Real Marriage

Intimacy is what makes a marriage, not a ceremony, not a piece of paper from the state. — Kathleen Norris

I came across this quote on Twitter the other day, and something resonated with me. It is not the first time I have heard this sentiment, and I think it’s absolutely right. The only thing required to make a marriage is a relationship between two people who know in their hearts that they are committed to each other as life partners. Their thoughts, words, and deeds are what enable intimacy, love, commitment, and family to flourish.

By this definition, my wife and I married to each other; in the eyes of the law and most of the world we are virtual strangers to each other. Despite that and the lack of a piece of paper that would make our marriage legal, my wife and I, and our loved ones know that we are married.

And while I believe this, my wedding day six years ago is an important moment in our past that has a presence in our daily lives now.  The ceremony and celebration of our relationship, and the certificate that all of our guests signed as witnesses, while symbolic, is a bonding moment for us. While long since past, being able to reach back to the moment of that day and the love and care of our family has helped us get through some very difficult moments.

Same sex couples everywhere know all too well that marriage doesn’t require legal documents or ceremony. However, the support and respect that these offer strengthens relationships, families, and communities.

Freeheld Wins!

So, as usual, Gillian and I watched the Oscars as we always do, feeling really out of it this year because we just haven’t had the bandwidth to keep up with the movie season. We’ll get there with our Net Flix subscription, but we just haven’t had the time, energy, or money to keep up with the contenders.

Or so we thought. Sure, we missed Juno, but we managed to watch Away From Her before the show yesterday afternoon. And a few weeks ago we got out to see There Will Be Blood. I love the Coen Brothers, but I have to be in the mood to see something like No Country for Old Men (it looks scary!). Oh, and earlier in the fall we got to see Michael Clayton (I heart Tilda Swinton).

So, as they were announcing the best documentary short subject, I turned to Gillian to ask “How do we get to see the shorts?” to which she replied “Film festivals, of course.” And then Freeheld was announced the winner. We were just assuming that we hadn’t had the opportunity to see any of the films, so we weren’t really paying attention. But then the winners started talking about same sex couples and inheritance rights and stuff, and we realized that we had indeed seen this film! We saw Freeheld at the Reeling Film Festival during our first weeks here in Chicago.

Freeheld is the story of Detective Lieutenant Laurel Hester, who, after a 25 year career with the Ocean County, NJ police department learned she had terminal lung cancer. She was denied the right to leave her pension to her partner Stacie Andree, a right she would have had if she had been in a heterosexual marriage. I don’t need to go into the details. See the movie. It’s amazing and inspiring and hopeful.

In one moment I felt so many emotions: Smug that I had actually seen the winning short documentary; sad at remembering the tragic story of love and loss that the movie told; grateful that Lieutenant Hester was brave enough to fight and generous enough to open her life during the last most intimate and painful moments of her life to fight for her partner and for the rights of others; proud that the battle for civil rights for same-sex couples has been brought to the forefront of popular culture in another way; and delighted that this important film won the Oscar.

It’s cheesy, I know, but this is why I watch the Oscars.

Four years ago today…


Just Married

Originally uploaded by silly.goose

Gillian and I made history. Lord knows we’ve been through a lot before that day and after it, and I don’t think that we would have made it this far if we hadn’t been able to get married. I have always understood that no marriage can survive without the support of a loving community. I am grateful every day for this anniversary, and for the celebration that we had with our family and friends the following August. We keep reaching back to the memories of these celebrations of our love, understanding that it is not a day in the past, but a celebration that lives in our hearts presently. Love is a blessing, and I hope that soon everyone will have the right to celebrate love, have it witnessed by their community and honored by the world.

Happy anniversary to everyone who shares this day with us.

Thanks

I am thankful for:

  • A spacious kitchen, properly outfitted with a gas stove and dishwasher
  • My wife’s superior cooking talents (I helped…fun in the kitchen)
    • Green bean casserole
    • Mashed potatoes
    • Cranberry apricot sauce
    • Herbacious gravy
    • Traditional turkey
    • Dinner Rolls
    • Pink bubbles
    • Beaujolais
    • Maple pecan pie with bourbon whipped cream
  • A satisfying twelve-year (yikes!) in prospect research that brought me back to my favorite city
  • Snow! On Thanksgiving morning. Our first snow since moving back to the Midwest
  • NPR and Third Coast Radio documentaries, especially The Ground We Lived On
  • Sam Cooke
  • Thanksgiving memories from my youth
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Public libraries
  • My great good fortune and health
  • Family and friends
  • Forgiveness and unconditional love
  • The hard work of reconciliation, faith and hope

An Oakland Love Story

I have lived around Lake Merritt in Oakland for years. The bird sanctuary here is the country’s oldest wildlife refuge, I have read somewhere. I used to run the Lake regularly, and years ago I often noticed a pelican and swan, always together. They were beautiful. And you could tell they were companions, not just accidentally hanging out in the same place like so many other birds there are wont to do.

One day I ran into one of the ornithologists at the Lake, and I asked her what their story was. This is what she told me:

Helen was the pelican, and earlier that year her life-long mate of more than 28 years, Hector had been strangled in some fishing nets in the lake. Helen was beside herself with grief. The folks who work at the bird sanctuary buried Hector’s body out of Helen’s sight, purposefully, so that she would more easily be able to move on from her grief. However, she found his grave, and stayed there for days, refusing to leave her beloved.

Before Hector died, a swan named Lancelot had been hanging out with the other large birds of Lake Merritt. He was there on and off. One day when he was at the Lake, he started hanging around Helen at Hector’s grave, and this offered her some comfort. Before long, Helen was persuaded to leave Hector’s burial site, and she and Lancelot were constant companions after that.

Helen died the winter of 1999, and Lancelot hasn’t been seen since they buried her.

This is a tale of love, grief and companionship, and a true Oakland love story.

Towards Marriage Equality

South Africa recently legalized same-sex marriage and declared the same inheritance rights of heterosexual married couples. Mexico just passed legislation supporting same-sex civil unions. In 2005, Spain gave same-sex couples the right to marry.

I didn’t used to care about marriage. I didn’t used to want to be like dysfunctional straight people. I didn’t want to emulate a relationship that was not natural to me.

I didn’t want to be married. Until I met Gillian.

Now I understand why I need the right to marry Gillian, and that this is really a civil rights battle. For me, marriage is not about fitting in or changing the paradigm of marriage. Plain and simple, for me marriage is about love, family, and home. We don’t want to redefine marriage, we just want to build a life together, and we want to make sure that we can take care of each other. There are people who would like to make that impossible, or very difficult at the very least. Gay rights is not all about being able to get married, but I do think that raising the visibility of this issue could be a way for the straight world to see us as more human and less “other.”

I live in a part of the world where Gillian and I are accepted as a couple. No one here questions who we are to each other. We have never had to fight or risk anything because people, even when they are homophobic to some degree, respect our relationship. Our family loves us and support us and celebrated with us when we got married. We are privileged in many ways that others are not, so Gillian and I feel a responsibility to fight for the rights of others who live in more dangerous places and truly need the protections we are fighting for.

We recently watched the documentary Dangerous Living, which is about people coming out in the Third World, and its really terrifying and inspirational. The film focuses on the 52 Egyptian men who were arrested in 2001 for being gay and out, as well as following the stories of gay men and lesbians, all activists from other countries, their decision to come out, and the danger they face as a consequence.

I remember hearing about the Cairo 52 on the news when it was happening, and feeling really distant from it, thinking “gosh, that really sucks, but what can I do about it.” It is so easy to do nothing when something terrible like that doesn’t impact you directly, or at least doesn’t seem to. Seeing those interviews made me see the human face of this terrible injustice. These were people just like me and my friends and family, trying to create a vibrant and loving community and being persecuted for it. Some are just trying to survive, which in some places is revolutionary in and of itself.

I really hope that most people, regardless of what they think about being queer, would agree that no one deserves to be imprisoned or beaten or terrorized or killed for being different. Is it such a revolutionary idea that all people, regardless of their differences, should be treated with respect?

We are gaining civil rights all over the world. I am thrilled and hopeful, and so happy that South Africans and Mexicans will now have the right to marry whomever they choose. I am also frustrated and enraged that this backwards culture that I live in won’t recognize our families or our love. We’re on the right side of history, as my friend Rebecca says, and that gives me the courage to persevere.