In recent weeks, I found myself living a paraphrase of the television tagline, “I’m not only the Hair Club President, but I’m also a client.” As founder and President of Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage nationwide, marrying my longtime fiancé, Dr. Cheng He, before family and friends at Guastavino’s, under the 59th Street Bridge in New York City, was the pinnacle of joy for me – both personally and professionally.
When I wrote my Harvard Law School thesis in 1983 on why gay people should be able to share in the freedom to marry, I could only dream of meeting someone as cute, super smart, and emotionally comfortable as Cheng. In fact, I spent most of my career “whinily single.” But when Cheng and I met in 2002, my life and future changed.
At the time, Cheng was working on his Ph.D. in molecular biology at NYU and preparing for a career that combined his skills in science and business. After moving to Canada from China, where he was born and completed high school, Cheng mastered English and earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. He now works as a management consultant at Philosophy IB, a boutique consulting firm in Florham Park, New Jersey, and specializes in assisting pharmaceutical and consumer-product clients.
We bonded pretty much from the start. Cheng – a Chinese, non-native English-speaker, non-Jewish after all – laughed right along with me at Seinfeld reruns and embraced my love of Broadway. I managed to impress him by introducing him to really good Chinese restaurants.
In our near decade together, we have been there for one another through the good times – and the bad – and have travelled the world from the Pyramids to Machu Picchu, the Parthenon and Colosseum to Petra and the Taj Mahal, Iguazu Falls to the Galapagos, the Great Wall of China to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and even Easter Island, not to mention Fargo, North Dakota. We haven’t had time for a honeymoon yet, but will turn our annual end-of-year trip into a honeymoon (as well as a celebration of our 10th anniversary together). We are going to Antarctica.
Still, even though we are now married in New York, because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, Cheng and I will continue to be forced to go through different lines when re-entering the country, him a Canadian citizen, me an American – so unlike how we are treated with respect as a couple, a family, in many other countries, from Canada to Israel. When we return from our honeymoon, as we go through immigration and I once again wait in a separate line, hoping that nothing goes wrong, we will once again be reminded of the work left to do.
But, happily, having finally been able to stand before our now combined families, our closest friends and our movement colleagues in the city where we have built our life together, I will be going back to work at Freedom to Marry with my ring on my left hand, proclaiming that the love of my life and I are legally married. Cheng and I wish that same freedom to marry for everyone, and are working to make it so.