On August 24th 1985, my husband Brian and I were married at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Toronto. I was twenty-two, he was thirty-five. The phrase "gay and lesbian marriage," let alone "equal marriage," had not yet entered the popular, social, or political lexicons.
The rite offered by MCC was called a "holy union," and we were told in no uncertain terms by the church that it was not a wedding--a term which in 1985 even the gay community looked askance at queer folk using. We were, in fact, obliquely asked by the church not to use the word "wedding" at all in relation to the ceremony we were seeking.
We smiled politely and ignored that admonition entirely.
Many of our gay friends were bemused by the entire enterprise. Among the outer-circle friends who veered more towards "acquaintances," there were even sneers: "Why on earth would you do something like this when it isn't even legal?" one friend hissed. "Is it that you've always dreamed of being a bride?" (Well, maybe darling, but that's not really what it's about, just this once.)
In fairness, he had a point. Our "holy union" would not be legally recognized. Like generations of gay men and lesbians before us, we had to painstakingly construct the legal bones of our conjoining using whichever cast-off, second-hand laws related to property and power-of-attorney the straight community deigned to share with us.
With these laws, we would try to protect ourselves as best we could from predatory relatives; from being separated at hospital beds; from the nightmare of having family members we didn't even know paw through the wreckage of our lives in the event of one of our deaths, assigning a gimlet-eyed dollar value to the riches of an invaluable, fully-lived, love-filled life.
Amidst the wider, slightly illogical accusations of being bourgeois or assimilationist, there was precious little acknowledgement of what an affront to heteronormativity it would be for a man to walk down the aisle with a man in 1985, even in Canada. Nobody wanted gay weddings in Mayberry. Nobody invited us to assimilate. On the contrary, the notion of gay marriage seemed to unify the vast majority of people in their discomfort with it.
Our straight friends, for the most part, got it. They may have been momentarily stumped by the novelty of two grooms, but millennia of socialization (and their own innate decency) provided them with a default context into which to place us.
We had no money. Our reception would be ridiculously cheap by anyone's wedding standards. We bought the rings with a maxed-out low-level department store credit card. We were gloriously happy, wonderfully naïve, and boundlessly optimistic.
The day of the wedding was bright and hot and blue. Forty friends and family packed the church to celebrate our wedding with us--we've never used words other than wedding and marriage. Though it was to us both "holy" and a "union," we were unwilling to have the terms of our matrimony framed for us, or dictated to us using "approved" language selected for us by other people.
The following year, in 1986, my father, the retired diplomat, took me kindly aside and told me how proud he and my mother were, but that I should disabuse myself of any notions that equal marriage was ever going to be any sort of norm.
"You're not going to see these laws changed in your lifetime, Mike," my father said. "It just won't happen. The world doesn't move that quickly and too many people are opposed."
I thought about my father's words many times over the next thirty years.
I thought about them in 2001, when Holland became the first country to allow equal marriage. I thought about them in 2003, when Brian and I were legally married in Ontario, then again in 2005 when Canada signed Bill C-58 into law, making my homeland the fourth country in the world to legalize equal marriage nationwide.
I thought about them every time another country stepped up to the plate and granted full citizenship to their LGBT sons and daughters by allowing them to share in the one of the oldest rites in the history of the human race. I thought about them mostly this past joyous summer when the Supreme Court legalized equal marriage in the United States.
So, Dad, our world did move a bit and the laws did change, in both our lifetimes. I'm glad we both lived to see it happen.
I'd heard the question, "But why do gays have to call it 'marriage?' Can't they call it something else?" so many time from thoughtless, privileged, passive-aggressive people that I finally wrote about it in my second essay collection Other Men's Sons. The essay, "From This Day Forward," was an attempt to answer just that question, which is at the heart of the definition of marriage:
"I know every line of Brian's hands and face, every variegated timbre of his voice, and I know what every shift of his body means. I feel his pain and his joy and I safeguard his walk through life in every way I can. I would die for him, and I believe I would kill anyone who attempted to take him from me before his time. I defy any married man or woman to tell me they don't know what I mean."
In short, we had to call it marriage because that's what it was. Since straight people weren't offering to redefine heterosexual marriages as "opposite sex civil unions," we were flat out of options. Among the best reasons to have had these laws, driven by nothing but religious bigotry, struck down is the thought that this LGBT generation and the next, and the next will never have to misname their marriages ever again, let alone justify them.
Today, though, on my 30th wedding anniversary, I have some greetings of my own to send out.
To all the fulminating conservative politicians and itinerant peddlers of monetized, unchristian Christianity who've made a fortune mining bigotry and predicting the end of civilization because of equal marriage--you've lost. Give it up. Your Goliath is dead. The body is only moving because of residual putrescent gas build-up from centuries of the homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny you've passed off as "God's word" on the topic of human sexuality and relationships.
To that much-divorced fundamentalist Christian ogress in Kentucky who is taking such cruel pleasure in using the U.S Constitution as her own personal toilet paper by denying LGBT folks in Rowan County their rightful marriage licenses--delight in your moment in the sun, with all the blasé entitlement enjoyed by the last batch of dinosaurs that roamed the earth millennia ago. Just remember to duck when the comet hits. It always hits, sooner or later, and it's coming now, fast.
To our LGBT brothers and sisters who are getting married this month, or next month, or whenever--a long and happy life to all of you. Try to get through today with enough forgiveness saved up to get you through tomorrow. Don't turn into one of those smug married couples who look down their noses at non-married people, or who act as though full LGBT equality is now secure because we've won this battle. It isn't. There's still a lot of work to do, and no one likes a prig.
Also, consider separate blankets. And a Labrador.
To our LGBT brothers and sisters who have no intention of ever getting married, or at least not any time soon--a long and happy life to you too. Marriage isn't better or worse, it's just one choice among many, many valid relationship models. That said, as a sentient, political queer person, I've never been able to convince myself that turning our noses up at a right we didn't have was any sort of a power position so, whether you choose to marry or not, THANKS, OBAMA.
Lastly, to Brian, my husband--there's nothing I can tell you than you don't already know, and we're too old for clichés and public mawkishness, so I'll just put this out there--the only version of myself I know is the one who took that walk down the aisle with you on August 24th 1985, the one who grew with you over the next three decades. I'd be someone else entirely without you. Our life together is a patchwork. The stitches are tight, the colours are fast, and the weave is warm. We're a long way from perfect, but we're strong and true, and we're a part of history. Happy 30th Anniversary, sweetheart.