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A Groom's Tale

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2014-03-23-GroomsRings.jpgPhoto courtesy of Peter Stranger

On Valentines Day, I married my mate of 26 years. It was a magical event at our home in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains, overlooking the Coachella Valley. The full moon rose over the desert floor just as we were sitting to dinner at tables surrounding the pool. It was breathtaking. Friends and family came from all over the country, all over the globe.

Our two families were now, by law, joined. Yet it was the first time they were meeting each other after two and a half decades. As I looked around the table and saw the love being given and received, reflected in every face, it was a moment made more poignant by the absence of one face in particular. My only brother had chosen to boycott the event.

Some back story: Two years prior to the wedding ceremony, my brother and his wife visited us. An impromptu dinner conversation about marriage equality devolved sadly into the bullet points of the conflict. My brother held firm to his conviction that marriage is only to be shared by men and women intending to procreate. Nothing I said about equality or equal rights could move him. He had even seen our film, For My Wife, an award-winning documentary that followed the life of Charlene Strong as she found her voice as an activist and spokesperson for marriage equality. The film is a powerful primer on why legal protections are necessary for same-sex couples and why marriage is the solution.

After making several statements that he could not logically defend, my brother -- my childhood hero, my savior when my parents kicked me out of their home for being gay, my dear brother -- insulted us. He mocked my mate in a cruel, limp-wristed pantomime of being effeminate. He revealed his disdain for the equality I believe is my birthright.

He and his wife did not reply to our wedding invitation. However, his son came, bringing his wife, a reminder that sometimes change requires a generation or two to take effect.

Since the wedding, several friends have asked us if we feel different now that we are married. It has prompted a deepening thought process for me, as I do feel different. Important for me was the fact that the ceremony was officiated by our dear friend, now a Washington Human Rights Commissioner, Charlene Strong. It was a full-circle culmination for us. Our film followed Charlene for over a year on her journey as she became a nationally recognized activist.

Her story, the loss of her beloved Kate, was a tragedy made worse by the lack of legal recognition required in times of hospitalization and medical care. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire credited Charlene with the passage, long stalled in debate, of the state's first provisional laws to protect same-sex couples and their families.

Our meeting Charlene prompted our realization that marriage was important for us. Prior to that meeting we felt that there was no real need for us to marry. But learning what she experienced, we realized how legally vulnerable we were, and how equal rights pertain to civil rights. It can be, for some, a tiresome debate. But it takes an emotional epiphany to change the minds of those who are entrenched about this.

Which brings me back to the question: How do I feel differently now that I'm married?

I no longer have to fumble awkwardly for the word or the language to accurately describe my connection to my spouse. There is a deeply human understanding about what the commitment of marriage means. When two people stand up to proclaim their devotion to each other, stitching together community and family and embracing the approbation of those whom they know, something profound and timeless happens. At least it did for me. I felt like I was being seen, really seen, for the first time in my life.

The love evident at our wedding has been described by others as inclusive, transformative, and inspiring. The feeling that I am left with feels more primal; it feels tribal. Though the rituals have changed through the centuries and vary with cultures, there is still that moment when the energy gathers and surrounds the two who declare themselves for each other. They cross a threshold, not just the two of them but the tribe as well. Everyone is changed.

In his book Same-Sex Unions in Pre-modern Europe, John Boswell gives a historical context for ritualized same-sex unions. Before the rise of Christianity and Islam, there were many cultures in which same-sex unions were condoned. He writes:

Many cultures other than Western ones have recognized and institutionalized same-sex unions -- Japanese warriors in early modern times, Chinese men and women under the Yüan and Ming dynasties, Native Americans from a number of tribes (mostly before white domination), many African tribes well into the twentieth century, and residents (both male and female) of the Middle East, South-East Asia, Russia, other parts of Asia and South America.

And Jesus Diaz writes on io9:

The burial rite given for Achilles and Patroclus, both men, was the same rite given for a man and his wife. The relationships of Hadrian and Antinous, of Polyeuct and Nearchos, of Perpetua and Felicitas, and of Saints Serge and Bacchus, all bore resemblance to heterosexual marriages of their times. The iconography of Serge and Bacchus was even used in same-sex nuptial ceremonies by the early Christian Church.

The current debate in our society pales in importance when given a historical perspective. Marriage is not a static thing. In previous eras, when two people were drawn to one another, they made commitments to one another, they loved one another, and their communities embraced the union. Life continued; the crops had to come in so the bread could get made. Everyone was interconnected. They relied on each other.

Most of those who attended our ceremony had never been to a same-sex wedding. They have now all gone home to their respective lives reflecting on what they experienced. Little by little, our culture will change. Little by little, the solemnization of same-sex unions will take its place in the cultural mind. And little by little, the entrenched will soften and loosen their grip, and ultimately, our world will be changed. I know I have been.