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Gay Men and Marriage? Whose Idea Was That?

Gay men as whole have not always been the eager pro-marriage activists that we see marching and signing petitions today. But now the gay marriage door is ajar. We can see it, smell it, taste it, and almost touch it. And we want it. We really want it.
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"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."

--President Barack Obama, inaugural address, Jan. 21, 2013

I watched this speech and despite 52 years on the planet and a lifetime of watching politicians dance for votes in the media, I cried.

As an openly gay professional man in an eight-year marriage (pending, per the state of California) I never thought I'd live to see the leader of the free world openly and without reservation support the basic human rights of gay people. Yet there it was, unequivocally, broadcast to an international audience. Since the president's inaugural address, former secretary of state and potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has also announced her support of same-sex marriage -- a significant change from her stance in 2004. And Ms. Clinton is not alone.

Even Ohio conservative Republican Rob Portman, another potential 2016 presidential candidate, has jumped on the gay marriage bandwagon. OK, he changed his mind only after his son came out as gay, but still, a hard-won truth is no less true despite the pain of the battle. I feel happy for Sen. Portman and his son, along with all the other fathers and sons in the same situation because they suddenly have new role models. And now the U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments in a case that could strike down California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) -- both of which seek to limit marriage as a legal entity to one man and one woman. How the court rules remains to be seen; we won't know their decision for several months. But either way, as the majority of Americans now favor gay marriage, it appears this particular socio-political ship has sailed.

Of great interest to me -- because I'm old enough to remember it -- is that gay men as whole have not always been the eager pro-marriage activists that we see marching and signing petitions today. Far from it.

Back in the day -- say the late 1960s through the pre-AIDS 1980s -- gays (and lesbians) were primarily battling our American history of being pathologized, discriminated against and arrested for loving whom we love. Back then, the gay community quite vocally viewed traditional matrimony as some kind of antiquated Judeo-Christian noose that heterosexual men and women for some reason felt the need to tie around their necks. And believe me, gay men wanted NO PART OF IT. The idea of falling in love and "officially" partnering up with one person from now until the end of time was not for us, no thank you very much. The stance of the gay community at the time was, clearly and openly, that we didn't want to be anything like the heterosexual establishment. Sure, "their model" was fine for them, but it sure as heck didn't suit us. And even if we did fall in love and decide to spend eternity with just one person, we resented the idea of needing an "official sanction of marriage" from the same people that called us freaks. Frankly, at that time, all most of us really wanted was to be left alone to live our lives in whatever way we saw fit. We weren't harping about marital rights or shared Social Security benefits. We were just hoping to avoid open discrimination and to be able to have sex with whomever we wished without fear of being arrested or institutionalized.

But now the gay marriage door is ajar. We can see it, smell it, taste it, and almost touch it. And we want it. We really, really want it. We want it even more than we want that triple chocolate cake with raspberry-almond filling on the dessert tray at our favorite restaurant. Edith Windsor, the 83-year-old plaintiff in the DOMA case before the high court, got it right when she told reporters after the hearing that marriage is "magic."

"For anybody who doesn't understand why we want it and why we need it, OK, it is magic," Windsor said. In 2007, Windsor married her companion of 42 years, Thea Spyer, in Canada. Spyer died two years later after a long battle with multiple sclerosis, leaving Windsor so grief-stricken that she suffered a heart attack, she said.

"In the midst of my grief, I realized that the federal government was treating us as strangers, and I paid a humongous estate tax, and it meant selling a lot of stuff to do it, and it wasn't easy," she said.

Today, even those men and women who are not in a serious relationship want that magic -- not for themselves, but as an acknowledgement that each American has the same rights as any other in the workplace, in sports, in raising our children, in our dealings with the IRS, in our bedrooms and in every other aspect of our lives.

One way to view the 180-degree shift in how gays view marriage today vs. 30 years ago is simply to consider that our past rejection of it was a psychological defense -- a statement of self-preservation, if you will, in the face of massive disregard for our humanity. From the pre-Stonewall era through the AIDS epidemic, gays and lesbians were so viciously, brutally outcast -- sometimes literally left to die -- that a key to our emotional and even physical survival was to withdraw from the larger culture and devalue its institutions. In other words, we knew (and rightly so in 1975) that we could never been seen as equals to straight people, much less have the right to marry, no matter how much we ranted and raved, so we belittled what we could not have. In this way we were very much like the person who says, after being rejected by an organization he or she had hoped to join, "You know what, you're not so great anyway. I'm glad you turned me away." So a mere 30 years ago our thinking was: If we can't join 'em, ** 'em. So we took our ball and went home to play on our own field -- the gay ghettos and back alleys where no one could tell us we didn't belong.

But the powers that once were no longer are. So we're back, we've brought our ball, and we want to play on the same field as every other U.S. citizen. And the majority of Americans seem to feel that we should finally have right to do just that, with a growing number of highly influential politicians in agreement. In a couple of months, the Supreme Court justices could also agree. Or they could make us wait a little longer. Hey, not every ship has a smooth journey. But please note that today my husband and I are packed and ready for the voyage. Our rings and marriage license may yet be revoked in California, but the taste of freedom and equality will linger for a lifetime in our hearts, and we will not give it up without a fight. Today I will gladly battle for the right to put the same marital noose around my neck as millions of other guys and gals. Simply put, I and my GLBT brethren want -- no more and no less -- to be like everyone else.

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. An author and subject expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality, Mr. Weiss has served as a media specialist for CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among many others. Mr. Weiss is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and the upcoming 2013 release, Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Sex, Intimacy and Relationships, along with numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters. He is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and, writing primarily about the intersection of technology with sex and intimacy. He has provided clinical multi-addiction training and behavioral health program development for the US military and treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.

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