For Don Roos, on Oct. 23, 2011, our 19th anniversary.
In 1779 Thomas Jefferson proposed a law to the Virginia State Assembly that would mandate castration for gay men and mutilation of nose cartilage for gay women. That's right: nose cartilage. And Jefferson was considered a liberal! Was he trying to make the punishments "fit the crime"? At least with castration, they'd be targeting the general vicinity of an area that could be made a total bummer by those small-minded, bigoted sadists. But what's up with the lesbian punishment? I'm not versed enough in the sexual practices of lesbians to speak about the use of the nose during sexual encounters. But it would seem to me that they could still pleasure one another, even with a busted nose. It's no wonder there are some isolated reports of fights for homosexual rights as early as the 19th century in Europe. But it wasn't until the early 1950s that small organizations were formed in America for gay men and women, mainly as a social outlet. But these gays were in no way "activists."
The Stonewall Riot in 1969 is still accepted as one of the most significant tentpoles in the history of the gay movement. It sparked the kind of unity and activism we still see today. But it wasn't until as recently as 2003 that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of sexual privacy by striking down laws against sodomy in the landmark case, Lawrence v. Texas. It's been slow-going and often two steps forward and one step back, but progress forges on.
The fight for marriage equality has become the human rights issue of this decade, but hopefully not of this century. Many individual states like Massachusettes, Vermont, Wisconsin, and, most recently, New York have begun to accept gay marriage. And in my state, California, the Supreme Court has recently upheld the ruling that marriage discrimination is unconstitutional. So we're starting to see a glimmer of hope that within our (or our children's) lifetime, our country could be one that protects its citizens' freedom to marry under the Bill of Rights -- fundamentally the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But that's where it gets tricky. Who ever said marriage had anything to do with the pursuit of happiness? I'm not saying I'm not happy. I am happy. And my husband Don has played a huge role in that. He's also who I like to say is responsible for those times I find myself completely miserable. I'm not suggesting that he is responsible; I'm suggesting that I like saying he is. That's part of the job, right? Marriage is waking up and looking at your sleeping spouse and thinking half the time, "What did I do to deserve this?! I'm so lucky!" and thinking the other half the time, "What did I do to deserve this? Why does God hate me?"
But I'd never say I'm happy because I'm married. I happen to be married in Don's and my eyes and, for now, the state of California's. And I'm blessed to be able to tell my children that we are. And yes, I'm happy, but a connection between the two may be more of a correlation than cause-and-effect. It's what baffles me most about those who spend time and money to fight against marriage equality. You'd think the citizens of this country who are fed up with their "ball and chains" would not want to suffer alone, and that they would insist that "even the homos should be forced to suffer marriage if they're dumb enough to want it." And then there are those who relish every day of their marriage, finish each other's sentences and call each other six minutes after leaving the house to say, "I miss you!" "I miss you more!" "I miss you most!" You'd think they'd be so Kumbaya that they wouldn't mind sharing the freedom to love whomever we want.
But it's another demographic altogether that proves to be our biggest stumbling block: those who turn to religion to dictate matters of the heart -- despite our Constitution's seemingly elusive mandate for separation of church and state.
OK so, no surprise, the big argument against gay marriage comes from the Bible's definition of marriage being between a man and a woman. "So how could the same word be used to define a union between two men?" they ask. An overwhelming number of Americans believe in the gays' right to have some kind of recognized civil union but not to call it, name it or define it as "marriage." Does anyone understand that if the law is protecting those who are "married" and offering rights and privileges to those who are "married," then that is precisely the reason that the union of two people of the same sex who love each other and want to create a family would have to be defined the same way? We'd be happy to use a different word, say, "artichoke" -- as long as the government offered all of the same rights, privileges and protection to all couples who were -- "artichoked." Or call it "gayrriage," as long as identical rights and privileges are afforded to "gayrried" people. But they are not. Civil unions are offered in many states, but they're not protected the same way marriage is in the eyes of the federal law.
People are concerned that the misuse of the word "marriage" itself will cheapen or nullify the meaning of the word for them. So if I call my relationship with Don a "marriage," then Phyllis and Frank in Bum-Fuck, U.S.A. will no longer feel like their marriage has any meaning?! Imagine that. Imagine if there were a word that was open to varying interpretations but still had full protection under the law -- like, I don't know, the word "religion"? That's right. Some crackpot calls himself a "minister" and leads his followers based on the idea that the Rapture is coming and those who don't accept Jesus as their saviour will perish in Hell. He behaves so irresponsibly that people quit their jobs and sell their homes and put their families at risk as a result of this "religion." But because it's defined as a "religion," they have the full protection, benefit and respect of the U.S. government. It doesn't matter what they believe -- it's a "religion," and therefore they are protected. It is for this reason that people want to choose their words very carefully, especially if the word entitles a particular demographic of "musical" men and "athletic" women -- citizens they hate -- to equal protection. But let's face it, marriage is marriage, no matter who you are. As George Bernard Shaw said, "When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition until death do them part."
I read an opponent to gay marriage liken it to "letting two goats get married." Well, here's what I say: if two goats devote 18 years to living together and fighting over fabric swatches and what shows to TiVo and why a mouse pad is not a romantic anniversary gift and names for their kids and whether PG-13 is appropriate for a 5-year-old and whether $25 is too much to pay for a toddler gymnastics class and whether sunscreen is really necessary or just a conspiracy to make people buy it and force us to have to slather it on our kids, which is annoying and messy and stains clothing, and all the while never having sex, then those goats should be allowed to get married.