Here’s something that keeps happening to me: I get into work, grab some coffee, turn on my computer, and check my email, then Facebook. I scroll down my newsfeed, and there it inevitably is: Someone has linked to an article about gay marriage. I instinctively click on it. And…oh my god…it’s good news! GOOD NEWS!
It might be a roundup of “75 Unforgettable Moments From Minnesota’s First Day of Marriage Equality.” Or an announcement that same-sex couples in Rhode Island can get married now. Or a matter-of-fact news report that England and Wales now allow gay marriage. Each time a new country or state jumps onto that list of fabulosity, I become just a puddle of MESS. I’ll be sitting at my desk, sipping my coffee and looking at my computer screen, and all of a sudden I’m crying, just quietly holding my mug and hunching over my computer, trying not to make snot-filled honking noises.
My co-workers think it’s funny that I spend my mornings tearing up over adorable gay-marriage slideshows, especially since I am actually completely bored by actual real-time weddings and I myself am not even sure I want to get married, ever. It’s just that it’s a beautiful thing to have the option. We didn’t have it for so long. You wanna get married, you queer? Now, in 15 countries and 13 U.S. states, you can. ~POOF~ Just like anyone else.
At this point my co-workers understand that if they walk by my desk and see my shoulders shaking and tears silently sliding down my face, they shouldn’t worry—I’ve just been flipping through a gay-marriage photo slideshow and I’M FINE I’M JUST SO HAPPY.
How do you not cry when you look at this picture of two lesbian activists in their 80s—happily coupled their whole adult lives—who finally, finally married each other the moment it was legalized in San Francisco?
Or this one, of two men (who’ve been together 39 years!) beaming and crying and after receiving their marriage license?
When I see wedding invitations in the mail from my friends, my actual, real-life friends, who are now getting married in a way that’s legally recognized in their home state, like these two:
…there are no real words for it. It’s a huge victory. It just matters so much—I’m not sure everyone understands how much. I’m not even sure that I understand how much. I’m a lesbian, but I was born in the ’80s, and I came out in the early 2000s without a second thought. I was gay, and anyone who didn’t like it could go eff themselves. And that was that. All the fighting that gay people had to do in the past (and still have to do in lots of places) just to exist as they were without being hurt—without being beat up, raped, killed, arrested, cut off from their families, shunned by their community, told they had a mental disease, or institutionalized—made it so that I never had to go through any of that. I did what queer people 50 years ago could only dream of: I scrambled up the ladder they’d made with their collective bodies and hopes for the future and calmly came out as a gay woman, feeling totally entitled to be myself, openly and in public. It only vaguely occurred to me at the time that it was once any other way.
I wish I could thank all of them in person—all the queers who paved the way for my relatively smooth drive down Bein’ Gay Avenue. They did the work, I got the benefits. I did not have to fight and hide and be afraid of who I am, or of people finding out who I am. I was…fine. I am fine.
I came of age in the time of Ellen and Will and Grace and The L-Word and corporate-sponsored Pride parades, and I could not be more grateful. Because of the hard, life-threatening work of our queer predecessors, I feel free to be my gay-ass self, all day, every day, in public and in private. I walk down the street and hold hands with anyone I want. I go dancing at gay clubs and write published articles about being a dyke and make out with girls as much as I want. I feel happy about being a lesbian, and society, for the most part, leaves me alone. Sure, lots of people didn’t and don’t like it, but what can they legally do about it? Exactly nothing.
Except deny me the right to get married.
Until recently, I could be as gay as I wanted, I could spend my days in the company of as many openly queer people as I wanted, I could even procure a “civil union” with my soulmate and live with her till death did us part, but at the end of the day, society could still say, “…buuuut no equal rights for you.”
Not being able to get married was and is, for a lot of gay people, the last big hurdle—America’s final, lasting “fuck you” to homosexuals. Not being able to get legally married was a quiet and serious reminder that in the eyes of the law, and of our country, we are not equal to straight people—we are less. And we deserve less.*
Which is why it’s so huge that state after state in America, and countries all over the world, are finally allowing gay people to marry one another. If you’re straight, you’ve always known you can get married if and whenever you damn well please, and so maybe it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to you. Or maybe, no matter what your sexual orientation, you just think marriage is a BS heterosexist institution anyway, so no one should be fighting for it. Well, I’ll give you that: Marriage was created as a heterosexist and sexist institution, and has been perpetuated in that vein for decades. But (a) if things like work, dating, child-rearing, and computer programming can be transformed to be more inclusive, so can marriage; and (b) whatever—this isn’t actually about marriage, this is about recognizing gay people as equal to straight people. Seeing us as full people. People as good as anybody else. You can, as a straight person, get married by going through a drive-thru chapel in Vegas, you can get and stay married for exactly 55 hours, and that’s still considered a legal, valid marriage. If straight people have access to a silly retrograde tradition, so should we.
Of course, the practical benefits of marriage are important. Gay people want access to the same benefits that married straight people get: certain tax breaks, the right to visit critically ill or injured partners in the hospital, the assumption that your life partner should get some of your money if you die unexpectedly and that they shouldn’t have to give some of that money to the government. Married gay people also want to be able to say “my husband” or “my wife” and have people take it seriously. ’Cause having your love for someone taken seriously by other people would be nice. Gay people in relationships struggle with that every day. Take it from me: Even when you’re in a serious and committed gay relationship, sometimes married straight people (at work! at home with your own family! out with new friends!) don’t think your relationship “counts” as much as theirs does. Your gay relationship hasn’t been validated by society and the law, and so while you may be completely serious when you refer to your partner as “my wife” or “my partner” in a group of new people, split-second looks are sometimes exchanged, or someone will even question you: “You have a wife? Are y’all married?” “No, but we’re partnered.” “Oh, you’re not actually married.” “No, because that’s not legal, so we can’t do that, but we are committed life partners.” “Oh. Uh-huh.”
I hope that someday in the near future, laws forbidding gay marriage will be seen at as curious antiquities, studied by kids at school with polite incredulity, their hands in the air, asking, “But why wouldn’t gay people have been allowed to get married? That’s so stupid!” the way we look at laws forbidding women the right to vote in our history books. That’s so stupid, you know?
I hope that one day, gay marriage won’t be called “gay marriage” at all—I hope it will just be called “marriage,” and that anyone who wants access to it will have it, as easily as I was able to come out without fear of being openly attacked. I hope for that worldwide, even though there’s so much work to do, everywhere.
Gay marriage is still legal in only 13 out of 50 American states. In Russia, a new law was just passed making public support (or even tolerance) of homosexuality illegal. In many other countries, things are getting worse—a lot worse—for gay citizens. These are places where marriage is so far down the list of issues for gay people that it’s not even something people are discussing right now, for good reason: because gay people in those countries are just trying to stay hidden and alive.
But the small, bright sparks of hope that flicker in my heart when I scroll down my Facebook feed and discover that somewhere in the world, a new law has been passed allowing people like me the same rights as anyone else? Those are sparks of real change. They’re important. And sparks catch fire. ♦
* I don’t for a second want to imply that just because same-sex marriage is legal, everything is equal here in America (or anywhere) and no one’s rights and humanity are being violated. Trans people’s struggle for equal rights has barely begun. The vast majority of deaths from gay bashing are LGBTQ people of color. And just because we can get married, that doesn’t rectify the ongoing discrimination gay people face in employment, housing, and health care. Not to mention the unequal treatment suffered by people of color, women, young people, people with disabilities, etc, in this country. Marriage equality is just one hurdle among so, so many that we all still have ahead of us. But it’s a big one, and hopefully it will pave the way for so many more.