I haven't let myself go into despair (yet) about Proposition 8, for a couple of reasons. For one, I have been overwhelmed by the Obama feelings. For another, my heart was so broken by the passage of Oregon's gay marriage ban, Measure 36, in 2004 that the scar tissue is thick. Like Proposition 8, Measure 36 followed a brief exuberant period of legitimate marriage licenses being issued. Friends of mine who had been married were suddenly, upon public referendum, declared "single," for all technical and legal intents and purposes. The subsequent letter that arrived a few weeks later informing them that their marriage had been deemed void was accompanied by a refund check for sixty dollars.
I had never cared about gay marriage until 2004. I had decided that the government had no place legislating love and I didn't need their validation of my personal life. Plus, it dawned on me in my early twenties that one of the great advantages of being gay was that I was suddenly exempt from the questions and pressures that dogged my brothers and cousins at every family gathering. I was delicately skipped over in the boyfriend/girlfriend inquisitions. No one was checking in on my marriage track. Mom wasn't flashing grandma's wedding ring hopefully at me. And I liked it. I alone got to forge my own path, unquestioned.
Then, in the brief time when I lived in the Bay Area, mayor Gavin Newsom famously issued the directive to the city-county clerk to issue marriage license to same-sex couples, and everything changed. My girlfriend and I, curmudgeonly but curious, went down to City Hall just to look.
How to even describe the weddings we saw? There were so many. They were happening all over the room--on the floor, on the steps, on the mezzanine. We saw people of all ages, styles, some with friends and family, some alone. We watched two men, middle-aged, one with rectangular black glasses, one wearing jeans, both small and comfortably frayed around the edges, get married on those steps. They had no friends or witnesses or parents; it was just the two of them and a deputy with her back to us. They held small bouquets instead of rings. They stood facing each other and held each other’s hands tightly, looking into each other’s eyes as they said their vows. They looked overwhelmed and shaken, in a good way, and they exchanged bouquets and kissed, and then they all embraced, the men and the deputy. She left to perform another marriage, and the men sat down on the steps. They kept holding each other’s hands and talking quietly to each other.
To be there and witness it was to be witness not only to the weddings themselves, but also to an incredible moment in these people’s lives, in our people’s lives, in history, in American life, in gay life. The ceremonies were obviously unplanned and yet so long planned--almost everyone was in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties. Many had children and babies. These were unlike any other weddings I’ve seen. They weren’t about the family, the church, everyone you ever knew gathered together to celebrate; they weren’t about table settings or invitations or renting a space or a year’s worth of planning; they weren’t about a wedding party, about clanking wine glasses and heartfelt toasts; people weren’t marrying for money or status or family expectations. These weddings were distilled to the essential meaning of marriage, they were so purely about a love between two people, about lifelong commitment, about forsaking all the trappings in order to get what matters. Each other.
For the first time I witnessed the public recognition of love between two people who happen to be the same sex, and the essential right of that love to exist. For the first time I understood how much that recognition matters. It really matters.
So that was 2004. And time and again, these goddamn bans keep passing, state after state. It cuts profoundly, as always. Says Andrew Sullivan:
I'm happy to say that Proposition 2 passed, providing minimal humane protections for pigs, chickens and other farm animals. How odd for people to restrict cruelty for animals and simultaneously inflict it on some humans.My friend Robert has declared on his own blog,
Go ahead, ban my future unplanned marriage. You're not making any decision for me--I wasn't getting married anyway. But as soon as I get enough votes on a petition, I'm going to put your marriage up for ban too: your second marriages first (my own parents be damned!), and then your childless marriages (with an 11-month "validation period" to consummate), and then your unhappy marriages (psychologically tested once every 18 months), your adulterous marriages (automatic divorce, with permanent marriage ineligibility for life) and your two-home marriages (regardless of whether you live in separate homes because of work or family obligations).
When I am done, there will be nine people in the country who are married, and marriage will never have been stronger.