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On Saying 'I Do'

On Saying 'I Do'


Many of us still wonder if the privilege of saying 'I do' is just a slippery slope to convention and decorum.


Some weeks ago I went to a wedding of two good friends, and everyone cried. The grooms walked down the aisle crying, and read their vows, crying, and they said some powerful things about being two gay men who had grown up expecting to be lonely and unloved, and most certainly unwed. When they were children, the idea of being able to marry another man had struck each of them as preposterous. It was a time when most gay kids grew up being told their most fundamental instinct was wrong, immoral, and treacherous. Even the most accepting parents would often couch their dismay as anxiety for their child's well-being, their happiness. Many still do.

Yet here they were, those two weeping, beaming grooms, with their families and friends, and suddenly the once-preposterous idea seemed almost commonplace. Almost. At the wedding, the officiant asked how many of the guests were GWVs--gay wedding virgins--and it turned out most of them were. Soon this will not be so novel, but for now those people getting married are mapping new territory.

It wasn't that that long ago, as Andrew Sullivan recently reminded us on his site, The Dish, that non-citizens arriving in the U.S. were confronted with an immigration form that required them to say whether they were a "Communist", "criminal", or "homosexual." Now, the homosexuals are getting married. Of course, Communists and criminals always enjoyed that right, so you could just say we're catching up to them.

Many of us, particularly those born before the 1980s, came to the idea of marriage equality skeptically. We fretted about how it might change the character of queer culture and the LGBT community. Perhaps, in our deepest hearts, some of us embraced our status as undesirables, alongside the criminals and Communists. We wondered--some still do--if gaining the full rights of the land would erode our sense of belonging to a unique tribe with our own culture, customs, and values. Is the privilege of saying "I do" just a slippery slope to convention and decorum?

If I'm honest, I wanted equality, but I wasn't sure I wanted marriage. My own relationship of 13 years and counting was a success, but on our own terms, not as a simulacrum of heterosexuality. When my partner's mother started calling me her son-in-law we both winced. Neither of us had any desire to call the other "husband." "Boyfriend" worked just fine.

So it was somewhat sheepishly that we found ourselves, recently, in a local antique store we know and love, picking out second-hand rings, trying them on, navigating the unfamiliarity of it all. Even after we decided, in a casual, offhand way last fall that we wanted to do this, it was with a certain ambivalence. Why did we change our minds? Partly for the rights, but partly, I think, for a principal that I only fully appreciated when I spoke to Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, two of the four plaintiffs in the historic court battle to overturn California's Prop 8.


Katami told me how he came to realize, in the wake of Prop 8, that the value of being married lies partly in the privilege of using the language of marriage--to say, "this is my husband." It's definitive, unquestionable. "When you say that at a bank or at a hotel, there is no question--people understand," he said. "And if they have a problem with that, it is their problem, but we used to have to carry that burden everywhere we went."

We got our marriage license at Brooklyn's Municipal Building, among that great cross-section of American society--Hassidic Jews, mixed-race couples, a black family in bright, African prints. And no one stared, no one scowled; they were all too busy, as we were, fumbling with rings, taking photos, checking cell phones. Apart from the fact that we were all nicely dressed, it had the quality of standing in line at the bank, with the little glass window through which documents were passed back and forth for signature, and then a credit card to pay for the license. The same woman who sat on the other side of the glass also married us. She had a flat, blase delivery that made us giggle, but she did insist we kiss at the end, just after we slipped those rings on to each other's fingers.

I look at the ring, sometimes--just a simple band--and I like to imagine what the man who wore it first would think if he could see where it has ended up. It's a thought that makes me very happy. And though we are still not sure we want to use the word "husband," we both get a kick from saying "mother-in-law."

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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