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Love & SCOTUS: Writers on Gay Marriage and the Future

When the Supreme Court released its ruling on same-sex marriage, I was walking to work, unaware history was being made. I was being given editorial notes over the phone, so my head was full of planned revisions when I got to the office and turned on my computer and there it was.
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When the Supreme Court released its ruling on same-sex marriage, I was walking to work, unaware history was being made. I was being given editorial notes over the phone, so my head was full of planned revisions when I got to the office and turned on my computer and there it was. I had been braced for bad news, the kind exemplified by Scalia's disdain-filled dissent; at best I expected a small, problematic advancement. Reading the headlines, I felt lightheaded, at a loss for words.

The writers I queried had no such difficulty.

What was your first reaction when you heard the Supreme Court ruling?

I've never wanted to get married myself, but still I was thrilled, almost to the point of tears. Anything that makes the far right this angry has to be worth celebrating.
-- David Sedaris

I was at the gym and a woman using an elliptical machine yelled at me to watch one of the flatscreens hanging overhead. I'd been nervous about the ruling, so I experienced the highest form of happiness: relief. It's so rare for the world to enjoy a moment of such purely good news.
-- Paul Rudnick

Elation. Tears. Incredulity. That I should live to see such a day. I grew up thinking that gay people were necessarily social outcasts, and to hear a justice of the Supreme Court speak so eloquently on our behalf was one of my life's moments of true joy.
-- Andrew Solomon

My first thought was I could hear Antonin Scalia's heading exploding. Is that a thought? It's an observation. A perception, a fact. The pop was so loud I didn't notice [Clarence] Thomas's head had also exploded. -- Holly Hughes

My partner of 24 years and I watched the news Friday morning in tearful disbelief. When you think that Ronald Reagan did not mention AIDS until late in his second term and even The New York Times would not use the word "gay" until 1987, the change is pretty hard to assimilate. Then my partner killed the joyous moment by suggesting that maybe now we should get married. I'm a cautious person, and I don't like to rush into things. -- Stephen McCauley

My first reaction was: "Why am I spending the day with my mother?" My second reaction was to propose to the first man I saw, who happened to be a toll booth attendant off Exit 6 of the Jersey Turnpike. -- John Weir

I called my husband, to make sure he knew. Then I strolled over to my local coffee house, where someone asked me why I was smiling. I didn't even realize I was. Then it hit me that I live on Capitol Hill, and eight blocks away was a celebration I wanted to be part of. -- Louis Bayard

I was incredibly happy and moved. ... It also reminded me of what Freud said about psychoanalysis "transforming hysterical misery into common unhappiness." In the eyes of the law we're now as free to make the same promises, mistakes and legal commitments as anyone else. -- Stacey D'Erasmo

I wrote my old lover that if this had happened decades ago, we could have been married in the '70s and separated in the '80s. -- Brandon Judell

My first reaction was, "Poor, poor Clarence Thomas, caught once again on the wrong side of history." And oh, all those poor straight people whose marriages have just been utterly destroyed. What will they do? -- Mark Childress

[That] morning the sequence of events was: I mentioned to my possible future husband that the ruling was supposed to come down, we sat down on the couch to check the news, and before we could find anything out, his mother texted us, adding two emoji men and a top hat. When I started dating my guy in 2004, we were unsure of how his folks would react, and if anyone had told us that we'd hear about it this way, it would've seemed absurd. But today it felt natural, appropriate, and poignant that we'd gotten the news from his parents, who have been together almost 40 years. They have been to more gay weddings than we have!
-- James Hannaham

I wasn't surprised at the ruling, but I was totally sandbagged by the past few years when the walls of the fortress were crumbling, state by state. Gay marriage? Really? Isn't that a little progressive in a country where you can wear your howitzer into a pancake house? Where you might be required to look at a full-color Sears photo of your fetus before making your abortion decision? But, improbably, the glitter ball got rolling and suddenly here we are, waving rainbow flags and storming wedding chapels. -- Carol Anshaw

When I was in high school in the 1970s, I often felt suicidal, assuming that I would have to live out the rest of my years alone, cast out from the happy rituals of dating, marriage, and family that give life meaning. ... The day of the decision, I found myself on Christopher Street, passing in front of the site of the Stonewall, and unexpectedly broke down sobbing with gratitude, because no gay kid will ever have to feel cast out from the promise of lifelong love again. -- Steve Silberman

I cried because the faces of many friends flew up -- those who died of AIDS. The joys, the dancing and the art that they made; the middle of the plague, standing at hospital beds; singing for and celebrating their lives at their the memorials, and the legal difficulties their partners had in the wake of those deaths. Had they lived they would have been so jubilant. -- Honor Molloy

It wasn't as astounding as hearing Sydney Lucas sing "Ring of Keys" in Fun Home, but it was certainly a "Well, we changed something in our lifetimes" moment. Of course, we haven't changed enough, as the constant news of the wars on Black lives tells us, but I hope we all draw courage from the possibility of change. -- Elana Dykewomon

My first reaction was that it was too good to be true. I was very moved by Justice Kennedy's decision. I've also decided Obama is a great president, right up there with FDR. -- Edmund White

Disbelief. And then a gradual sense of the enormity of the decision, one that may be expanding for some time. -- Alexander Chee

My first reaction was shock. ... I was shocked that this leg of our LGBT journey was suddenly over. My husband and I married in 2003 and I don't think, even 12 years ago, that I was confident this day would come in my lifetime. -- Mark Harris

I was bemoaning the fact that I could not be up in New England celebrating with my husband, who himself was bemoaning the fact that his family back in Germany has yet to acknowledge our marriage with anything approaching the love and generosity of my own family here in the States. (His aunt's reaction at the time: "Did they have to go and do that?") ... While other friends express annoyance for having to play catch-up with countries where same-sex marriage has long been the law of the land, I am thinking of the democracies which still have their heads in the sand.
-- Jan Stuart

I was overjoyed and vastly relieved. ... Still, it's important to remember that while laws can change overnight, attitudes take longer. Slightly more than half the country now supports marriage equality, a huge and rapid change -- but that means that almost half of the country still doesn't. That's a lot of people who wish us less than they have themselves -- and many of them actively wish us ill. -- Will Schwalbe

I thought of this 85-year-old woman I interviewed for one of my books. She'd lived with her partner for more than 40 years. Early in their relationship they'd bought a house the partner's name. ... They were out as a couple to most people, including the partner's straight cousin, who used to come to dinner and even go on vacations with them. Then the partner died -- and the cousin, who was her "next of kin" as far as the law was concerned, claimed the house and kicked the 85-year-old woman out. ... She and her partner were "strangers" to each other under the law. ... The Supreme Court decision means that such travesties of justice won't ever happen again. How can anyone not be ecstatic over that? -- Lillian Faderman

I thought it would happen, especially after the Lawrence and Windsor cases. A win was the next rational step -- although we know the Supreme Court isn't always rational. But when the first headline popped on my computer screen, I let out a loud whoop. ... All through my day...I kept running into friends, and we happily shared the good news all over again. It felt like Christmas. -- Christopher Bram

My first reaction was utter and supreme elation. I wanted to dance in the street. I also felt safe. I'm someone who has many times been called "fucking dyke" by total strangers, and I've been afraid people would beat me up for being gay. It definitely makes me feel safer that the Supreme Court of the land has ruled that I'm officially a person. -- Donna Minkowitz

I got married on the first possible day a woman could legally marry a woman, anywhere in the United States. That was in the great state of Massachusetts on May 17, 2004. Each year since, I have cheered the country's baby steps toward universal marriage equality. ... In 2012, the federal government overturned DOMA and recognized [equal-marriage] states' laws, which [meant my] wife and I were able to claim our marriage benefit in taxes back to 2009. (That doesn't sound very romantic, but it was very helpful since we are both writers.) I was bowled over by the grandeur of the [Supreme Court] decision. Though I have been legally married for more than a decade, something about gay marriage becoming the law of the land seemed nearly impossible to fathom. -- MB Caschetta

I cried for joy because...making marriage equity the law of the land marks a milestone for greater civil liberties to all people in the United States. Then, being me, I immediately started to worry that we are in real danger of accepting this landmark decision as an invitation to complacency. Pushing for marriage equity has taken up a lot of time, energy and money. But after we drink the champagne and eat the cake, we still have dirty air and water and black folks being shot in the street. -- Sally Bellerose

I was disappointed in the meanness and small-mindedness of the dissents. [And while] I think it's a great victory for gay and lesbian people who want to marry, for those of us who don't, it doesn't change anything. ... There are queers out there who find the whole institution of marriage problematic, even distasteful. I worry that we've just moved the goalposts in our obsessive need to define "normal" and "deviant." I'm perfectly happy for those queers whose relationships have now been normalized. I remain far more interested in those whose relationships remain (perhaps forever) deviant. ... A world from which an inconvenient, profane, disquieting queerness has been benignly banished is not a world in which I want to live. -- Paul Russell

It was an emotional week. One flag came down and another was raised. I felt relieved that the country finally acknowledged the right of any person who loved another to get married. ... I also felt the sadness that sometimes comes...after a battle has been won. You were so busy fighting, but now you have a chance to look back and see how many people suffered for something that should have been theirs to begin with. -- Joseph Olshan

I was surprised by how genuinely surprised I was. -- Kera Bolonik

Are there different stories you envision yourself telling now?

Dick Scanlan: There are new stories I imagine myself living. I may even get married, which I've never really wanted to do before despite being in a very happy, 20-year relationship. I am currently directing Little Shop of Horrors at Encores! Off-Center, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ellen Greene. Every time Ellen Greene sings the lyric "I'm his December bride," I think, "That can be me now." I can't do anything about the December part, but the bride part is there for me to choose should I want to.

Stacey D'Erasmo: What interests me are the complexities and contradictions and struggles and joys of messy human beings. ... For the Supreme Court, the right for everyone to say "I do" is where the story ends, but for artists it's where the story just starts to get interesting.

Paul Rudnick: Now we'll get to see how gay people experience legal marriage, and how the culture reacts. Of course, there have always been committed gay relationships and epic gay romances, but there will most likely be a new openness, as these couples register for flatware. For American gay people, at least when it comes to marriage, the law is now on our side. This may also result in a certain segment of the gay population becoming a giddy sorority, as gay people rush into restaurants, living rooms and cocktail parties, brandishing their engagement rings and squealing, "Guess who's getting MARRIED!!!" It won't always be pretty.

Jaime Manrique: I've been thinking about writing about my late partner. We lived together for 33 years and we didn't get married, though he wanted to.

Stephen McCauley: While I'm a fairly sentimental person, marriage in general has never been of much interest to me. ... My characters tend to be outsiders, and the most I've been able to achieve in a "happy ending" is the suggestion that a character is going to drop his defenses enough to reach out to someone.

Donna Minkowitz: My stories have already changed so much. Fifteen, 20 years ago as being gay became more mainstream, I felt a real loss.... [Today] the issues that have become most important to me are massive, growing [economic] inequality and socially sanctioned violence -- against African-Americans, sexual violence, the prison system, physical abuse of children. ... I also have felt much more commonality with straight people. I no longer feel superior or intrinsically more radical than them... I tend to feel right now that almost everyone in our society is oppressed in many ways.

Carol Anshaw: In terms of an evolving novel of manners, an element that's potentially interesting is who gets married and who decides against it. Almost all queers have a rebellious streak, even if it was painted on us by a disdainful culture. We're accustomed to being outsiders. Now that we've been slid into the frame of the family portrait, what will queer culture look like?

Mark Harris: Certainly, the struggle for LGBT equality is not nearly over, and the people who would demonize us will fight back, in some cases viciously, so the narrative of the LGBT civil rights movement is about to change yet again. But what the stories that emerge from it will be, I can't guess.

Kera Bolonik: There are new and different stories people 15 years younger than me will be telling. We came of age during the AIDS crisis, knew the price we've had to pay for the victory we saw on Friday. ... For many of us, because we've been together for so long, lived together in love, to have federal recognition likely is more about security, in sickness and in death. ... We're seeing couples that have been together for 30 or 40 years marry that never imagined they could, who've loved each other forever and been romantic, but now are getting older or are, well, old, and have to do some planning for the future.

Andrew Solomon: There are stories I envision myself ceasing to tell. A great area of protest and sadness has been removed from my consciousness. Not that there aren't still 10,000 victories to win at home and a million to win abroad, but the stories of no hope need now to be put away, once and for all. And then there will be new stories, of a different kind of innocence that comes of not being hated. It's all part of being not a "gay writer" but a writer who is gay; of stories I tell that draw on autobiography being relevant to the general population rather than to a small subset of it.

John Weir: My stories are all about people who should never marry anyone ever, of any persuasion or gender!

Do you think the culture will change?

David Sedaris: Yes, for the positive. When I was young, being gay was pretty much the worst thing that could happen to you. It was unthinkable that you'd grow up and lead a happy life. Now some kid in some small town can feel assured that though he might be different from those around him, he's not a lesser person. Lifting people up always leads to change.

Louis Bayard: Chief Justice Roberts made a point of saying the majority decision had no constitutional underpinning. Neither do most court rulings. Judges may imagine they're immune from public opinion, but they feel the groundswells as well as anyone, and once the liberal wing of the court understood that America was ready for this, they found a way to deliver it.

Paul Rudnick: The culture has been changing rapidly, especially since the peak years of the AIDS crisis: gay lives and gay struggles have become public and irrefutable. Marriage is a next step, but here's the secret, especially with regard to all of those hyperventilating religious conservatives: for the vast majority of people, gay marriage won't affect them at all. Gay marriage primarily affects the people getting married, and of course, the caterers, florists and photographers involved. Imagine the new demands for extreme levels of Photoshop.

Brandon Judell: Divorce lawyers will start advertising on Logo.

Jonathan Galassi: Writers for quite some time have been insisting on homosexual experience as a version of everyday life. It's wonderful to live in a world without closets. Wonderful, but maybe a little less wry, or sardonic, or sensible to the ironies of life.... Will there will be more gays -- or fewer -- in the newly tolerant future? Part of being gay was being not on the "A" team. Some people really enjoyed that. And some became artists because of it -- indeed, many of our greatest... Which came first -- feeling things differently or needing to express a particular sensibility?

Stacey D'Erasmo: One of the things I've always loved about queer culture is the openness and passionate curiosity about love, desire and the myriad forms of affectionate ties. We made such a rich and generous and inventive space, and I'd hate to see all of that sold off into the condos of respectability. It would be a sad and ironic thing if the right to marry resulted in a less loving, more judgmental and perhaps more hypocritical culture overall.

Sally Bellerose: My fear is that marriage will change queers more than queers will change marriage. I am 63 years old and (full disclosure) have been in a loving relationship with the same woman for decades. We are probably getting married sometime soon. Still, the institution of marriage, especially the part where the State gets involved in our relationship, has never been a big draw for either me or my beloved. ... As long as marriage doesn't become seen as the only acceptable way for people to live meaningful lives...

Elana Dykewomon: I hope it does not lead to complacency -- we have so many fires yet to light under the ass of patriarchy.

Joseph Olshan: I do expect deeds of brutality and violence against this decision, similar to what happened in South Carolina, and that we will be challenged to find forgiveness for these misguided actions.

Esther Newton: Holly [Hughes] and I, although not married (yet), think that lesbians and gay men having children will continue to have a more profound effect on loss of gay community than marriage, because having children changes your lives in more profound ways.

Kera Bolonik: There are factions of people who dismiss same-sex marriage, now thankfully called "marriage," as heteronormative, mainstream and boring. And that's fine; at least it's our right to marry or opt out. Or redefine marriage and family, as we always have. But I certainly don't think this means homophobia is going to suddenly disappear. We certainly haven't seen racism disappear after Loving v. Virginia. We can always count on having hate, and those trying to overturn or otherwise dismantle Obergefell v. Hodges.

Alexander Chee: The culture has already changed. This decision just reflected the change that is already happening. I do think it will change more, but the power in this decision is that this doesn't impose as much as it acknowledges what is already there.

Stephen McCauley: The changes are the result of the hardcore political organizing done over the years and the simple fact of more and more people coming out. It's astonishing to me to see gay pride parades in which there are scores of corporate sponsors.

Steve Silberman: [When I was young] homosexuality was still thought of as a form of neurosis or psychiatric disorder, even by many progressive people, and was still a crime in many places. ... At 57, however, I'm legally married to a wonderful, handsome, brilliant high school chemistry teacher named Keith. My Republican in-laws accept me as a member of the family, and Keith's mom even sent us a set of his-and-his towels that she sewed with our initials. A glorious sea-change has taken place that now seems inevitable, though it could so easily have gone in the other direction with just one more conservative justice on the Supreme Court.

Mark Childress: I think Republicans will attempt to run on a backlash against this and other progressive victories, but time and demographics aren't on their side. ... As Anne Lamott said to me, this hopey changey thing is really working out well. It doesn't take the Supreme Court of the United States to give me my rights. I already had the rights, even before the Court recognized them. But even as gay bookstores are dying because their forbidden content has been taken up by mainstream bookstores, this ruling will help make gay people less exotic.

Andrew Solomon: So long as prejudice is enshrined in the law in this country, people feel justified in their own prejudice. With this decision and its striking down of prejudice, the culture will become kinder, even though there will be individual episodes of terrible cruelty. Young gay people will grow up in a world of hope and possibility -- a fairer house than the one that came before.

Lillian Faderman: There's never been a monolithic "gay culture." What that term usually described was the social world of young urban males. It had nothing to do with the "culture" of, for instance, middle-aged lesbians in the South or the Midwest. And for the last couple of decades, "gay culture" in urban areas has been giving way to "queer culture" on the one hand, and to "mainstreaming" (committed same-sex couples raising their kids together) on the other. I can imagine "mainstreaming" becoming even more so as a result of the Supreme Court ruling: proposals with engagement rings; big engagement parties; gays or lesbians taking a future spouse home to meet the folks. But of course marriage isn't everyone's thing. Alternative cultures will keep emerging and evolving for those who want them.

Holly Hughes
: I'm afraid we will be talking about "the culture" versus queer culture and straight culture. I don't know why having our civil rights, at least some of them, means we have to live like them. THEM! Gay culture is the pearl that grew out of the pain of discrimination and stigma. It's still a goddam pearl, and we shouldn't abandon it.

Jaime Manrique: I hope the culture will change more in terms of its race and class prejudices. More and more, we live in a class society. Money is more important than race or gender.

Chris Bram: We will see a big change in states in the South and West that still resist queer life in all its forms. Now teenagers in places like Texas or Virginia, where I grew up, will know that this is a valid, viable way. Remember when we were told, "You don't want to be gay or lesbian. It's such a lonely life"? Not anymore. Now everyone will know it includes being married.

Honor Malloy: Two weeks ago, my niece got married in S.C., and my mother was Facebooking about it. That was not so a decade ago when I got married. I hid it from my mother for years.

Mark Harris: Five or ten years from now, a generation will come of age that will be stunned this was ever an issue, and the people who were on the wrong side of history will be, I think, embarrassed and talk a lot about how they've evolved since then.

Do you expect writers, gay or straight, to think differently for future projects?

Honor Molloy: Yes -- yes and more yes.

Alexander Chee: Oh, no writer likes to be expected to do anything.

Dick Scanlan: The next generation of writers will be able to imagine stories that writers my age can't, because they're growing up in a world we couldn't imagine.

Paul Rudnick: I predict a glut of gay rom-coms, involving trans bridesmaids and groomsmen, bickering gay parents, and debauched bachelor and bachelorette parties, where the groom realizes that he's in love with the best man, and one of the brides discovers that the other bride is cheating with their wedding planner. The covers of these books will feature rainbow bouquets. Gay characters will now be required to put rings on many different parts of their bodies. Don't get me started on theme weddings, where Spock marries Captain Kirk. From Jane Austen to Danielle Steel, marriage tends to organize a narrative.

Stacey D'Erasmo: The deeper changes wrought by the end of a particular outlaw culture: something will come of that...and it won't be what we expect. Should be very interesting.

Will Schwalbe: The more our present changes, the more important it is to chronicle our past. Memoir, history, historical fiction will, I hope, all thrive. I also hope the fullest range of LGBT characters will appear in all kinds of writing, including ones that some members of our community find embarrassing. ... I hope we will have more access to LGBT writing from around the world, especially in translation. We get shockingly little of it.

John Weir: I'm expecting a raft of "gay" novels by straight writers who will now position themselves as the experts on gay marriage, because despite "marriage equality," nobody -- including LGBT people! -- wants to read books written by and substantially about LGBT people!

Elana Dykewomon: Grace Paley wrote a story in which a lesbian asks her why lesbians are invisible in her fiction when they have been beside her all along, in the many fights for justice. The character apologizes, and says she won't forget in the future. I love Grace Paley, but as far as I know, that's the only time a lesbian character appeared in her work. Writers may see more in our fields of vision, lives that were only shadows before, but we are each of us going to continue to write from our own perspectives. Will we listen better?

Louis Bayard: When I hear some gay folks bemoan the loss of our outlier status, I have to wonder if they're just attached to the sentimentality of exclusion. To me, a human being with agency is always going to be a more interesting fictional subject than a martyr.

Chris Bram: Perhaps we will see a couple of good, exciting, down-and-dirty gay or lesbian divorce novels. Why should straight novelists like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth have all the fun?

Edmund White: I think everyone will have a shot at gay subject matter now.

Andrew Solomon: I expect they will feel freer to write from their hearts, and that a literature of difference will become a literature of sameness -- after which the difference will be rediscovered, until a true balance comes into place, and books tell of gay and straight lives as equal without making them equivalent.

Holly Hughes: Perhaps there will be more interest in a gay past; every gay life, no matter how privileged, had a core of drama. Will we have stories about love triangles? The prodigal dyke? The hero fag's journey? In the future I'll have to read more about my least favorite topics, screeds revolving around homonormativity, and books about and for children.

Brandon Judell: In the future, LGBT writers will be more inspired by old episodes of Ozzie & Harriet than by the trials of Oscar Wilde.

Jaime Manrique: I for one would hate to read novels about the extramarital problems of bourgeois gay people. l hope that gay people will never forget what it means to be the "other" -- black, poor -- and will extend their empathy to the struggles of those who still suffer from all kinds of injustice.

Mark Harris: A lot of younger LGBT activists I know found the quest for marriage equality trivial; they think it pushed aside issues that matter more to them, such as economic justice and trans rights. I think they're wrong: 1) Activists can think about, and fight for, more than one thing at the same time; and 2) Marriage equality is, among many other things, an issue of economic justice. But I do think that the movement as a whole will turn its attention to other struggles for justice. I'd like to look over the horizon and envision a day when gay and straight writers can move beyond narratives that are about overcoming oppression. First, however, let's overcome the oppression!

Writers! They insist on writing books. A few to be published this year by writers interviewed for this piece: Cervantes Street (Jaime Manrique); The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle (Lillian Faderman); Immaculate Blue (Paul Russell); Memories of the Revolution: The First Ten Years of the WOW Café Theater (Holly Hughes with Carmelita Tropicana and Jill Dolan); The Queen of the Night (Alexander Chee); My Butch Career: A Queer Life in Anthropology (Esther Newton); NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (Steve Silberman). And some you can read now: Beyond the Pale (Elana Dykewomon); Carry the One (Carol Anshaw); Cloudland (Joseph Olshan); Crazy in Alabama (Mark Childress); Delicious Foods (James Hannaham); Does Freddy Dance (Thoroughly Modern Millie's Dick Scanlan); The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe); Far From the Tree (Andrew Solomon); Five Came Back (Mark Harris); The Girls Club (Sally Bellerose); Growing Up Golem: How I Survived My Mother, Brooklyn, and Some Really Bad Dates (Donna Minkowitz); I'll Take It (Jeffrey's Paul Rudnick); Inside a Pearl (Edmund White); Lesbianism Made Easy (Helen Eisenbach); Miracle Girls (MB Caschetta); Muse (Jonathan Galassi); Naked (David Sedaris); The Nashville Chronicles (Jan Stuart); The Object of My Affection (Stephen McCauley); Roosevelt's Beast (Louis Bayard); Smarty Girl: Dublin Savage (Honor Molloy); Surprising Myself (Christopher Bram); What I Did Wrong (John Weir); Wonderland (Stacey D'Erasmo).
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