It’s this Sunday morning, to be precise. I’m marrying Jimmy, my partner of 28 years.
Twenty-eight years! Why did we wait so long to tie the knot? Well, it wasn’t legal until June 26, of 2015. But we could have had a non-legally binding commitment ceremony or filed to be a civil union years ago. But another way to look at it is, why get married at all? It won’t change who we are and what we feel for each other, not really. Is it for the benefits? Sure, that’s a small part of it. Is it to declare our love for each other, and announce it to the world? Okay, that too. Part of the matter is, and this is why we’ve waited so long, and why we’re doing it at all: same sex partners have fought hard for the right to marry. It was a stunning achievement, something nearly unthinkable 28 years ago, certainly unthinkable when I was a boy growing up in the blue-collar mill town of Manchester, New Hampshire, in the 1970s.
At that time and place, not only would a same sex wedding be considered preposterous. The ridicule would have been fiery. Or worse. Maybe violent. Gays were meant to entertain us on TV, the sexless and campy witticisms of Paul Lynde, or the sexless and campy (and fabulous) showmanship of Liberace. But real people with real desires for same gender relations, well, those people – we people – were considered perverted. Child molesters. Unfit for polite society.
Out and proud members of the millennial and Gen Z generations probably can’t relate – I hope you can’t relate, because it was bad – but it can really do a number on your head, growing up with those messages. My mother cried. I lost a few friends. I went into therapy. I slowly came to terms with who I was, with the help of a stint living in San Francisco. But the scar tissue of being considered different (AKA damaged), the stigma of being a faggot, still remained.
Jimmy had it worse in some ways. A Navajo Indian, Jimmy grew up on the reservation, the son of Christian fundamentalist parents. Being gay, in their world, was a sin. In my Jewish family, being gay wasn’t considered a sin, fortunately. Just something that would surely lead to a lifetime of unhappiness. And lots of commiseration directed toward my parents for having raised a fagalah.
But you know what? I’ve experienced more happiness than I ever dreamed possible. It’s not just because of Jimmy. We have two darling daughters (another reason to marry!), ages six and seven, blessings from a surrogacy in India, a country I love. We were among the few who weren’t stopped by a new law that made it illegal for gay couples and singles to seek a surrogate mother in that country. We were lucky, privileged.
But back to why we are getting married and doing it now. I go back to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that approved same sex marriage. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.”
I agree with that. But it’s funny. With same sex couples, adopting kids and getting married take on greater weight, now that we can legally do it. I’m not saying there aren’t straight couples who don’t think hard and long about these commitments. But same sex couples really have to think long and hard about the meaning of marriage and parenthood. It’s not expected of us. There are no great societal road maps that point to what committed same-sex couplehood should be. Not yet, anyway. And that’s all right.
But here’s the other thing I want to say about marriage. For years, marriage equality was the most visible fight. There are some in the LGBTQ community who think, “Well, we’ve won the brass ring of marriage, let’s pack up the activism and go home.” Beyond the fact that many same sex couples won’t choose marriage, just as many opposite-sex couples won’t, the victory of marriage equality should not eclipse the real struggles that LGBTQ people experience every day. There are some that might think I’m being smug about my ability to participate in the institution of marriage. But I’m not. I realize that within the LGBTQ community, I’m lucky. I’m privileged.
Only 20 states and the District of Columbia have laws protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In most of the country it is still legal for members of the LGBT community to be harassed, fired or denied a job, simply for disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Or having it discovered.
There is no federal law or any legislation that has a chance of becoming law to prohibit conversion therapy, the practice of “reversing” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. California has banned it, but in much of the country, worried, sometimes well-meaning parents are still shipping their kids off to these centers to be “cured.”
For gays and lesbians of color, as well as transgender people, there is greater discrimination than Jimmy and I face. For transgender people, staying safe from physical harm is of greater importance than marriage. And the number of LGBTQ youth on the streets belies the reality that the U.S. families are much more accepting than when I was a kid. Recent studies have estimated that up to 40 percent of homeless youth in the U.S. are LGBTQ – in many cases, it’s due to parents kicking kids out for identifying as queer. Likely higher on their agenda is having a place to live and a community and family who can accept them and give them a leg up on finishing their education and making their way in the world. Many LGBTQ people of color, rather than filling out wedding gift registries, are more likely to wonder how they’re going to get by. They face a disproportionately high rate of unemployment than straight people of color or white LGBTQ Americans. Not to mention profiles on social “dating” sites like Grinder stating, “No blacks or Asians. Sorry, just a preference.”
And the Trump administration – ah, the Trump administration – has sent some disturbing signs that it could gleefully roll back much of the legal gains we’ve made. It has argued in court that the Civil Rights Act does not protect gay people from discrimination in the workplace. It has moved to ban transgender Americans from serving in the armed forces. It has revoked guidance issued to public schools instructing them to avoid discriminating against transgender students. It has removed questions on sexual identity from Department of Health and Human Services surveys, doing away with a chance to gather data on issues LGBTQ folks face. And on and on.
Yes, there is work to be done to improve and solidify equality for LGBTQ people of all types. I will do my part. But just for one day, on Sunday, I’ll be reminded about how blessed I am to declare my love to Jimmy, to share that love with our daughters, and I will, for at least one day give myself permission to not think about Trump and to greet any negativity that this column will bring, with a shrug and a smile.