When asked to write something on same-sex marriage and Buddhist practice, I decided that I did not want to get into the issue of sexuality and the act of sex between people of the same sex. I decided this not because there is something to be avoided or be ashamed of (there is not a single word in any of the 20+ volumes of Buddhist scriptures which does not permit sexuality between lay people of the same sex), but because the act of sex is different than the act of marriage.
The act of marriage is so much more than just the act of sex. And if the act of sex between consenting lay adults of any (non-specified) gender is permitted (as is the case in the Buddhist scriptures), then the act of marriage can only be so much more than merely "permitted." It is a celebration of what two people coming together in this precious lifetime is -- it is a spiritual practice. Intimate relationship is a door into spiritual freedom. It creates the possibility of living into the experience of another human being and feeling viscerally, over and over again, moment by moment, that "life" is so much more than just who we are individually ... and that "life" is integrally inclusive of interconnection, interdependence, and inter-relatedness that is beyond a separate sense of self. There is so much love and insight, compassion and wisdom in that direct experience with another human being. How can that not be a spiritual experience?
We can understand spiritual teachings intellectually, but for those of us who have or have had the opportunity in this lifetime to be in intimate relationship, we are offered the direct experience of these teachings in our everyday lives which have nothing to do with the gender of our partners. It has to do with how we manifest our highest intentions in living our lives. How do we live our lives with as much kindness and compassion as possible, despite all of the fluctuations between the sorrows and the joys that arise? How can I practice greater and greater openness to kindness and compassion, through the spiritual experience with my partner and husband? What better person to practice these highest intentions of my life? Of course, I will be imperfect; of course, I will even fail. And I know that I am still supported despite those imperfections by his love and commitment to living our lives together, for better and for worse.
I can hope for no greater teaching than to be held with non-judgment and love when I make a mistake. That modeling from a person who loves me, allows me to internalize that sense of self-worth and regard--and love--so that I can relax into this life as it is. I can more accept this life as it is, because I have the experience of someone accepting me without conditions. That is what makes marriage sacred...not any religion or tradition, but the potential transformation that the relationship of marriage makes possible, for the couple, and for everyone around them.
When Stephen and I had our first commitment ceremony (this was before the short window of legal gay marriage in California) around our domestic partnership (NB: the advantage of being queer is that every time same-sex relationship becomes legal, we get to have a ceremony and party!), the sensibilities of my culturally conservative and traditional Chinese parents were quite offended. It was unclear whether they were going to attend the ceremony or not. They eventually did decide to attend, but my Mom wore a dress in black and grey that probably was more congruent with her mood than it was congruent with ours. The next week when I was visiting her, she proceeded to tell me every single thing that was incorrect or inappropriate about what we felt to be an absolutely perfect experience. It was one of the hardest sorrows that I had to hold between the love of my partner and the love of my parents.
Stephen supported me unquestioning in whatever we had to do -- to love each other, and to love my parents. And as classically is said, by so many spiritual traditions, love does conquer all. But we had to live through the experience, in order to believe the aphorism and to be transformed by it. Over time, my parents began to treat my other half as their other son. He was drawn into both the family dramas and the family delights. My mom cooked his favorites of her recipes, then taught him how to cook them, and then lavished praise upon his efforts. When we were all sitting vigil at my father's passing, it was my husband who had the strength and kindness to gently and quietly say, "He's gone." At the age of 95, my mom leans on him and slips into speaking Mandarin because somehow it has slipped her mind that he is a farm boy from Iowa.
This is when our marriage has become a spiritual transformation, not just for the two of us, but for our whole family. This is when love that is fully supported, can fully support others. This is when the lives of two individuals with the intention to be as good people as we can be, to live as well as we can do, to be as kind as we can be -- becomes something so much greater than just our relationship. It illuminates a path to loving others in the same way, producing the same results: Love. What greater freedom is there, other than to offer love unconditionally? It is a gift that we all deserve. This gift of being able to Love cannot be taken away. And whether or not we are given marriage by any set of laws or conditions, my truth is that I know that marriage, our marriage, cannot be taken away.