Delaware Marriage Equality Victory: A Fiddler on a Roof

So I may not be the most mature person out there. I most certainly wanted to make this post a lot more pointed towards the opposition of the Marriage Equality Bill in Delaware, but in the end I changed my tune a little bit. Late last night, and earlier today, I was beginning to think of the similarities that the movie/play “Fiddler on the Roof “ had with the Marriage Equality movement.  It was a sort of quirky thought at first, and then it began to grow a little bit. Hear me out on this one.

"Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as... as... as a fiddler on the roof!"

“Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!”

The opening song of “Fiddler on the Roof” personifies an awful lot of the argument many Senators and Clergy have been utilizing against Marriage Equality. In the monologues surrounding “Tradition”, as well as in the song lyrics, Tevye and his community explain to us that their society continues because the fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters all continue on in the tradition of their people.

Tevye is a God fearing man, attempting to make his way as best he can in the world. He often speaks to God directly, trying to work out his problems as best he knows how. He was raised in the traditions of his village and believes fervently in them.

“Because of our traditions, we have kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to how to eat, how to sleep, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer-shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition.”


“If God lived on earth, people would break His windows.” -Yente

In a way I think Tevye, at this point in the story, represents the point of view of a lot of the faithful in the Marriage Equality debate. They want to do the right thing, and this is the tradition they have been handed. One of the Senators earlier reminded us that this is how it has been for 5,000 years, set down by the Bible. When he was speaking I could literally hear the song “Tradition” playing in the background, the volume going up during the chorus when the town yells “TRAAAADITION. TRADITION”.

The next few songs in Fiddler serve to reinforce the traditions of Tevye’s people. We start with “Matchmaker”. Golde, Tevye’s wife, and the local matchmaker Yente begin to discuss a husband for Tevye’s oldest daughter Tzeitel.  As the two of them discuss a possible match, Tevye’s daughters begin to express the excitement and dread they have of being matched to a husband. Tzeitel and her sisters make it clear that she has a crush on the tailor, Motel. Much to Tzeitel’s disappointment she is matched to the aging butcher, Lazar Wolf.

Similarly much of the GLBT community has felt the pressure of tradition bearing down on us, trying to fit into the straight world and do as we’re supposed to. Many of us tried to be dutiful to our family and our faith by living a lie. We truly longed for something else, when society pressured us to accept what our gender “matched” us to.

"Times are changing, Reb Tevye. The thing is, over a year ago, your daughter, Tzeitel, and I gave each other our pledge that we would marry."  -Motel

“Times are changing, Reb Tevye. The thing is, over a year ago, your daughter, Tzeitel, and I gave each other our pledge that we would marry.” -Motel

Eventually, after announcing the match to his village and celebrating with his future son-in-law, Tevye finds out that his daughter does not want to be married, and that the tailor and his daughter have given each other their secret pledge that they would marry each other.

This creates a horrible conflict for Tevye. He loves his daughter, and wants her to be happy, but…TRADITION! He is the father, he has made a fine match for her with a wealthy man in the village. If he were to renege on his agreement, and announce that he was marrying his daughter to this poor tailor he would be embarrassed, his authority as the father would be denied, and he would be acting against tradition!

You can see the parallel here. It really plays out during the song “Tevye’s Monologue (Tzeitel and Motel)”. He talks about how it is “…impossible, unheard of, absurd!”. He cannot allow them to break tradition. He believes if he lets this tradition go it will open the flood gates, and what will he have to allow next? He continues to utilize every argument the religious community takes against Marriage Equality. 5,000 years of tradition cannot be denied! It’s the way we’ve always done things! It would be unnatural to allow anything else…

Tevye, in an act of love for his daughter, decided to allow her to marry the tailor. This is a HUGE deal. He has to convince his wife to get on board with the idea, he has to deal with the shame of breaking a contract with Lazar Wolf, and also he has to deal with the shame associated with what the village will say. Regardless, he loves his daughter and endures all those things for her happiness.

As the Good Book says "Each shall seek his own kind". In other words, a bird may love a fish... but where would they build a home together? -Tevye

“As the Good Book says “Each shall seek his own kind”. In other words, a bird may love a fish… but where would they build a home together?” -Tevye

At the wedding an argument breaks out, with much of the town arguing if a girl should be able to select her husband. A Marxist who has been staying with Tevye, Perchik, says that if a couple loves each other they should have the right to marry. He then asks Tevye’s other daughter to dance with him. This leads to a large dance number, which again breaks with tradition, with all the men and women dancing together. Just as the wedding begins to hit its peak, however, the Russian military shows up and begin to brutalize the townspeople.

You can see how Tevye might interpret all this. He has let his traditions slip, and what a slippery slope it has become. Worst yet, it would seem that the town was punished for not holding onto their traditions…the very traditions that have kept them going for so long. He just wanted to make his daughter happy.

Some religious groups would argue that Marriage Equality is a slippery slope that would lead to worse things, like legal bestiality. They would also have you believe that forces of nature like Hurricane Sandy were caused by American citizens embracing Marriage Equality. The sad truth is sometimes bad things happen to good people.

I’m bordering on going waaaay too long here, so we’ll summarize the rest. Perchik approaches Tevye for his other daughter’s hand in marriage, and despite the fact that Perchik faces a dangerous and uncertain future Tevye let’s his daughter go with him. Chava, his third daughter, then later secretly marries a Russian Orthodox Christian. This is too much for Tevye to bear, his daughter abandoning her people and marrying outside her faith. Also, the Russians are driving the Jews out of his village. He disowns his third daughter.

" A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy." -Tevye

” A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy.”     – Tevye

As Tevye is leaving the village his third daughter comes to him, as she and her husband are leaving too, as they will not stay while his people are forcing innocent people out of the country. He seems to come around in the end, telling Tzeitel to say “God be with them”.

Again, doesn’t this circumstance that plays out here sound familiar to so many members of the GLBT community? Compare this to the slow acceptance of the American public warming up to civil unions, but then the fear and uncertainty that accompanied the first whispers of “gay marriage”. The public’s slow acceptance of the topic, and in the end possibly warming up to the idea.

Before the closing credits the Fiddler who occasionally appears throughout the movie comes to Tevye. Upon seeing him, Tevye makes a motion for the Fiddler to follow him, which symbolizes that even though Tevye is moving elsewhere he is going to bring his traditions with him.

Tevye’s journey isn’t so different from the journey the American people are on right now. Certain states are at different points in that journey, but no matter what point they are at, even if they are at the journey’s end they are still going to carry their traditions with them. Attitudes change, laws change, people change. That doesn’t mean we destroy tradition. That means we expand upon it, take it with us, and continue to grow with it.

                                             “The world is changing, Papa.” -Chava

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9 comments on “Delaware Marriage Equality Victory: A Fiddler on a Roof
  1. Mike Handlin Jr. says:

    Very well said. Even as family coats of arms progressed throughout the ages, they retained some of the past, but grew to incorporate newer elements with each generation. The evolution of society is, to me, consistent, but in which directions constantly changing. Let’s just hope that the changes we make make us better as a whole. I think approval of marriage equality is a step in the right direction.

  2. David H says:

    Haha, Yente was slightly off. God did live on earth, and people didn’t just break his windows, they crucified him! Heh, couldn’t resist, sorry ^_^ !

    Penn really must be rubbing off on you for you to see the people who oppose what you want in more human terms than usual. It’s good to see.

    Your thoughts were conveyed well, in an approachable way. I would like to add some things to what you have already written, not exactly from an opposite standpoint, I think, but nevertheless from a different angle.

    I think you are well suited to address things from an angle more sensitive to Catholicism, and I’ll defer to your own commentary on why catholics oppose what you want to see happen.

    What I can speak from, though, is from the evangelical and / or charismatic angle on things, and it is not quite the same. Maybe people on the outside see Evangelicals as very traditional. It’s true that many are. Perhaps what makes them slightly different is that, >in my experience<, evangelicals do not identify as a traditional people at their core, but they identify as a faith people.

    The distinction: Traditions are handed down from man to man. Faith and/or revelatory things about God/life are handed down from God to man. It follows for these people, then, that when traditions are broken, they are ashamed before men (as Tevye struggles with), but when faith is broken, they are ashamed before God. This is why evangelicals, for example, like to be baptized at later ages when one can "choose" God, the logic being that it isn't tradition if you have chosen it.

    And that is why evangelicals are a bit different and come off more fanatical; Tevye, a traditional man, says, "I'll tell you where they came from! …I don't know." The Evangelical knows, chapter and verse, or at least thinks he does, believe me. Now, the theology or theologian who interpreted or translated said chapter and verse, he may not know- but he knows that in some way, the basis of his beliefs are rooted in something immutable and divine called scripture, not just, "because this is how our community/tribe does it." The source of an evangelical's opposition to an idea is not something that is merely old or comfortable like tradition- but something he believes to be a principal truth about the universe, not merely old, but old as time itself.

    Again- there certainly is tradition in Evangelical circles. But some things, PARTICULARLY issues of right and wrong, they certainly DON'T see as mere "tradition." Homosexuality happens to fall in that "right and wrong" category for evangelical people. It's why probably more than 99% of evangelicals aren't out picketing churches that let women wear their hair down, but some are choosing to picket pride parades. Traditions coming and going is why Protestants have done away with pipe organs, men needing to have short hair and 6AM services, but not the 10 commandments.

    In my opinion, people trying to help the equal rights agenda for gay people have screwed up their outreach. They have let religious people who want to accuse them of promulgating evil behavior dictate the discourse. Which is to say, the gay community and those who say whatever the gay community does is OK have chosen to respond to the statement, "homosexuality is wrong," with, "homosexuality isn't wrong." At least as far as I am concerned, the political freedom movement and the religious movement have become tangled together.

    It's an understandable misstep; first of all, religious people made the error first. Second, it is natural that the people who are most accepting of homosexuality and who would be most vocal in saying it's OK would also be at the forefront of the equal rights movement. However, it causes problems, for the same reason why the far right causes problems for conservative politics, or Jesse Jackson causes problems for racial politics.

    At any rate, this is the totally wrong approach for a number of reasons. The A#1 reason is that evangelical Christians are EVANGELICALS. They are very much aware of the game of trying to convert people because they are heavily invested in that game. They are old hands at it, in a cultural sense, and they know what a conversion is: a change in beliefs. They have an instinct for it like everyone else, they know when it's happening.

    So when you frame your favorite social issue around an attempt to convert religious people from thinking "gay is bad" to "gay is OK", what you get is a vociferous "NO" in response- the baby WILL get thrown out with the bath water every single time, because you are dressing something they might be OK with (civil rights) with something they won't (empowering a behavior).

    If gay people want the war with religious folks to end, this is what they need to do: stop trying to convince religious people "gay is OK". Instead, they need to be arguing that Christianity doesn't need the government involved to spread. They need to be arguing that Christianity doesn't need to regulate "the marketplace of ideas" to win there. This may sound counter-intuitive; but the sooner both parties realize that attempting a conversion in beliefs to realize a political goal won't work, the better.

    This is why I enjoy libertarian discourse, because it is the place where, God help us, the bestiality transgender polygamist (I'm being funny) can shake hands with the reverend and both can say to one another, "I think you're out of your mind and even flat wrong, but I won't step on your rights."

    My 2c. Pardon any rambles, slightly out of context paragraphs or odd sentences, this was pieced together on my iPhone, my computer is busted at the moment.

    • I love your comments, partially because I didn’t have enough space in the blog (it was really long) to actually comment on a few points that I wanted to make clearer: Tevye’s relationship with God for one. Tevye has a personal relationship with God, and he often quotes (or misquotes) the Bible to back his viewpoints. The fact that he tries to do what he feels is right, which is oftentimes in the story at odds with tradition causes him to appeal to God directly.

      The second part I wanted to touch more on was how this affected his relationship with his wife, and how it caused him to explore the concept of love. I suppose those may both be topics for another day.

      Anyway, those points aside, you know I will address any issues like this first and foremost as a Libertarian. None of this should have been the government’s place to begin with, but now that we have allowed benefits for “straight” marriage this was inevitable.

      I think once the religious sector actually sees that this is not the apocalypse maybe some healing can occur, but I’m becoming very skeptical of that given the reaction I’m seeing to this event happening. Particularly from the more organized/structured religious sects.

  3. Rae Stabosz says:

    David discusses the topic of man to man traditions vs. God to man traditions. Catholics make the same distinction, but we usually call it “tradition” with a little “t” and “Tradition” with a big “t”. Sacred Tradition, as you probably know Pete, is given equal weight with Scripture in Catholic doctrine and teaching. Evangelicals, as far as i can tell and as David seems to verify, figure it out on a case by case basis using a set of criteria developed over time and honored within a given faith community.

    For Catholics, it’s a bit simpler. Christ gave the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost, after he ascended to the Father. The Holy Spirit bestowed the charism of infallibility on Peter and the other Apostles in order to carry out Christ’s directive that they, with Peter as his vicar on earth, feed his lambs, feed his sheep, and feed them on truth and not error.

    The sexual teachings are part of Sacred Tradition. There has never been a time that the Church has taught that marriage is anything other than what Christ implied when he said, “It is for this reason that a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

    As for apocalypse, it’s already happened with regard to marriage — divorce on demand is endemic in our society and has wreaked havoc with social and family life. Heterosexuals began the apocalypse long ago. The teaching that a true sacramental marriage is for life is also part of Sacred Tradition. There has never been a time that the Catholic Church has taught that divorce is okay.

    So it’s not apocalypse I’m worried about. I think David is correct that “If gay people want the war with religious folks to end, this is what they need to do: stop trying to convince religious people ‘gay is OK’. Instead, they need to be arguing that Christianity doesn’t need the government involved to spread. They need to be arguing that Christianity doesn’t need to regulate ‘the marketplace of ideas’ to win there. This may sound counter-intuitive; but the sooner both parties realize that attempting a conversion in beliefs to realize a political goal won’t work, the better.”

    There’s a contingent of gay people allied with heterosexual religion haters who don’t want the war with religious folks to end. That’s what concerns me the most.

      • David H. says:

        By the way, nobody jumped on this (thankfully) but I noticed it reading through my post again. I want to clear the air slightly on the point which Rae quoted: I am NOT saying the onus is completely on one side or another of any issue for hostilities to end. There is responsibility for everyone around to not lean on their government to promote or protect their beliefs. What I would say, though, is if one is going to claim the moral high ground of fighting for civil rights, one had certainly better behave with more patience and acceptance than those who are not. My advice to any community politically opposed to a religious community (really, in political opposition to anything) is to be the better people, if you think your cause is more just. Be more honest. Be more open. Have more self control in your discourse.

        Also, specifically, I do not see the gay rights issue on the same plane as, say the abortion issue. The political society I support is where consenting adults can generally do what they please, so long as everyone involved in the consequences are also consenting to them. Hence, sexuality is permissible wherein consenting adults are involved, but rape is not. Abortion I cannot support in a free society because, like molestation or statutory rape, it involves someone who is either not mature enough to participate in the decision or who is incapable of expressing a viewpoint, therefore having no choice at all except one that others make.

      • Abortion is one of the few areas I agree with the former Pope, Benedict. (I have no idea what title to use for him now) Most Libertarians should agree on the issue as well, although it’s muddied because some believe it’s a woman’s rights issue.

        I think most Libertarians would agree that we need to determine a more definite point that the fetus is a human, and has rights under the Constitution.

  4. […] Delaware Marriage Equality Victory: A Fiddler on a Roof […]

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