It’s not an uncommon question to ask people ‘what were you doing ten years ago today?’
I’d like to know what people were thinking ten years ago today.
On May 17th, 2004, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legally recognize same-sex marriages in a landmark ruling that broke ground for other states to begin to follow suit. It would not happen overnight. As of 2014, seventeen states, and the District of Columbia will issue legal, binding marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Efforts are underway to increase that number by adding additional states.
I grew up in Maine and was a teenager in the 1980’s. There were few positive gay role models on television and in films. Gays were usually portrayed as the ‘witty neighbor’ or ‘flamboyant hairdresser’ or even as the ‘deviant psychotic’. Gays were not, at least on film, the ‘average person next door’. They were not football players and race car drivers and doctors and cowboys and police officers, at least as far as the average television viewing or movie-going public knew.
And they were not married.
In all my life I have never heard a compelling, rational, well-articulated argument against same-sex marriage that was not faith-based. I’ve heard people claiming that it will ‘undermine’ traditional marriage. I’ve also heard that it will ‘indoctrinate’ children and corrupt society. I’ve also heard same-sex marriage blamed for natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and economic collapse.
I’ve not yet seen definitive proof of any of this.
What I have seen is nearly 100,000 couples gain not only legal recognition for their unions/families….but also access to the more than one thousand federally granted benefits that come along with that status. Spouses in same sex couples can be covered on medical insurance without declaring it as (highly taxed) income at the end of the year. Life-long partners can inherit one another’s assets without penalization. Committed members of couples have been granted access to their injured/dying loved ones in the hospital without being turned away by hospital staff/administration.
The population of the world grows daily just as it always has. Couples partner and marry just like they always have. Couples part ways just like they always have. The world keeps turning, despite the legal recognition of same-sex marriage in many countries around the world.
Ten years ago today, I know what I was feeling. I was feeling overjoyed and validated in a way I thought I never would. I was feeling valued by at least the state I choose to live in. I was feeling like far less of a second-class citizen than I ever had before in my life. I was feeling as though, despite years of ridicule and derogatory name-calling and legal oppression,….at least a small part of the world had caught up to what I knew in my heart to be true. Love is love.
I was also feeling scared. I come from a broken home. My parents separated when I was relatively young (8) and divorced a few years later. I view my parents’ marriage as relatively one-sided and not terribly functional and loving. They would both likely agree with me, so I neither mean nor intend any disrespect to either of them in saying this. They were not meant to spend their lives together, and therefore in due course they separated and ended their marriage. It happens.
But these were my ‘role models’ for marriage. Their marriage was what I grew up believing to be ‘normal’, or at least ‘familiar’. Their marriage, and how I saw it, was the template by which my views of marriage were formed.
Considering the outcome of their marriage….I didn’t necessarily hold out much hope.
I moved to Massachusetts to pursue what had been a long-distance relationship for a full year. I knew very few people here….I was still interviewing for jobs, I didn’t have much money in the bank, and I was leaving everything that had been familiar to me for my entire life two hours behind me – close enough to get to it for a ‘fix’ now and again, but far enough that for all intents and purposes I had to sink or swim here on my own.
None of that scared me as much as the idea of getting married….or at least to ‘think’ about getting married. I’d never been faced with this prospect before….I could have married a woman any time, but it would not have been an honest marriage. It would not have been what I knew in my heart was ‘right’ for me. I’d been safely ‘unable’ to partake of marriage (to another many) my entire life.
Now all that had changed in one history making decision.
Now I was faced with examining my thoughts and feelings on marriage, for me, and was it something that I really wanted in my life. I was faced with processing what I had witnessed in my childhood and determining if I placed enough faith in marriage to partake in the institution myself. It wasn’t something I would enter into lightly or unadvisedly, just because I could. It was a big deal….a really big deal….and I needed to be certain that it was what I felt was right for me. I gave it a lot of thought…months of thought…before I reached a decision.
I proposed at the top of the Arc de Triomph in Paris. The trip was, for my significant other, a graduation present upon his obtaining his degree. For me it was a present from one of my parents who always said they wanted to send me to Paris some day, and I finally said yes and allowed them to do it. I brought a ‘ring’ with me, which in truth was the plastic seal from a water bottle obtained during a weekend afternoon in May spent together in Provincetown (which, coincidentally, was fourteen years ago today, the Saturday before Memorial Day Weekend). I had it in a ring box, and on bended knee proposed marriage, after a fumbling, non-rehearsed preamble about ‘finding yourself able to do something you thought you never would’ and such.
Nine years and two kids later…I’m a married man. We live in a small (18,000 people) seaside community outside of Boston. We bought a house together last summer. We have a single health insurance plan that covers all of us. We have friends that we see, and places we go where the staff greets us warmly and treats us just like anyone else that walks through the door. The teachers at the school sit down and discuss the kids with us just as they do any other couple. People straight, gay, or otherwise recognize us as and treat us as exactly what we are….a family.
Sure, there are places we go where we are looked at, usually briefly, like an African-American family settling into suburban West Honkeyville in the 1950’s, but it typically passes quickly and if some never get over it, they usually don’t make a ‘stink’ about anything they perhaps find ‘unnatural’ or ‘distasteful’ about our family.
No churches have crumbled…..no tsunamis have struck our neighborhood….and we’ve not been thrust into another economic depression, since we infiltrated the scene here in our little corner of mainstream suburban America back in 2002 and then added to our household over time.
What was I thinking ten years ago? Well….I was thinking that I, and every other same sex couple in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, had finally entered the human race, in terms of the law.
In the decade since then, I am glad to say that nearly 200,000 others know exactly what that feels like.
For any who are still wondering….I wish your state ‘God speed’ in reaching a place of equality under the law…..and I assure you of one thing…
It feels really good.