Same-Sex Marriage: Why the Time is Ripe

There can be no doubt that one of the most hotly debated topics in the news these days is same-sex marriage, or to use a better term, marriage equality.  Whether it’s the mainstream media or independent outlets such as NPR, people are talking about it.  A lot.

As a Gay man, I want to weigh in on this subject, especially since to all intents and purposes I have been married twice.  Oh, I had my days of promiscuity when I was very young, but I have spent most of my adulthood in committed, monogamous relationships that were marriages in every respect except for the fact that they were not recognized by the State.

I was twenty years old when I met my first husband (I am going to use the correct terms, so pardon me if it makes anyone squeamish).  At that age, looks are so much more important than they are once we get some wisdom under our belts, and the fact that he was good-looking was certainly a huge factor in what brought us together.  And the sex was great.

Unfortunately there’s the crux of the situation:  if the sex hadn’t been so good, I doubt the relationship would have lasted as long as it did, because we were polar opposites and if I said something was black he would say it was white and vice versa.  I also discovered that he had a violent streak.  Which didn’t bother me as much as you might think since I had one of my own.

We were together, off and on, for fifteen years.  And for seven of those years, we were to all intents and purposes married.  As for the violent outbursts, they were rare; in the entire time we were together I think our fights turned physical maybe six times, and he was much too big for me to ever hurt him, though he hurt me once.  But it would be the violence that would end the marriage, and the way it happened illustrates the injustice that faces the LGBT community because marriage equality is denied us.

I won’t bother with the details of that last fight.  Suffice it to say it turned physical.  And Dennis took a step he had never taken before.  He went out, and several hours later came back with the police and a restraining order and threw me out into the street.  I had to stay with my brother until I found an apartment, during which time Dennis tossed all my belongings into garbage bags and that’s how the movers had to ship them.  Needless to say a lot of things got broken.

The problem was that I had been living all those year in Dennis’s house.  Even though we split all the bills right down the middle (this despite the fact that he made at least fifteen thousand dollars a year more than I did), my name was never on anything, and in the end he threw me out like the garbage.

Not that I didn’t try to get my name put on some things.  But he would not even open a joint checking account.  He kept his salary a secret; the only reason I knew it was that I stumbled across one of his pay stubs once.

Back then, before the whole thing fell apart, if anyone had asked, we would have said we considered ourselves married.  We took the attitude that we did not need a piece of paper to validate our relationship.  But if we had had that piece of paper, I would have had certain rights which he would not have been able to strip me of.  As it was, when the cops came around, as far as they were concerned we were strangers to each other under the law.

So I found myself single again after years of being part of a couple.  And I figured my days as part of a couple were over.  Three years went by, and then a friend of mine introduced me to John.

I was thirty-nine years old by this time, and the time when mere looks were enough to attract me was far in the past.  But the day I met John, I took one look in his baby-blue eyes, and I fell madly in love.  So much so, in fact, that it scared me to death:  it took me almost a month to work up the nerve to ask him out, and I have never been the shy type.

On our first date, we sat up all night talking, drunk on conversation without so much as a drop of liquor.  On our second date, he looked at me and said “I love you” and I found myself saying “I love you, too” without even hesitating.

On our third date, as we were sitting in his living room having our usual marathon conversation, I asked him to marry me.  Well, he about fell on the floor, because he was just about to ask me!

I was nearly forty, and John was forty-five, when this happened.  I had never asked anyone to marry me before, and here I was proposing to a man I had known less than two months.  But there were no doubts.  No fears.  We were not a couple of kids starting out; we were grown men on the brink of middle age, more than old enough to know our own minds.

That was nine years ago.  We were married at a Unitarian Church on December 21, 2002.  It was not legal in New Jersey then, and it is not legal in New York, where we are living now, at least not yet.  But as far as we are concerned it is just as real as the marriage of the nice young straight couple across the street.

All this is leading up to one thing.  John and I are not kids, and I am not in the best of health.  Not that I am in any danger, but we are definitely at a time of life when the issues of getting older become less abstract ideas and more concrete realities.

Last year, an elderly gay couple, Clay Greene and Harold Scull, who had been together for twenty-five years, were separated by the county and placed in different nursing homes.  Scull died alone not too much later; Greene was not at his side.  And the county seized all their assets and sold them.

While we have quite a few years to go before we reach the ages of Scull and Greene, John and I found that story terrifying.  The thought that we might be separated near the end of our time together, at a time when we will need each other more than ever, is an extremely disturbing prospect.

I won’t drag religion into this one, even though both John and I are committed Christians.  Despite what the opposition keeps shrieking, the government cannot and never will be able to “force” them to perform same-sex weddings; the Constitutional wall of separation between Church and State makes this impossible.  The marriage equality we are fighting for here is a completely civil matter; it has nothing to do with the church.

Every straight couple that gets married enters into a civil marriage, whether the ceremony takes place in a church in front of clergy or in the office of a justice of the peace.  That license they sign is the same whether they have a religious marriage or not.  Atheists get married all the time; if they want the benefits, they have to sign the papers.  And Wiccans, Buddhists, Pagans, all of them who choose to get married in our society, have to sign the same license.  And the person who officiates at the wedding, be it a court clerk, a minister, priest, or rabbi, or whoever, is acting not as an agent of the religion (s)he represents, but in signing the marriage license, (s)he is acting as an agent of the State.  This is how marriage works in this country.  It’s a civil matter in which the Church plays no role unless the participants want it to, despite all the shrieking from the wing nuts about “Biblical marriage,” a thing that if practiced today would land those involved in jail as likely as not.

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is an important victory, but not being in the military, it isn’t one that hits very close to home for me.  Marriage equality is another matter entirely.  By denying us full equality, we do not have access to over 1,100 rights and responsibilities, both Federal and State, that any straight couple gets the second they sign that license.

It isn’t fair that in 2011 there are still American citizens who do not enjoy equal protection under the law, something which is guaranteed by the Constitution.

It’s time.  In fact, it’s long past time.

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