This week I was asked if I, a gay man in a relationship, was considering marriage since it looks like it’s about to (if not eventually) get approved for gay partnerships. I really didn’t want to answer this question because I feel I have to explain my personal view, which is complicated and not what most people expect.
Growing up, yes I wanted to get married, not that I thought about it much but I guess I’d say it was expected. When I realized I was gay, around 15, I couldn’t even fathom the idea. Once I came to grips with myself and began to love myself with all my gayness, I figured I could always have just a personal ceremony since I knew gays couldn’t get married. I accepted the fact that I couldn’t do a lot of stuff like give blood or have kids. I had hoped one day things would change for gays, but never thought it would progress as quickly as it has.
I was part of the first generation where growing up with television was a staple in child rearing. In my preadolescence I remember watching the TV show Soap and not understanding Billy Crystal’s character of the gay Jodie Dallas (even his name was odd & femme), but I understood that he was obviously strange and treated accordingly. Then there was Monroe (Jim J. Bullock) on Too Close For Comfort. Even though it wasn’t stated that he was gay, he wasn’t exactly treated respectfully by the patriarch of the show and it was pretty obvious that it was because of his odd and feminine ways; which was a dynamic also similarly played out on my favorite show, Three’s Company, between Jack Tripper (John Ritter) & Mr. Roper (Norman Fell). Finally there was Aiden Quinn in An Early Frost, which aired around the time of my gay awakening. I remember being so excited to watch a TV show with an actual gay character. When the commercials came on advertising the TV special movie I pretended not to take notice, but inside I was thrilled! The night it aired I said I had to do homework in our back room as not to be distracted. I was really sitting on the floor watching the show on the broken TV that was about to be thrown out because you could barely make out the faces on it. My exciting TV movie about a gay man was a horrible tragedy. I knew it was about AIDS, but at the time (1985) I didn’t understand fully what that meant. He goes through the absolute worst experience with his family. I remember crying so hard as it ended and trying to figure out how to pass my family in the other room to get to my bedroom without them seeing my red & swollen eyes. These were my gay role models growing up as a kid. Gay marriage was the furthest thing from my mind as a youth, even so, I would have never thought myself worthy.
When I moved to Los Angeles from El Paso, Texas, I became liberated. It was empowering to be around so many accepting straight people and positive gay peers. This is when I realized the injustice of it all. I wanted to get married and have kids and give blood just like the straights! I’m not any different; I finally comprehended.
A few years ago I marched in a couple of the big “No on Prop 8” demonstrations in LA. I remember after the first march feeling such a sense of camaraderie and overwhelming love between all my gay brothers & sisters as well as our supporters also marching. I was actually in tears of joy talking about it afterward because I had never felt that sort of love energy and it was so overwhelmingly beautiful. Change was in the air and it felt damn good!
The younger generation of gay men & women are lucky enough to be brought up with the positive influence of shows like Will and Grace, Ugly Betty and Glee. There’s even a new show called The New Normal which is exactly about everything I couldn’t fathom as a youth; a loving gay couple having a baby and getting married. Wow, how times have changed.
There are certain types of privileges that come with marriage. The privilege of acceptance from a social perspective as well as within a family. I believe the idea that you have committed to another person in marriage holds a higher unspoken respect within the norms of society as well as within organized religion. All of this is exactly the opposite of how I have had to live my life. Years ago I wanted to be accepted in this way, but I couldn’t be because I was gay. Now things are different and getting better every day, but I have already created my life around all this and I actually love it because of that. Why would I want to be like everyone else now? With the soon to be marriage rights for gays at least I will have a choice to do so.
My partner and I will be celebrating our 8 year anniversary next week. We are a loving, devoted couple but don’t want to get married. To be honest, some of the most beautiful and touching weddings I have attended have been gay. Maybe it was knowing the journey for them to get there was not easy, making it feel that much more special & the overall sense of gratitude was powerful. For me, after so many years of having to look at things like marriage with a different, outsider perspective, I see it now as nonessential and really just a symbolic piece of paper. As for my relationship; we have declared our love and commitment to each other and we know that we are perfectly happy with that. We’ve even gone through it with our amazing couples therapist, Dr. Michelle Golland, to clarify uncertainties. Yes we love one another, yes we are committed to each other and with all the experiences in life we have gone through together, without a doubt- we mean it. I never say never, but as for now it’s not a consideration. As for everyone else, I want them to have the ability and choice to get married. A part of me is a bit envious of the younger gays for having so many positive role models growing up, but I would never want to give up the experience of being part of a movement that changed life/marriage/social-norms as we know it.
It’s been an amazing ride that’s not quite over, but to see the transformation has been fulfilling on so many levels.