Setting out for our nephew's wedding, my wife and I weren't quite sure what to expect. Since the two grooms had met at the memorably named Cincinnati Queer Guerilla Bar, our excitement contained an undeniable undercurrent of uneasiness.
Gay marriage is once again a high-profile public issue. When Maine, Maryland and Washington legalized same-sex nuptials and Minnesota defeated a constitutional amendment to ban them, it marked the first ballot box victory after a long string of defeats. Less than a month earlier, a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was ruled illegal by a second federal appeals court, and that law seems headed for a final showdown at the Supreme Court.
Yet entwined though it may be in legislation and lawsuits, gay marriage, like its heterosexual counterpart, is primarily a personal issue. The union of our nephew, Benjamin, and his beloved, Jacob, in a Reform Jewish ceremony in Cincinnati satisfied only religious law, not Ohio's. But on a personal level, the ceremony and the whole weekend showcased precisely the kind of values all of us who believe in stable, monogamous relationships should want to defend.
Which, I admit, isn't how I always felt.
As a religiously serious Jew, I'm well aware of the explicit biblical condemnation of homosexual sex acts. Still, loyalty to Leviticus wasn't the only reason for my initial opposition to gay marriage. Like many others, I believed that marriage in a legal and religious context was inextricably linked to procreation. As the Bipartisan Legal Action Group (BLAG) put it in a brief supporting DOMA (after the Obama administration refused to continue defending it): "Only a man and a woman can beget a child together."
Well, sort of. Not only don't we ban infertile couples from marrying or cast out those who don't want to have children, we have also as a society accepted surrogate birth, single parenthood and a host of other technological and social arrangements that have nothing to do with "togetherness" by the biological father and mother. When you think about it, what remains illegal for homosexuals is not parenthood, but the obligations and protections for them and their children that accompany a legally binding commitment.
That, and the ability to have the state recognize a commitment to the whole panoply of family values we as a society claim to uphold. The celebration of those values by Benjamin and Jacob is what shone though the entire weekend. Both grooms come from middle-class homes tested by turmoil and tragedy. Both saw their parents divorce and their fathers die unexpectedly young. But had smart, strong moms to keep them on track, with Ben ending up at a prestigious culinary school and Jacob pursuing a graduate degree in biomedical engineering.
Importantly, both also had families where "coming out" did not corrode family connections. At the pre-wedding dinner, both moms spoke of their happiness that the love between their sons could openly speak its name. That love, and the desire to build a family around it, is what motivated Ben, 29, and Jacob, 25, to get formally married rather than live together as do so many of their gay and straight peers. And they deliberately did so in a religious ceremony in the city where they both had roots.
Writer and gay activist Dan Savage, founder of the It Gets Better Campaign, has predicted that gays will eventually evolve their own wedding rituals. This wedding, though, was the same kind of contemporary-traditional-egalitarian affair you'd find with many a straight couple, albeit with creative replacements for references to "the bride and groom." On the other hand, when it came time to smash a glass at ceremony's end, each groom did get his own glass to crush.
A recent Pew poll shows a majority of Latinos now support gay marriage. Other polls show majority support for the first time in swing-states Florida and Ohio, which just eight years ago approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between a man and woman.
Mitt Romney lost three-quarters of the Hispanic vote and a similar percentage of self-identified gays, lesbians and transgender individuals in his crushing Electoral College defeat. A group called Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry has long been trying to mobilize Republicans to support marriage equality. Post-election, it's not Log Cabin Repbulicans who are joining in. A growing number of conservatives have begun re-evaluating gay marriage as an area where the government shouldn't meddle.
It's nice to believe that traditional nuclear families like the one my wife and I were raised in and in which we raised our kids are the best possible arrangement. But whether you pull out your Bible, pop on your TV or peer around the dining room table, it's impossible to escape the reality that any kind of family arrangement can be terrific or toxic. (Cain and Abel, anyone?) Gay or straight, religious or secular, some people are mensches and some are not.
It turns out my wife and I didn't go to a "gay wedding"; we went to a wedding. It was filled with "voices of joy and gladness," in the traditional Jewish phrase, "the voice of the groom and the voice of..." well, the other groom. We hope that Ben and Jacob's union will soon be legally recognized, but what we want most is what we wish for all newlyweds among friends and family. We hope they continue to reflect the values of their upbringing yet surpass in every way their parents' generation. By doing so, they'll make all of us, including their kids, very proud.