Free the Children

I think the chances of the Supreme Court Justices ever seeing this article are one in nine million, which is the estimated number of gay people in the United States. But I feel compelled to write it because I'm afraid some of the most important reasons to endorse same-sex marriage will be overlooked. There is no question that the Fourteenth Amendment states that we all have equal protection under the law, so it will be hard to justify taxation that favors a man and woman who are married, but not two men or two women who are married. The Justices will thoroughly cover this issue as Edith Windsor is suing the United States for not honoring her marriage to Thea Spyer and so taxing her estate unfairly. They will also rule on Proposition 8 in California that has stopped same-sex marriage there. But my concern is that the true equality that same-sex people must have will be discussed only in a legal sense and that the emotional and psychological underpinnings that affect every gay will not be considered, as they should be.

When I heard that the Supreme Court was going to take up the two cases of same-sex marriage, I began to think about what their decision would mean to me and every gay person in America if they rule in favor of same-sex marriage. What would "equality" really mean to a gay person? As a start -- and it is a life saving start -- it will mean a safer, happier, more normal future for young gay men and women as they make their way into American society as equals.

When I grew up as a gay boy, I never felt like an equal to the other kids. The name-calling and abuse that I suffered would never have been as strong if gay people had had equality at that time in our country. In the 1930's, a gay person was either a freak or a figure of fun. The average person had no idea what same-sex love was and if they did, it was based on hearing about Oscar Wilde and his infamous jury trial and conviction. There were no books for a teenager to read and nothing was ever mentioned in the newspapers. The movies made fun of homosexuals painting them as effeminate or campy. There were no role models for young gays and no counselors. You carefully guarded your secret. You couldn't possibly speak about it to your parents or even to your friends. You learned to lower your voice and watch all your actions: walk without swaying too much, not use your hands more than necessary. You tried to put on a veneer of masculinity so no one would know. But there were still the taunts when you dropped the football or couldn't run as fast as the others. Then, as you grew older, the realization that you could be put in prison if you were discovered. Police made extra money by threatening gay men with exposure and then letting them off for a price. The humiliation and hiding drove many to suicide -- I only survived because I didn't finally have the courage to jump out of the window. And then, later, the pain of being an adult listening to all the slurs and jokes about gays and being afraid to refute them lest you be discovered. In my case, as a young actor, I heard agents and casting people saying about other actors "don't send him for that role, he's queer," so I had to hide even more.

I had to pretend to be someone I wasn't. I dated women, had affairs with them, lived with an actress for five years, even married to fit into society, and then went into years of analysis to get "cured", but I wasn't being true to myself. There were many gay men who married and had children and yet continued relationships with other men, when they could sneak away from the office for a few hours. I always thought how sad that was because their wives were not getting the love they had been promised and the husbands had to deal with their guilt.

As time went on, the repression of gays burst open and exploded in public parades that said finally, "Look at us, we're here." By that time I had found a man I loved and would live with for fifty years although we hid for many of them. Today we are married as are many others who live in nine states and the District of Columbia. Look how far we've come. Isn't that enough? No.What about the gay people who live in the other states? They can't be married and none of us, married or not, has equal rights and equal taxes that are the same as other married people.

But what concerns me most are the gay children growing up, the teens beginning to feel their sexuality, the young adults who don't believe they can have a happy life with someone of the same sex (which has driven some of them to suicide), the older gays who've never had a meaningful relationship because they don't believe it is possible in our country. All these people need to know that being born gay is right, that it is as much a part of life as being born with blue eyes or brown hair. But this can only happen when our federal government has heeded the Constitution and endorsed same-sex marriage. It's not just about taxes and marriage licenses and allowing gays to adopt, although those issues must be addressed and approved. It is about young people and their feeling of belonging. We are horrified at the slaughter of the children in Newtown. This was a madman and at least he is now dead and can do no more harm. We must nurture and protect our children. We are killing many of the gay ones who are still being forced to grow up feeling that they are lepers from another age. Only through gays being equal and a part of American life can these children be free to be themselves.