On the morning of July 12, 2013, I attended a wedding in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence without leaving New York City. It was supposed to take place July 3, when I was there, but the paperwork for the first gay wedding in this small town required more time, so last week I returned to the U.S. thinking that I would miss the ceremony. I had underestimated technology: Via Skype, three of us here joined the assembled party of 15 in France -- and we were right up front at the Mairie, the city hall, and could wave at the grooms and the guests. It was a 21st-century hoot!
France approved gay marriage a few months ago, just ahead of us, to a mixture of celebration and occasionally violent protest. Although not always smoothly, things certainly have changed, both there and here. Was it only three years ago that I wrote the following in a column for advocate.com?
I am a privileged man: I have not suffered for being completely out about my sexuality or my HIV status. Sometimes I forget how rare that makes me.
Something is missing from the picture: my full civil rights. I was not initially a big proponent of gay marriage. I was content with the idea of civil union status. My generation had been brainwashed that we were less than, so I was willing to accept less in order to keep the peace. My heart changed when my nephew, David Levithan, the Lambda award-winning author of Boy Meets Boy, wrote that he wouldn't accept civil unions or a lesser status than marriage because he would not accept it if they said Jews could only have civil unions.
Right: I do not accept second-tier status for people of color, or women, so why would I accept it for myself. I want every right that comes with being an American citizen. ...
How is it that I am living in the 21st century in what was once the most progressive nation on earth, and I do not have my full civil rights? This is as outrageous as what is happening in Malawi and elsewhere because of the context. My grandparents were all born in Europe and chose to come to the USA in order to escape oppression. As their heir, I choose not to be complacent.
I am committed to having full legal rights before I leave this body. I am about to be 60 and therefore could have a decade or two to enjoy them as well.
I am what I am, and I deserve to live and die a free man.
Remarkably, as of June 26, 2013, at the age of 62, I can now marry another man with full federal benefits. Of course, there is more work to do: We need to make gay marriage available in all 50 states; the LGBT community is still lacking safeguards against discrimination in employment and housing; the sanctity of a woman's body is still at risk; and eligible voters are being discouraged from voting. Human rights are a life-long endeavor.
But for the moment I'm celebrating this new era. I hadn't expected it so soon. Sometimes it's a delight to be blindsided!