It's Different When It Isn't Different At All

09/19/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

One day last week I opened the mail and found myself rifling through the usual mix of catalogs, bills and direct mail pieces. There was the direct mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Joan Garry and then of course, the letter addressed to Eileen's deceased mother informing her that her subscription to AAA had EXPIRED (always in such big letters). And now that I am of a certain age, I get baby shower and birth announcements from my nieces and nephews. Just last week, my nephew Dan and my niece Colleen (have I mentioned that I am Irish) had their second and third kids respectively.

So after all that rifling, I came across another envelope -- looked like another baby announcement. Nope. It was a wedding announcement. It seems that my friend Eric and his partner Gerard from Los Angeles had finally made it official. Because they wanted to. And because they could.

At the age of 50, you expect one of two kinds of wedding envelopes -- the second marriage of your podiatrist to a significantly younger woman or the invitations where you know you'll be sitting at the old aunts and uncles table..

Not so with Eric and Gerard. The announcement read simply, "After 26 years as a couple, Eric and Gerard were married," followed by all the particulars. My partner Eileen hasn't met Eric but that didn't stop her from weeping as she read the handsomely embossed announcement.

It was also a case of first impression for us. Certainly we have received more than our fair share of Civil Union announcements and invites to Commitment Ceremonies. But this was different. Eric and Gerard were married. Legally. For real. And for the very first time.

My friend Howard showed me his wedding pictures on his iPhone. I saw him last weekend at a fundraiser. Howard towers over me (who doesn't) and is probably in my age vicinity. And yet, as he showed me the pictures, I saw a different Howard. Not chronologically younger but something else. It was something in his eyes. Romance? Pride? Young love? I can't put my finger on it. Maybe I last saw it when my nephew Dan watched Emily as she walked down the aisle.

I spoke to my friend Bruce before his wedding. Look, I don't even have to put the word in quotes! His family was coming in from around the country and a three week honeymoon would follow. Bruce's first honeymoon. And I don't have to put that word into quotes either.

And then of course there was Ellen's wedding last weekend in Los Angeles to Portia. Maybe the only reason I'm happy marriage wasn't legal in the state of California sooner is that poor Ellen would have gone through such an ugly, nasty divorce with Anne.

When she made her announcement on her show in front of screaming, adoring fans, I saw the same look in her eyes that I saw in my friend Howard's. Her voice had that same air of excitement and romance I heard when I spoke to my friend Bruce.

I know in my heart that it is because of the word. It just feels different when it isn't different at all.

There is nothing 'less than' about these weddings. We don't have to reach for the thesaurus to find other words to describe them. We don't have to clarify that our partnerships are of the life variety and not the LLC kind.

The word "marriage" tells us -- and the rest of the world -- that when it comes to finding the love of our lives, we are all the same. And I guess we all know why that presents such a huge threat to those who do not stand with us. And why the battle in California is so fierce. And so critically important. And why this presidential election matters so very much to us.

"Separate but equal" has never worked in our country. I learned long ago from a very wise therapist that when the word "but" is inserted into a sentence, it invalidates everything that follows.

It is different when it is different. In the workplace, at the dinner table, at family reunions, in the doctor's office.

And as I share in the joy of my friends, I see that it looks different and it sounds different when it's the same. Just ask the newlyweds. And take a good look in their eyes.