By: Amber Leventry
This Valentine’s Day will be the first that any and all gay and lesbian couples can legally be married in the United States since last June’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage. It will also be the first Valentine’s Day, and what some consider to be the most romantic day of the year, that gay and lesbian individuals can propose to their sweetheart and know that their union will be validated on whatever date they chose to walk down the aisle. Cupid’s arrow never seemed to discriminate, but the fact that our federal government no longer can is a pretty big deal.
Not that love has ever waited on laws or permission. Love is so much bigger than gender, color, and time. The heart wants what it wants. Just ask Worm and Worm.
In his first picture book, Worm Loves Worm, author J.J. Austrian uses matter-of-fact language meant for children—and adults who want a little help explaining marriage equality—to turn tradition on its head by squashing age-old assumptions of what it means to be married. Austrian and illustrator, Mike Curato, show us that love is the most important part of a wedding day, even when others try to complicate things with their own ideas of what a union between two people, or two worms in this case, should look like.
When Cricket finds out Worm and Worm want to be married he insists on being the officiant. Beetle decides to be the best beetle, and the Bees declare themselves bride’s bees. With the help of Spider, they want to help Worm and Worm celebrate their big day with all of the trimmings of how it has always been done.
After finding ways to accommodate wearing rings, eating cake, and dancing, Worm and Worm’s friends remind them that someone has to be the groom and someone has to be the bride. Each worm decides they can each be the bride and the groom. So they both wear pieces of a tuxedo and a wedding gown.
“Amazing,” says Spider. “Really?” ask Beetle and the Bees.
“Wait!” says Cricket. “That isn’t how it’s always been done.”
“Then we’ll just change how it’s been done,” says Worm. “Yes,” says Worm.
Mike Curato’s illustrations are more than sweet and silly images of bugs getting married. When Mike met Dan in 2008, the idea of marrying the man of his dreams was just a dream. In 2013, they were married in Washington state when gay marriage became legal; in 2015, just four months after he finished illustrating Worm Loves Worm, all of the United States recognized their union with the Supreme Court’s ruling. Life was finally imitating art. “This was much more than just another project for me. It came at a poignant time in my life, and in our nation’s history,” says Curato on his webpage.
Love between two men or two women has always existed, whether it has been celebrated or not. Unions between them have been taking place for years in venues across the nation, whether they have been recognized or not. Marriage equality, respect, and validation of gay and lesbian couples are now the law of the land and will take their place in history, whether people like it or not.
When Justice Anthony Kennedy read the ruling in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, he wrote, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.” He also sited that the history of marriage includes change and continuity.
Gay and lesbian individuals have always known we should be included in that flow of continuity, but progress does not always come easy. LGBTQ leaders, allies, friends, strangers with open minds, and five out of nine judges were all part of the change that allowed love to trump fear and ignorance. All kids, not just the ones with two moms or two dads, will grow up knowing that marriage is for everyone.
As time passes, my hope is that more and more children’s books like Worm and Worm are written to keep up with this knowledge. We need characters in movies, television shows, and books to better represent our place in the fold. We need children to understand that gay marriage is just marriage. Love is love. Nothing less and everything in between.