By Jenni Chang
Last summer my partner Lisa and I embarked on a year-long trip around the world, with a mission to tell the stories of LGBT people. With our project Out & Around: Stories from a Not-So-Straight Journey, we've published stories and videos of over 60 LGBT leaders across 15 countries.
Unbeknownst to each other, each of us had been planning to propose to the other during this trip and carried engagement rings. I beat Lisa to it with a proposal two months into our trip. I proposed to her in a song I wrote while playing my guitar on the beach in the Philippines.
Yet I have to admit something that is going to make me sound like the worst gay-rights activist (not to mention fiancée) in the world: While at home in San Francisco, I've attended marriage-equality rallies, donated money to fight California's Prop 8, and even started to plan my own wedding -- but my heart wasn't fully behind the cause.
Was I for decriminalization of homosexuality in the 76 countries where being gay is still illegal? Yes, I'm urgently behind it 100-percent. Was I for anti-discrimination protection in regions where our community is most vulnerable? Of course. Was I for the end of bullying and violence against our youth? Most definitely!
But for me, marriage equality didn't have the same urgency as these other issues. After all, even if we won marriage equality, would it change the fact that queer kids are still getting bullied in schools across the United States, or that even the most educated straight men still feel entitled to make gay jokes? And if we didn't win marriage equality, would it stop people like Lisa and me from combining our lives and raising a family?
But then a few weeks ago I watched the celebrity reading of Dustin Lance Black's play on the Prop 8 trial, 8. I listened as the plaintiffs talked about how the terms "husband" or "wife" mean something much more than "partner." I felt outrage when the defendants said that children of gays and lesbians were "irresponsible acts of procreation." I laughed when the defendant's own witness admitted, "We will be more American in this country when we eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation."
Later that night, while lying in bed with my fiancée, I looked at the engagement ring on my finger and said, "Can you believe that all these people are fighting so hard so that people like you and me can get married?" I was incredibly moved that all these straight big-shot lawyers had fought for us, and that these straight celebrities had come together for this reading because they considered our cause worthwhile. In that moment I felt like Lisa and I were smack in the center of something monumental, something world-changing. The words of the plaintiffs' attorney David Boies rang in my head: "I think this is the last real civil rights struggle that we have."
In retrospect, a big reason that I had such an issue with same-sex marriage is because of my devoted Evangelical parents. When I informed them a few weeks ago that Lisa and I are getting married, they wrote, "Our belief of marriage is: one man and one woman, one husband and one wife, and one commitment in one life. God creates man and woman differently so that they can produce children. It is impossible that two women can create a baby naturally."
What if gaining that legal marriage certificate was the first step to a different world? A world where a same-sex couple can just as legitimately make a lifetime commitment and raise a family as an opposite-sex couple? A world where, when I step into a new social situation, I don't have to worry about facing a negative reaction when I mention my wife in conversation? A world where my parents live in a country where Lisa and I are considered just as married as they are?
So why all the fuss about marriage equality?
For the same words that my parents wrote in their last stab at trying to get me to reconsider. They wrote, "Marriage ceremony is like baptism, which announces the intimacy between two people and spiritual connection in public. We sincerely hope you make a wise choice for your own good."
Marriage does matter. I will make the wisest choice to marry Lisa. And I will do everything I can to fight for this right.
Follow Jenni Chang and Lisa Dazols on Twitter: www.twitter.com/outandaround