Monthly Archives: March 2013

March 30, 2013

This passage, while I love it, was simply too long a tangent—it was pretty much completely irrelevant to the section it was in, and it really threw off the flow. But I still kind of love it. So, Michele di Pietro, thank you, and I'm sorry.

I can’t see anything wrong with polygamous marriage, especially since I’ve met exactly one person in my entire life who was interested in being in one. We arranged casual sex online and, as instructed, I showed up at his place, entered through the unlocked door, took my clothes off, and put on the blindfold he’d left for me. We had perfectly lovely sex with a bit of very tame bondage thrown in, and then when we were done he untied me and unblindfolded me and I finally saw him and he gave the impression of nothing so much as a delicate, wan Smurf. Then we went for a walk and talked about lots of things, including polygamy, and then he told me that he wanted me to be his slave. I demurred and went home; I wasn’t interested in having any master but myself, and in the alternate universe where I was, he was not going to live in a mushroom. Thus when the next week the gentleman called and asked me out on a real live date—“Do you want to have dinner on Friday?” he said—I was so taken aback that I actually said, “No,” though when he said, “What?” I backed down and started babbling about not wanting to be a slave in a polygamous relationship and then he said that he was open to all sorts of relationship options and then I pretended that the connection had gone bad and hung up on him, though I did so while I was talking so he would think that I had actually been disconnected and not just avoiding him, because who would actually hang up on himself? He e-mailed me a few months later and asked whether Cheer New York, the gay cheerleading squad I was a member of, might be able to participate in the Polyamorous Pride parade. When I mentioned this to Cheer New York’s coach, he said, “Oh, my God, that guy e-mailed me and I never answered him. I was like, what are we going to cheer? ‘Two, four, six, eight, everybody!’?” I saw some photos of the event later and there were twenty-seven people there; in a city where the annual No Pants Subway Ride regularly draws over three thousand participants, if you can’t attract thirty your cause is pretty anemic (though when I asked a statistician friend to do the calculations he said that with a set of twenty-seven people to draw from there were very approximately a thousand trillion trillion different possibilities for polygamous groupings, or about one tenth of the number of stars in the universe, so perhaps I’m thinking about this using the wrong math). My point: this guy was a nice if somewhat odd fellow, and I doubt there are more than a relative handful of people in America who want to marry polygamously anyway, so I don’t really see the point in stopping them.

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March 29, 2013

The section in chapter 8 about the "Judeo-Christian tradition of marriage" used to be much longer—at one point it was an entire chapter.  But then people I showed it to were like, wow, I can tell how much you enjoy research but please stop.  So the next few posts are from that section.

There’s a lot of stuff in the Judaic tradition that would get a lot of Christians a hell of a lot more upset than gay people getting married. (Which, come to think of it, it has, which is I guess why Christians have been killing Jews for millennia.) Here’s an example. Genesis 2:18-22 tells us (in the King James version) that

the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God . . . took one of his ribs . . . and made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

Adam looks sad and lonely, so God creates puppies and bunnies and butterflies to frolic around him and keep him company, and then he creates Eve to be his wife. Simple enough, right? 
Well, not quite, at least not according to Jewish sages, who aren’t stupid enough to pretend that that puppies and bunnies and butterflies crap will fool anybody. No, says Rabbi Eleazar in Yevamot 63a; Adam was lonely and he was also horny, and one by one, as God created the animals, Adam had sex with them all. It was only after Adam had fucked every animal on earth and still not had a truly satisfying orgasm that God realized he needed to step up his game and pulled the rib from Adam’s side to make Eve. This includes not just puppies and bunnies and butterflies but also the Tyrannosaurus Rex. And the tarantula. And the slug. And the paramecium.

How’s that for the Judeo-Christian tradition, Mr. Santorum?

Or let’s look a little more closely at the first man and woman, shall we? According to the King James version of Genesis 5:2, “Male and female created He them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam.” Later translations, interested more in easy comprehension than in accuracy, render “called their name Adam” as “named them man” or “called them human.” But Talmudic scholars are more punctilious in Genesis Rabbah 8:1; the only explanation for the singular name with plural sexes, according to them, is that Adam was a hermaphrodite. Sages differed on the question of whether Adam was simply a regular person with male and female sex organs (Rabbi Yirmiyah ben Eleazar) or more akin to Plato’s sphere people, with a male face and male features and genitalia on one side of the body and a female face and female features and genitalia on the other side (Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahman, who then interpreted taking a rib from Adam’s side to make Eve as cutting the whole in half), but they were all in agreement that the loins from which the human race sprang were intersex.

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March 28, 2013

More about "the Judeo-Christian tradition of marriage." I should note that, when I sent this passage to a theologian friend of mine asking for comments, he wrote back saying this was the clumsiest, most unsubtle view of the history of Christianity that he'd ever seen.  So know that this isn't endorsed by your local anybody.  That doesn't necessarily mean it's not true.

Before I started writing this, my understanding of the Christian perspective on marriage was: Sex is bad.

I was not surprised to learn that the truth is a little more nuanced than this.

It’s true, it turns out, that the early Christians weren’t so hot on sex and that they regarded marriage as a consummation not particularly devoutly to be wished. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide [celibate] even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” and, though most modern translations disingenuously render this as “than to burn with passion,” even a cursory examination of the relevant texts makes it clear that the smoke of hellfire was in Paul’s nostrils. A century or two later, St. Jerome, one of Paul’s biggest cheerleaders, writes, “He who is in the merely animal state, and does not receive the things pertaining to the Spirit of God . . . is not fed with the food of perfect chastity, but with the coarse milk of marriage. . . . Corruption attaches to all intercourse, and . . . the rewards of chastity cannot belong to marriage.”

Reading these sentiments expressed by the guys who started this whole thing didn’t surprise me a great deal. What did surprise me was finding out what they were really after: they wanted, if I understand correctly, to destroy the world. Jesus’ buddies lived in the midst of a bunch of pagans whose society was chugging along as stably as ever, which they found really annoying, because Jesus had said he wasn’t planning another visit until everything was irreparably fucked up, and they missed him. So they figured that if they just never had sex, they wouldn’t have any kids, and if people stopped having kids altogether, then society would fall apart, the world would end, and Jesus would come back.

In other words, when the Romans sent Christians to the lions, it wasn’t just because it was fun to watch the lions rip the Christians apart, though I’m sure it was; the Romans were protecting their country from terrorists.

After a while, though, everybody’s “The end of the world is at hand!” signs started getting pretty tattered, and the longer the apocalypse kept failing to materialize the more difficult it was for Christians to believe that it would. They couldn’t just say, oh, well, guess we were wrong, however, because by this time there were a lot of them, and their increasing numbers were giving them something they’d never had before: power. Rather than give it up, therefore, Christian theologians just developed another justification for all this celibacy, which was that sex is bad. (They were particularly upset by non-vanilla sex—saying things like, “It is better for a wife to permit herself to copulate with her own father in a natural way than with her husband against nature [orally or anally],” for example—but really they didn’t seem happy about any of it.) Of course most of the people becoming Christians weren’t so interested in celibacy; they just wanted to keep living their lives the way they always had, and the Church—forgetting apparently that its original intent had been not to take over society but to destroy it—turned a blind eye to their infractions (sexual and otherwise), which meant it was easier for more people to become Christians, which meant that the Church had to turn a blinder eye, and eventually the religion that had begun as a revolution established itself as the most powerful protector of the status quo in history.

Protecting the status quo at the time meant, among many other things, that the Church licensed prostitutes, and that priests, while officially celibate, could have as many concubines and kids as they wanted provided they paid the officially established fees. Eventually, though, Martin Luther and his friends were like, we’ve had enough, and one of the things of which they’d had enough was the hypocrisy of the Church’s hoity-toity attitude toward marriage and sex compared with its actual practices, so they said, you know what, we’re taking our marbles and starting our own club, and in our club, marriage is good, though only with pure vanilla sex, because marriage is a “hospital for lust”; any other kind of sex within marriage (and any kind of sex at all outside) is “dreadful, scabby, stinking, loathsome, and syphilitic.” Once Luther had fractured the Church, moreover, there was really no way to unify it again, and disagreeing sects and denominations multiplied over generations, with the result that when the Puritans came over to America a little later—remember, they left England because they wanted the religious freedom to be uptight—American Protestant Christianity was born as a religion that hated sex, the body, and women, but thought marriage was a fine idea.

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March 27, 2013

I tried and tried and tried to find a way to get this in, because I absolutely love it, but I just couldn't find a place where it didn't mess with the flow. I was writing this in 2010, so the 2008 statistics were the most recent I had. It wouldn't surprise me if the trends I discuss continued.

The last argument the Defenders of Traditional Marriage make is that American marriage is already in a precarious enough position and that allowing gay people to marry would destroy it altogether—that if we degrade the institution by letting gay people in, straight people will have an even flimsier standard to hold themselves to.

Let’s look at that, shall we?

In Massachusetts, marriage between people of the same sex was legalized in 2004. If we look at the divorce rate between 2003 and 2008 (the latest year for which statistics are available), we should be able to develop an idea of whether marriage equality has harmed the institution of marriage there.

In 2003, the divorce rate in Massachusetts was 1.21%. In 2008, it was 0.96%. This means that, during the first five years of marriage equality, the Massachusetts divorce rate fell 20.7%. Not a particularly damaging blow to the institution of marriage.
But we’re looking at this out of context. What if, during the same period, divorce rates dropped much more in other states, and Massachusetts was actually dead last in divorce reduction? In that case we’d have to admit that the Defenders of Traditional Marriage might have a point.

Except that the Massachusetts divorce rate fell farther than that of forty-seven of the other forty-nine states. The only states with bigger reductions in divorce rates during the same period were Rhode Island and Maine, with respective drops of 20.8% and 21.2%. That still places them behind Massachusetts in 2008 divorce rates: Massachusetts is in fact the only state in the union with a divorce rate under 1%.

Okay, but maybe all the other states are in more or less the same position—maybe divorce rates dropped 20% or so around the country, and Massachusetts is third among fifty equals. We don’t want to be unfair to the DTMs by creating the illusion of significance without actual significance backing it up.
So let’s look at, say, Alaska, which as it happens was the first state to enact a constitutional ban on marriage of same-sex couples.

In 2003, Alaska’s divorce rate was 1.87%. In 2008, it was 2.20%. That’s an increase of 17.2%.

It’s possible that marriage equality would be the best possible thing for the health of American marriage since the invention of earplugs.

Go figure.

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March 26, 2013

The first draft of Lawfully Wedded Husband was told in present tense—it opened in medias res, flashed back, and then caught up to itself. This was the opening of that version of the book.

It’s 4:09 on Thursday afternoon, December 17, and here is what I have accomplished so far today: gotten out of bed, walked the dogs, masturbated, watched the episode of Law & Order: SVU in which Chris Meloni, undercover as a douchebag exotic-animal-smuggler wannabe, spends an entire scene shirtless almost getting roughed up, taken a nap during which I dreamed about writing a show for three sisters in which they played three sisters who were putting on a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, started to knit a green hat, read the Wikipedia article about Baumol’s cost disease, read many other Wikipedia articles about many other things, including but not limited to a) the fall of the Hawaiian monarchy (poor Queen Lili’u’okalani!) and b) mud, edited the Wikipedia article about historically informed performance of early music, unraveled the green hat and started over in pink, watched YouTube videos of songs from Disney’s Pocahontas in French and attempted literal translations back into English, with only moderate success (falling short of complete triumph would once have been cause for crippling self-laceration but I am now well-medicated enough not to want to kill myself for being ignorant of the French word for “otter”), masturbated, showered, gotten dressed, unraveled the pink hat and started over in purple, gotten ready to leave for the musical theater writing class I teach at NYU, and written this list.

Here is what I have not accomplished today: called the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens to schedule my wedding.

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March 26, 2013

Here's more from the narrative of the Seddons. I think this stuff is fascinating but it slowed the story down so much it made me want to slit my wrists. It's also pretty much irrelevant to the story of the book.  And at one point it was even longer because I wanted to go into all this stuff about how poison brought to people's minds not just cholera, which they already didn't want to think about, but also the taint of the Orient, which only reminded them that the British Empire was falling to pieces.  And then there was a whole thing about people being horrified by the attempt at class mobility.  I'd include that stuff too, except that I never got it into any kind of shape worth my finishing, much less worth your reading.

The 1912 murder trial of my mother’s father’s father’s father, Frederick Henry Seddon, and his wife, Margaret, was a sensation in England. At first glance it’s difficult for me to understand why the proceedings received such wild attention, given that they followed so quickly on the heels of the 1910 trial of the much more extravagant Henry Crippen, who had drugged and dismembered his wife, incinerated her limbs in the stove, dissolved her organs in acid in the bathtub, buried her torso in the basement, thrown her head overboard while at sea on a day trip to Dieppe, and set sail for the United States with his secretary and lover, Ethel Le Neve, disguised as his son, only to be arrested when the ship stopped at Newfoundland. I mean, really: what is feeding your tenant arsenic in comparison with that? (Though I read the other day that the torso from the basement was recently discovered to be that of a male, which means that Crippen was either innocent or even more extravagant than we knew.)

But then I read a book by Harold Schechter called The Devil’s Gentleman, about Ronald Molineaux, accused in 1899 of poisoning his Brooklyn landlady, a romantic rival, and the president of the club he belonged to, and I began to understand better part of why the trial of the Seddons was such a big deal.

The terror of society today, in the twenty-first century, is the stranger who turns out to be a serial killer. That’s why you always go on a first date in a public place, that’s why if you arrange sex with somebody online and you show up and he looks wrong you just turn around and go home, though if his deltoids are incredibly well developed perhaps it’s not an easy choice to make, that’s why parents on the Upper East Side yell so loudly at the nannies they underpay when they bring their kids back late from Enrichment Tutoring or when they suspect them of being the subjects of a Bad Nanny Sighting on We’re surrounded by strangers about whom we know absolutely nothing, who can enter our lives without a moment’s notice, who could rape us and murder us and leave us as nothing more than the inspiration for a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of Law & Order: SVU.

Things were different a century ago. Back then, you didn’t speak to people you didn’t know. The days when you needed an introduction from a common friend before you were allowed to talk to somebody you hadn’t met before without being drummed out of society for it may have been over and gone, but you were still circumspect about letting somebody into your life. Nobody had to tell their kids not to talk to strangers, because nobody talked to strangers in the first place. Social intercourse simply wasn’t as free, so people felt far less cause to worry that one day they would meet somebody at a party and he’d show up the next day at their house in the turn-of-the-century equivalent of a hockey mask and disembowel them.

What they did feel cause to worry about, however, according to The Devil’s Gentleman, was what they put in their mouths, because people were finally understanding that, when they bought pills advertized in the newspaper as cancer cures, 1) not only might they not cure cancer, but 2) they might also contain, for example, a combination of opium, arsenic, baking soda, ferrous sulphate, Pepto-Bismol, boric acid (used today as an antiseptic, an insecticide, and a flame retardant), and Vaseline, and 3) this might be bad. Or that they could go to the grocery store and come back with candy colored with oxide of lead, cheese mixed with mercury salts, and lard preserved with caustic lime and alum. It had yet to occur to people that, since what they ate could kill them, it might be a good idea for the government to decide what merchants were allowed to put in food and medicine they were selling, but they were edging toward that notion.

In other words, people were terrified of their food.

Enter Freddy (as I affectionately think of him), whom the Internet calls “the meanest murderer in the history of poisoning.”

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March 25, 2013

Chapter 2 used to start with the Seddons and then go forward through my grandmother to my parents. I actually prefer that order, but to give the chapter the momentum that came from my dad's search for a ring I needed to start with the first marriage whose ring he looked for (his own) and go backward from there. Here's how chapter 2 used to open.

I hate black and white movies. 

In fact, I don’t like old movies in general; while I make a few exceptions for the classics (Gone With the WindStar Wars, the epiphany that is Vincent Price’s Dr. Phibes Rises Again), my standard cutoff point is 1984. Any movie made before then I’m not much interested in watching. I find the pacing slow and the acting turgid. But I’m even worse with black and white movies. Mike will say, “Oh, sweetheart, TiVo picked up this 1930 comedy starring Ronald Colman and Loretta Young!” and I know that if I’m not alert enough to tell a convincing lie (“Don’t you remember, honey, we watched that together a couple years ago when you had a fever and we ate all that Cherry Garcia ice cream?”) I will be subjected to two hours of gray people unenhanced by special effects who speak to each other between pauses longer than the Reagan presidency. Please don’t be mad at me; I understand that many of these movies are masterpieces the likes of which will never be seen again. I just hate them.

Which is why I find it odd that I have spent the last three hours watching black and white movies online. (Well, to be exact, I’ve spent the last three hours watching black and white television episodes online, but it was just as unpleasant, so I feel I ought to be allowed some terminological leeway.) I’ve been looking for—and finally found, thank God, or I was going to start baying at the moon—“Waxwork,” episode twenty-seven of season four of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the episode that first aired on April 12, 1959, the episode about my great-great-grandparents the poisoners.

Strictly speaking, it’s not about my great-great-grandparents the poisoners. It’s about a guy named Hewson who spends the night in the Murderers’ Den of the wax museum so he can write a newspaper story about the experience and use his fee to pay off a gambling debt. I hope you’ll forgive me for ruining the ending, but, shockingly, Hewson does not survive the night; he gets his throat slit by a waxwork of Dr. Bourdette, the (fictional) “French Jack the Ripper.”

In addition to Bourdette, however, the Murderers’ Den contains representations of several other killers notorious at the time: Henry Crippen, of course, who in 1910 poisoned his wife, dismembered her, incinerated her limbs in the stove, dissolved her organs in acid in the bathtub, buried her body in the basement, threw her head overboard while at sea on a day trip to Dieppe, and set sail for the United States with his secretary and lover, Ethel Le Neve, disguised as his son.

And then there were my great-great-grandfather, Frederick Henry and Margaret Seddon. They are far outweighed in terms of extravagence by Crippen, but what they lack in flair they almost make up in avarice.

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March 24, 2013

Here's an unfinished passage that used to be in Chapter 4. I'm including it only because there's so much less sex in Lawfully Wedded Husband than there was in my last book that I figured I might as well share it when I could.

I remember the first time I slept with a black guy, in college. We were in East Berlin. I understand that the gentlemen in question is married now, to a woman, so I’ll let discretion be the better part of valor and not discuss the event other than to say we were lucky the Stasi had recently been disbanded, or we would have been led out of that forest at gunpoint.

I had very little sex in college, though; it wasn’t until after grad school, when I lived in New York and had just broken up with been broken up with by my boyfriend, that I abandoned myself to the pleasures of the flesh and slept with every third man in Manhattan (and every fifth in Queens). Most of these tête-à-têtes I arranged online through a site called I don’t remember anybody who wasn’t white contacting me. This I put down to the cultural force of endogamy, the impulse to mate with people within one’s own group or tribe. When on various occasions I found myself in the midst of several men enjoying one another’s company the group included people of other races, I was more than happy to welcome them into both my embrace and my orifices.

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March 23, 2013

From the section in chapter 4 about gay white racism.

Before I met Mike, one of the websites I used to find men to date was In the end I didn’t have a great deal of luck; as I think about it, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever actually dated a Jewish guy. Perhaps I was mirroring my father’s choice to marry a non-Jew? Perhaps the exotic became the erotic and I was attracted to the foreign? Whatever the reason, I’ve always tended to go for beefy midwestern blonds rather than Jews. (There is not a great overlap between the two populations.) Mike, on the other hand, who is essentially a beefy midwestern blond, has always had a thing for Jews—one might call him a matzah queen—and so the two of us go well together.

In any case, I believe I went on dates with three men I met on gayjewsnet. One I remember nothing about except that he was a lawyer and I spent the whole date making lawyer jokes, which had to endear me to him. Another used a word I didn’t know in an email to me, which had never happened to me before, and so I burned with passion for him, right up until the moment, ten minutes after we started making out, when he said, “Um, I’m not really into this,” and left my apartment. The third had as his profile photograph a picture of the American flag, which I thought was hilarious. Then I went on a date with him and it turned out he’d just been to his first Log Cabin Republicans meeting. The date went downhill from there; the next day I added to my online profiles the sentence, “You don’t have to be political, but if you are you should lean to the left.” A month or two later some guy emailed me and said, “I’m a Republican, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to stand up for my rights.” I wrote him back and wished him luck but said I thought we probably weren’t right for each other. What I wanted to say was, “I don’t give a fuck if you can stand up for your rights. I want to know whether you can stand up for other people’s rights.”

When I was a kid—forgive me but I’m about to have a what-I-learned-in-therapy moment; I promise it’ll be short—my mother was too busy writing a civil-rights book to pay much attention to me and my father was too busy flying around the country trying civil-rights cases to pay much attention to me. What I learned from this was that other people in trouble are more important than I am—why else would my parents give themselves to them instead of me? The problem is that I still think that. The further problem is that I fault other people for thinking differently.

So when I get angry at the gay community for being intensely self-involved, am I being fair? Or am I just projecting the worldview I developed to protect myself as a kid onto other people when really I can’t reasonably apply it to anybody but myself? Or both?

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March 22, 2013

I ended up not including this because when I posted it as part of a question in a Facebook status, probably more than half of the people who commented were like, yeah, I wouldn't really care.  I still like the idea, though.

I’ve long harbored a fantasy in which I’m a lawyer, arguing in favor of marriage equality in a courtroom in front of a judge and twelve jurors. (This fantasy already makes no sense, since trials about the validity of laws don’t involve juries. But just go with me, okay?) Imagine yourself, please, to be one of the jurors.

It’s just after lunch, and I come in with a batch of homemade cupcakes. They smell delicious, and they are covered with delicious-looking sugar frosting: some are chocolate, some yellow cake, some red velve, all with sprinkles on top. I walk around the courtroom with the cupcakes, offering them to the spectators, to the bailiff, to the court reporter, to the judge, to Chris Meloni as Detective Stabler in Law & Order: SVU (I may be reluctant to let go of that particular cupcake so that his hand is forced into a few moments’ more contact with mine before he pulls it to his mouth). Some people take chocolate cupcakes; others take yellow; others take red velvet. (Chris Meloni doesn’t notice what color his cupcake is as he’s too busy staring deep into my eyes.) Then I head for the jury box and hold out the cupcakes. You look at the batch of cupcakes and one of them starts looking particularly delicious to you, a chocolate cupcake with red frosting. As you reach out to take the one you want, I pull the cupcakes back quickly and say, “Oh, no. I’m sorry. The jurors aren’t allowed to have the chocolate cupcakes.” Then I go back to the defense table, leave the chocolate cupcakes there, and come back to the jury box with just the yellow cake and red velvet cupcakes. “You can have any of these cupcakes you like,” I say. “Just not the other ones. But it’s okay, because you’re still getting a cupcake.”

Now, you might very well decide to take a cupcake anyway; after all, I bake an excellent cupcake. My guess, though, is that while you eat it you’re going to be thinking, Fuck you and your goddamn cupcake. I certainly would be, in your place.

The fantasy continues and the jury takes all of ten minutes to reach a verdict in my favor, at which point Chris Meloni as Detective Stabler in Law & Order: SVU decides he wants to congratulate me in private and takes me into an interrogation room and—well, you can imagine how the rest goes.

But that’s how I feel toward the opponents of marriage equality: Fuck you and your goddamn cupcake.

November 18, am. December 4, am.

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