Today the California Supreme Court justly decided that I and my community are worthy of equal rights under the law. But despite this joyous milestone in gay and lesbian emancipation, our interminable fight continues: for national recognition of same-sex marriage and more immediately in the forthcoming California anti-gay marriage ballot initiative in November. This initiative is constitutional; if it passes, it will be immune to court challenges. Same-sex rights in California are fragile. We are still quite far from the endgame.
This laborious and lugubrious path to equality and freedom; to respect and recognition; and to compassion and kindness takes a destructive toll on the hearts and the spirits of we the vilified, the discriminated, and the humiliated second-class people of the United States of America. The impact of our oppression can be felt in countless physical, economic and social ways; but it is my own personal feelings that I'd like to share because, well, this is personal.
Part of me knows that I do not need the court's approval to buttress my sense of self-worth as a gay person. My country, my state, my army, and my religious institutions excommunicate me, but I will never excommunicate myself. I have internalized the cultural achievements of those pioneers who have come before me: I will not hide in shame; I will not hate myself. If I cannot have legal emancipation, I emancipate myself.
My life and my future will be defined on my own terms. I value my life no matter who abandons me as a result. I will write my own verdict within my heart and upon my soul: there are no pre-conditions to my self-worth just as there are no pre-conditions to equal standing under the law and no compromises on the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of love and family. This is the essence of my pride.
And yet: I have longed so much for the court's recognition, which I foolishly and impulsively conflate with wider social reconciliation and cultural respect. I yearned for its approval because of my deep emotional vulnerability and spiritual pain. I longed for its palliative gesture; for its kindness and compassion; for its redemptive arm in my social and cultural exile.
But most of all, I rejoice in its verdict because I am sick of being afraid.
From the very first day I could verbalize my same-sex orientation, I have carried the paralyzing dread that I would never see my own legally recognized wedding. I fear that I will never experience the psychological and social security of marriage or a family recognized and protected by the law. I fear that I will never have the reassurance of the law and thus of society's affirmation that helps a union survive.
Many friends--both straight and gay--don't understand: why is marriage so important to me? Why can't I just settle for cohabitation or life partnership?
In short: my life is not the same without the prospect of marriage. I want marriage because I want a better kind of life. I want to enter into a contract with one person, with the approval and support of our community. I want to enter a new phase of my life; to be recognized; to go through the ordeal of determining if I'm ready; to become marriage material; to settle down; to establish a home; to have someone who is always there for me; to meet and address social expectations through a new social identity. I want to accept both marriage's burdens and its benefits. And I want marriage for a better kind of love.
Today, the supreme court took one historic step in calming my fear, but it's verdict is no panacea. Our enemies are amassing; the ballot initiative looms ominously; the future is far from promising.
A prevalent myth has it that the legalization of gay marriage is only a matter of time. I hear this quite a bit from gay activists and communal leaders who recommend patience, institution building, navigating the channels of K Street and the courts, and calculated political action. Certainly, this strategy has brought some important successes; its not hard to see why it may just be only a matter of time.
I am 26 years old: just how much more time are we talking about? A decade? Two? Three? I wonder: will I see marriage at age 36? 46? 56? Will I live to see my wedding day?
Forgive me if I sound impatient, but I am. I do not want to have to wait for a generation of bigots to die out. I am sick of being afraid. I want the right to marry now!