a one-step removal to be able to address it?

Bob:
Yeah.  Yeah.  To create a space where we could actually see ourselves, or try to see ourselves.  I think that one of the reasons it took us so long was not only the time and distance, but that question that becomes very, very central, that we really had to look at, which was, “are we doing this just to drive our parents crazy?  Or does this relationship have its own kind of logic and an interior core?”

Pat:
Mm-hmm.  Right.

Bob:
And I think we literally had to walk into that to get that sorted out.  Then we had the experience of meeting interracial couples whose sole achievement was that they were an interracial couple.  We thought, “oops.  I don’t think we wanna go there.”  And that pretty much confirmed for us that, as long as it had taken to get some stuff sorted out, that that was probably worth the walk.

Pat:
Yeah, because we weren’t trying to prove anything, certainly consciously.  Yeah, I had always been kind of a rebel, and Bob had been kind of a rebel; but this was a serious thing, and we did not want this, as Bob is saying, to be a rebellious act.  I truly believe in marriage, and was taking it very, very seriously; and you, too.  Yeah.  I guess we did spend four years.  In a “therapeutic” relationship.  You know, through our letters, going through a lot of these issues.  And then decided, yeah, this is what we really wanted to do.


[On Pat’s arrival in Atlanta.]

Bob:
It was like a halfway house.  A lot of civil rights workers… it became a place where people went to on their comings and goings… from working in Albany or the voter rights summer; we had a lot of folks there, we had peacewalkers coming through… so it was really a kind of commune, as well as a whole bunch of Mennonite folks who were coming to Atlanta to do their service, because they’ve got that tradition.  It was a big frame house, lots of rooms.

Pat:
The back of our house abutted Dr. King’s house.  We’d walk around to his house to visit.  Which was great.

RF:
Were there other interracial couples there?

Bob & Pat:
(Simultaneously.)
  No.

Pat:
The first time I attended the church service…

Bob:
Oh, yeah.  Yeah.

Pat:
Daddy King was trying to introduce me.  (Bob laughs.)  And he could not… he didn’t know how to introduce me.  Because it was so startling to him.  That I was… I don’t think he knew I was black.

Bob:
I don’t think so.

Pat:
I arrived, and—this was one Sunday morning—he says, “well, Bob Carey… I want to introduce Bob Carey’s… well, Bob has a friend… well, uh… well, Pat, just stand up.”

Bob:
He couldn’t say fiancée.

Pat:
He could not say…

Bob:
He couldn’t say fiancée.  I think probably he didn’t know how to present it.

Pat:
He didn’t—

Bob:
In terms of what do you do now, because this was quite public; at a time, you know, we could—we were outside the law, as far as Georgia law was concerned.

Pat:
Yeah.  It was illegal.

Bob:
When we got our wedding rings, I went into a jewelry store, and looked at some, and identified ones; and then Pat came in another day, you know, just like we were two unconnected persons—

Pat:
Right.  (Showing me her wedding rings.)  These are they.

Bob:
—to look at the rings and, in fact, we got them.

Pat:
Mm-hmm.  In Atlanta.

Bob:
In Atlanta.

Pat:
Yeah.  But it was 1964.  And interracial marriages were illegal in Georgia.

Bob:
Yeah.

Pat:
Sometimes we’d go out when we were in Atlanta.  And I remember this one time, we went to the movies with some friends from the community.  Bob and I sat down along with our friends.  And this whole row of people moved—these were white people—who just moved.  So we had the entire row to ourselves.  And that was scary to me, because we were going to be in the dark.  And I became afraid.  Or, remember when we went to the party?

Bob:
Oh, yeah.

Pat:
Bob and I were invited to a party, and we were coming home late.  So I would get in the back seat and put my head down, you know?  Because if we were ever stopped—and we could well have been, at that time—with my being in front, and his driving, we knew it was very, very dangerous.  The things we did in Atlanta, some of them were very dangerous.  So, in getting back to what was on the books in terms of the law, it was illegal for people to date interracially.  And certainly to marry interracially.

RF:
The Supreme Court decision wasn’t until 1967.

Pat:
That’s right.

RF:
What was the rest of the country like?  Was it a non-issue in the north, in general?

Pat:
No, no.  It was still an issue.  I remember, when Bob and I did say to our families, “we’re going to be married,” and I told my father, who was a minister, that we would get another minister, and he says, “oh, no, no, no.  I will marry you.”  And I said, “fine.”  That was his arrogance; he couldn’t lose face by having somebody else perform the ceremony.  So it really became a reality.  As it turns out, there were a lot of people who came just as onlookers.  It was like going to the zoo.  We had a very big church wedding.  But Bob’s family did not come to the wedding.  They said they could not, in all conscience, come to the wedding, and they did not.  And that was very, very hurtful, very painful.

Bob:
That was the classic New England moment.  We were standing in our front yard; I was about to go to Chicago, and I asked them, “are you going to come to the wedding?”  They said no, that they weren’t; so I said, “okay, goodbye.”  And I think, at that point, it was pretty much that was that.

Pat:
Right.

Bob:
Sort of “goodbye,” in the sense of “have a nice life.”  But one of the things that my folks did was, they gave us the same wedding gift that they had given to all the other kids.  So, tradition still…

Pat:
Won over.

Bob:
…had its weight.  And its moment.  Which was nice.

Pat:
Yeah.  It was very nice. Very… very touching, really.  But we were reconciled, once Bob and I were married.  While our parents were having a hard time accepting our marriage, still, tradition really won over their feelings.  I think they were just too… wanting to do what was right to exclude us from, say, traditional family gatherings.

Bob:
Yeah.

Pat:
But again, we had determined early on that we weren’t doing this to prove a point; nor were we trying to get them to accept our way of being in this world.

Bob:
Yeah.  And I think that the slow but steady getting back together and re-establishing relationship grew out of that clarity.  Because we were saying, “we’re not sending you away,” and that created some space for us to be in touch and, over the years, to get really, really close.  I think that was only possible because we didn’t say, “love us or else.”  It was a case of, “this is who we are.  And if you’re comfortable with that, and we’re comfortable with that, then we can find ways of putting it back together.”  And it did happen.

Pat:
The first time we brought our daughter up to her grandparents’, in Meriden, my mother-in-law was very excited to take her, and me, to her coffee klatch and to show off her new granddaughter.  My father was very excited about showing off his granddaughter.  So, in a way, our kids—I mean, children really do help to bring families together.  But the point here, too, is that after a time, I think you really do stop seeing color.  I remember a couple of times we went out shopping, looking for some dress.  We had a couple of the other grandchildren, and my daughter called my mother-in-law from across the aisle.  She says, “Gram, where are you?”  And my mother-in-law called back, “Oh, I’m over here, come on over here.”

I was there, and I could see people kind of looking at us, the group.  And my mother-in-law didn’t even give it a thought.  It was just something that was “normal.”  So after a time, really, you stop seeing color.  Or color doesn’t really… matter.  I look at Bob, and I—that’s why I stumble every time I say, “oh, he’s white.”  And then I think, “no, he’s Bob.”  Really.  You know, we have arguments, and I’m not looking at this guy and saying, “oh, this white guy I’m arguing with.”  I’m… “this is Bob.  My husband.”

RF:
How did you resist everybody else’s pressures about the fact that you’re black and he’s white?

Bob:
I think part of it is… you can pick up on it and begin to realize that, very often, when you get into discussion about color and race and stuff, and marriage, somebody is asking you to solve their problem for them.

Pat:
We have, I believe, always agreed that you have to work on marriage every day.  It’s a relationship that you have to work on.  We were clear, too, in terms of other people, that we don’t talk for all interracial couples.  We talk for Bob and Pat.  I was in a women’s group early on.  A Women’s Liberation group.  You know, a black women’s group?

Bob:
Oh, yeah.

Pat:
It was our first meeting, and one of the women says, “I assume we’re all married to these black men, and dah dah dah dah.”  I said, “well, that’s a wrong assumption.”  She says, “WHAT?”  I said, “well, you know, I don’t wear a banner across my chest, but yeah.  My husband is White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.”  And he’s… like every other male, probably.”  “Oh, no, no.  White men are different from black men.”  So it, you know, had those conversations.  Or conversations about, “you know, you’re really lucky to be married to a white guy.  Because you just don’t know what it’s like to be married to a black guy.”  I said, “well, do you know what it means to be married to black men?  You’re talking about your one husband.”  When those conversations come up, we’ve had to take them one at a time.  It’s important to try to be as clear as possible on our relationship.  And that clarity doesn’t just happen.

RF:
In those early days, how did you avoid saying, “we’re having a problem, is it because of the racial difference, is it an inherent thing and therefore it can’t be solved, or it’s gonna be that much harder?  Or was it not ever an instinct to even think that way?  In spite of all the social hints that were being whispered in your ear?

Bob:
I think that one of the things we didn’t do was accept the notion that—the racial premise is that there is a defining, unchanging interior difference between peoples.  We never went there.  What we had to work on was sorting out the question of what we valued, why, and where expectations didn’t match or meld, what was going on there.  Why was that abrasive, why was that sandy?  And I think that’s where the talking—

Pat:
Mm-hmm.

Bob:
And keeping fairly focused on that as the defining reality, rather than some metaphysic of something else, I think helped us a lot.

Pat:
There was one interview we had with some reporter who followed us, and videotaped us.  Remember, darling?

Bob:
Oh, yeah.  The NBC person.

Pat:
And her remark, after we finished the shoot, she says, “you’re just so traditional.  You’re just so boring.”  (Laughter.)  And I said, “well, yeah.”

Bob:
That’s true.

Pat:
“We don’t have horns, you know.  We’re just boring folks who are trying to get through.”

RF:
What do you feel is the biggest challenge you’ve had to face or confront together?

Pat & Bob, New York, NYPat:
Well, I don’t think it’s based on being an interracial couple.  You know, just… at times feeling that Bob wasn’t giving me enough attention.  You know, Bob can… you could stay in the house all day long, and read your books; and not go out.  And I’m more a social… I like to go out, and all.  So we did have a crisis in our marriage, at one point.  I guess we’ve had many different crises.

Bob:
But I think that one was—I mean, one of the things that’s hardest to figure out, and what Pat’s talking about, I think, gets to that—is, to get used to the asymmetry of marriage.

Pat:
Right.

Bob:
It’s not, “one for you, and one for me.”  There are just different rhythms and patterns.

Pat:
Right.

Bob:
And that’s what we really had to school ourselves in.  That’s where the talking really became very, very crucial.

Pat:
And added to that, my friends don’t necessarily have to be Bob’s friends.  You know?  You want togetherness in a relationship, but there must be some space in that togetherness.

RF:
How did you define marriage when you went into it, and now, 40 years into it, do you see it differently?

Bob:
Pat, very early on, talked about companionship.  That really deepens, and takes on a lot of different color and texture.  The other day, for example, we went to King of Prussia, PA, to see a friend who’s retiring from American Baptist, and he and I had worked in Dr. King’s church.  And then we came back, and then went to ShopRite to go shopping, so, you know, it was one of these absolutely insane days that we sometimes have.  But, the reality of that day captures, it seems to me, what I mean about companionship.  Is that we just sort of like hanging out with each other.  That sort of “rattle around” feeling.  Of traveling, and doing this, doing that.  That, I think, we had to learn and find our way to.

Pat:
That’s right.  Right.  Because our role models were our parents.  And I know, just in thinking about my parents, they seemed so old when I was young.  Their relationship, it was just very traditional; and I never thought in terms of, “wow, they really have lots of fun together.”  Our kids say to us, “you guys are always going someplace.”  And so we say, “we like hanging out with each other.”  I can’t imagine that conversation taking place about my parents.

So, coming into a marriage, yeah.  I had… “yes, we’re gonna get married, and we’ll both work, and then we’re gonna have children.”  And of course, I said, “well, I’ll be cooking, and cleaning, and doing all these things…”  So that picture has changed.  Because… I became liberated.  (They laugh.)

Aside from sex, you have to at least like some of the other things about being together.  You know?  Anybody can have sex.  So it’s important to like each other.  And that was… we learned that.  You know, I didn’t think that, originally.  The importance of liking each other, and liking to be in one another’s company.  And sharing.  And the importance of talking through things, even when it hurts.  It’s hard to talk through.  And also… because I remember this… not expecting each other to read each other’s minds.  That’s really important.  I think you said that to me a long, long time ago.

Bob:
Yeah.

Pat:
“I can’t read your mind.  We can’t read each other’s mind.”  So you have to say what you want, or think, by saying it.

Bob:
It really is a project.  It’s an ongoing work.  And one hesitates to use the word “buddies” in this context, because that sounds so absolutely adolescent (Pat laughs.) and unromantic, and “my God, they must be wearing sneakers.”

Pat:
I am!

Bob:
And be totally untogether.  But the undeniable reality is that, as you walk into your marriage, and it becomes this landscape that you inhabit, that what I call “rattling around,” “hanging out,” doing things together because you derive satisfaction from it, has that kind of… “this is my best friend… the person that knows me, absolutely down to my socks.”


[On the Civil Rights movement.]

Bob:
There were some real, real successes, and those are documentable in terms of what the rights movement accomplished.  And what it stirred up in its wake.  I mean, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights… all of those are the grandchildren of that great opening moment.  Or at least a moment in a history that stretches very, very far back and continues to stretch in front of us.  But the one thing that I think I’m left with now is the sense of:  is it possible for another generation—and I certainly hope it is—to catch that sense of hope on the wing… that I think really was our moment.

Pat:
Yes.

Bob:
One of the things that our kids forced us to reckon with was:  for them, King was something you read about in a history book.  I can hear his voice; I can see his face; I am sitting at his table in Atlanta.  “But you should know this,” that’s what you say to your children, but why should they know it?  They’re born… their tabula is rasa, and anyway, maybe with a good education they’ll catch some glimpse of that.  But as I think back over that time, all the hope also was accompanied by enormous cost.  And the thing that I’m most worried about, in terms of this country and the sense of its becoming yet more inclusive, yet more open, yet more democratic, is a really, really stark class division.  A real Latin-America, very top-of-the-mark people who rule everything, and everybody else is on the scuffle.  And that will be the second, and really awful, civil war.

Pat:
I agree.  I was talking with my scholars group—this is an undergraduate group at the University.  And I was telling them about the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, talking about marching for women’s rights.  To choose.  And I was on the line, marching; my daughter was a baby and I had her in my little baby-holder.  And there were a couple of women on the side who [said], “you should be ashamed of yourself.”  So I said, “but it was my choice.  This was my choice.”  And I was voting for other women to have choices.

Some of the students in class can’t understand that.  There are so many students in this generation who have a sense of entitlement; but of course, that should be.  I mean, why not?  Not really knowing what it took for them to now have that sense, feel that sense of entitlement.  Not that they should be down in the dumps, and say, “oh, wow, this is… yeah, we’ve come a long way.”  But it’s a sense of history.

Bob:
You were asking about the changes, and the notion of marriage.  That’s, to me, one of the happy things—

Pat:
Mm-hmm.

Bob:
That now, the term has become so fluid.  That people really do have to take a look at…

Pat:
What it means.

Bob:
“What is this,” as opposed to (he affects a deep authoritarian voice.)  “it is written that male and female, etc.”  The notion of companionate marriage, the range of… What should we call an enduring, affectional, caring relationship?  And what does that mean, in terms of where the prerogatives of the state and the individual meet and leave each other?  Because of all the rights, that’s one of the most fundamental.  That I can choose to be with whomever I want to be with.  That the state has no competency in the area of defining what a companionate relationship should be.

So, on that side, you think, okay, the pot’s still boiling; people are still pushing at this issue of an openness, an availability to each other; the texture of our public life is now more interesting; more grainy; more of what’s really there.  Even as I worry about the big drivers of economics and politics becoming a closed, very exclusive club.

RF:
What is a marriage to you?

Bob:
Well, it’s been interesting; because one of the things I’ve learned from our gay friends that we know, who have companionate marriages, is that some things do endure.  That there’s still an asymmetry.  If it’s female-female, male-male, it still has that asymmetry of any affectional relationship.  It’s got its rhythms, and its movements, and people who work at it seem to really thrive, and make each other really complete.

I think to the extent that we can look at this issue of relationships, and how to keep them stable, and how to keep people in productive relationships, really push at received notions.  It’s gonna take more than a little bit to do, because the idea that there is only one way of thinking about marriage, I think, will be slow to change.  But I just think the fact that it’s now a public discussion is, in itself, a huge forward step.

Pat:
Yes.

Bob:
It’s not an issue that’s gonna go away.  I think a part of that is giving up a received moral vocabulary that tends to shutter our capacity to look at the human dimensions of situations.  It’s a judgmental vocabulary to begin with.

RF:
“The minister’s daughter’s marrying a white guy.”

Pat:
Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.

Bob:
Yeah.  It tends to absolutism.  And to look at in terms of are they happy?  Are they supporting each other?  Do they seem to be doing well?  If they’ve got kids, are the kids doing well?

Pat:
Are they getting on?

Bob:
Are they getting on with each other?  Do they like each other?  And if they’ve got 8 out of 10 on the scale of what a relationship would have, then… hey, you know?  Gee, if they were playing major league ball, you’d want a long-term contract with these people!  So I think, to the extent that we can look at behaviors—and not at a kind of moral grid—so much the better.

RF:
Do you think that’s going to happen?

Bob:
I think it can happen; I think it is happening, in its own tumultuous kind of way.  Because it’s, as I said before, I think because it is public.  And it’s also now political.

Pat:
You know, marriage has been, and I believe will always be.  But the challenges to marriage along, say, class lines.  That was an issue.  And it still is.  Along racial lines.  That is, and it still remains; even though there are more interracial marriages now than ten years, five years, two years ago.  You have marriages based on religious affiliations.  And when you have a Jewish person marrying a Chinese person… well, that’s a mixture.  And now you have same-sex marriages.

What I’m saying is, there are—at different ages and stages in this whole cycle of marriage, in this world—there have been challenges to the institution of marriage.  So, right now, while interracial marriages are still a point for discussion, now arrives on the scene the same-sex marriages.  And I don’t know what will be next after that.  But the basics still remain.  If these people like each other, they’re making it in various ways, there are some parameters for marriage.  No matter what the combination is.

RF:
So to you, that is a marriage.

Bob:
Yeah.

RF:
If they’re making it.

Pat:
Mm-hmm.

RF:
So it can withstand that redefinition?

Pat:
Uh-huh.  Yeah, because—

Bob:
Yeah, because basically, it’s already anchored.  It’s got a kind of center-pull quality to it.  The politics of it, I think, will be long term, and difficult.  But I think that’s where we are.  In fact, I think we’re well down that road.

RF:
What do you say to the people who talk about it as the threat to family, and to stability as a society, and this kind of thing?

Bob:
I would turn that right on its head.  The fact that people want to be married, want to be recognized as a married couple, means that they value all of those things associated with long-term commitment.  Stability, being there for each other, being part of a community, presumably making a contribution.  As opposed to living in the marginal corridors of a society.  Under threat of prosecution, illegal, removed from the center.  My sense is the cost there is—

Pat:
Much greater.

Bob:
Is much greater.

Pat:
Right.  When folks talk about, “oh, isn’t this horrible?”  My response is, “but I don’t believe people are asking you to choose that particular way of being.  But rather respect their choice.”  Just as we’ve asked people to respect our choice.  We’re not saying that interracial marriage is right for everybody.  In fact, it’s not.  But we all have a right to choose, or should have a right to choose
.