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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
- The Twelfth State: Minnesota Approves Marriage Equality (newyorker.com)
- Minnesota Lets Its Rainbow Flag Fly High (thisweekinblackness.com)
- Minnesota to Become 12th State with Marriage Equality (towleroad.com)
- Michelangelo Signorile: Gay Marriage in Minnesota: Another Milestone Is Reached (huffingtonpost.com)