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Allison Hope Headshot

Why Gay Marriage Is Radical

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I admit that I didn't believe in marriage.

As a lesbian, I grew up thinking that marriage would never be an option. Tying the knot was never on my to-do list, and neither was the mortgage, the picket fence or the 2.5 kids. In fact, there was a part of me that questioned whether monogamy was even possible. After all, an increasing number of marriages ended in divorce, and many who stayed married didn't seem particularly happy.

Even when I fell in love, like, for real in love, and decided that not only could I handle monogamy but actually preferred it, I still didn't consider marriage an option. Fast-forward four years, a change in New York law to allow same-sex marriage and one awkward but endearing proposal, and I'm now engaged. But even though I'm certain that I'm marrying the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, up until a few days ago I still couldn't state with full confidence that marriage is something sacred, and hopping on the marriage bandwagon was far from radical in my eyes.

But just the other day I got hit with the epiphany stick. I woke up to the fact that same-sex marriage is actually the boldest, most visible means of achieving equality that we queers are armed with. It all started with a phone conversation with the manager of my neighborhood Marshall's (it's a long story, but it involves a rebellious shoe rack that bit me in the forehead) in which he asked, "And you say you were shopping with your husband?"

It was a teachable moment, like so many others that we encounter in a heterosexist world that assumes that everyone is straight. I had an opportunity to correct him, to boldly go where I believe every gay person should go to set the record straight (or gay?), to let this retail manager know that he shouldn't presume anything about anyone.

Instead, I fumbled. "No, I was with my partner," I said, immediately disappointed that I hadn't used a gendered term that could have exposed his ignorant presumption. Yes, she's my partner, but I realized that if we'd been married, I could have boldly responded, "No, I was with my wife."

It was the first time I'd thought about just how powerful the word "wife" is and how using that word signifies much more than just commitment and love. Using that word is a public pronouncement, even a political statement, and it can be employed to check off boxes on legal documents and answer questions from strangers. When I call my love my wife, I'm telling society to respect my big, gay love, and to get used to a world where not everyone is straight and where to assume so sets one up for an embarrassing apology.

We're on the eve of the grandest and most exciting advancement in LGBT rights. DOMA will come down like the Berlin Wall. And when the outmoded, homophobic curtain falls, more and more states will find it easier, and perhaps even necessary, to pass marriage equality. 2016 may see the first presidential race in which both parties' candidates have to support same-sex marriage in order to be electable.

I will always believe that hate crime legislation and workplace equality take priority over marriage equality, but I now believe that the right to call my love my wife is a powerful and radical step toward LGBT equality. In just a few short months I will have a wife. Those four letters, which have been so long associated with the mundane history of domesticity, just got a whole lot more radical than waving a rainbow flag at a Pride parade, and I can't wait to try it out!