As a lesbian-feminist who came out in the women's movement, spurred on by Marilyn French's The Women's Room, who remembers that ERA doesn't stand only for the Earned Run Average, I was once inclined to agree with one of the right wing Christian comments on my HuffPost piece. The comment maker overzealously stated: "Marriage was created for a man and women to join together and pro-create... that foundational TRUTH is foundational to humanity... period!"
As a precursor to coming out, I broke up with my boyfriend of four years when I was in my early 20s, and as I chronicled in Tea Leaves, A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books), I declared to my mother "It's not just him, I've decided that I'm never going to get married." This was my declaration that I wasn't going to be like my mother -- but later I discovered that I was just like her. Almost. I was a woman in a long-term relationship. It didn't matter that my mother accepted my relationship: She wrote a letter to be discovered after her death addressed to my partner entitled, "A letter to my unexpected daughter-in-law, Barbara." In the eyes of society, I had no legal rights. But it took a while for this to sink in.
The year was 1982 -- I had just come out and couldn't have been happier. I had found myself. I sang women's music songs about being a lesbian at the top of my lungs. I wore my flannel shirt with the collar turned up and my trademark red high top sneakers. And, most of all, I was thrilled that the heterosexual yoke of marriage and the expectation of child bearing was off my neck. Shortly after I came out I met my life partner.
As far as I was concerned marriage was between a man and a woman -- and they could have it. I knew that marriage was a product of the patriarchy. And I had broken free!
My older lesbian friends predicted that gay marriage would someday be legal. Some even had ceremonies. I attended a few. Pat and Carol wore matching white tuxes. They had both been married before (to men) and had adult children. I respected their vows -- but thought of them as quaint. A decade or so later, the younger women started having ceremonies. They graced the cover of glossy lesbian magazines in their white bridal dresses. I respected their choices also -- but, at the same time, I thought they were misled.
Same-sex marriage was gaining ground. Still, I stood on the periphery. I wasn't against it -- it simply seemed that it wasn't my issue. Call me old school (or perhaps it was my non-religious upbringing) but I have never felt the need for a commitment ceremony without the legal rights that come with marriage.
Then when I was in Provincetown one summer, I met an older lesbian couple who had just gotten married in 2004 after it had become legal in the state of Massachusetts. They carried their marriage certificate with them in case one of them was hospitalized -- so the other one would have the legal right to be by her side.
Life rolls along quickly. Before you know it, my partner was in the hospital. As a non-legal family member, I was denied visitation rights. We had had power of attorney documents drawn up, but it was quicker to change my story (when a different nurse came on duty) and say I was my partner's sister than it was to go home and get the documents. Women sometimes have it easier (than gay men) since sisters often have different last names. Still, that experience -- of my partner in pain and alone in the emergency room medical ward and me denied entrance on the other side of the glass doors -- stayed with me.
Sure gay marriage is a political issue. There are red billboards along the Pennsylvania turnpike (several near the area where I grew up) trumpeting that "Obama Supports Gay Marriage and Abortion, Do You? " with "Vote Republican" in smaller letters. Pennsylvania is a swing state with a preponderance of white working class people -- some of whom, unfortunately, will be manipulated into voting against their own interests.
When I was in high school, I hated pep rallies (and used them as an excuse to hide in the bathroom and smoke). Watching the Republican National Convention, which was nothing if not a big pep rally, I felt a chill go up my spine when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced that he supported the sanctity of life and of marriage and the crowd roared.
I have lived long enough to observe that there are two main reasons for homophobia. One is the theory that comes under "thou protest too much." In one word: latency -- or at the very least insecurity. If people are secure enough in their own sexuality, they don't have a problem accepting people who do things differently. The other reason is misplaced anger -- in a word: scapegoating. We are living in hard times -- and, unfortunately, it's easier for some to blame the gays (substitute any other minority group) than to hold the powers that be accountable. The advertising experts who wrote the slogan on the red billboards have an understanding of this.
Gay marriage is a political issue and it is also a personal issue. As persons, we have certain inalienable rights as Americans -- the right to love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as prescribed in the Declaration of Independence by our Founding Fathers (those forerunners of Wigstock). Gay marriage involves all three and that is the TRUTH!
You can learn more about Tea Leaves, A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here.
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