On Sunday, Jeff and I took our tuxedos out of the closet and out of their dry cleaning bags, to let them air out.
You see, we had planned to marry each other tonight. But our marriage won’t take place today.
We had planned to marry each other last Thursday. But our marriage didn’t take place last week.
In fact, we had planned to marry each other last year. But our marriage never took place in 2009.
Why didn’t we marry today, or last Thursday, or last year? It wasn’t a case of nerves, second thoughts, or “cold feet,” nor was it bad weather. It wasn’t that we couldn’t get the place we wanted, or that the officiant failed to show up. It wasn’t that we didn’t really want to. We wanted to… we want to… intensely.
Why didn’t we marry? Because, despite our hopes being raised in 2008, and last week, and again this week, that we were going to be allowed to marry, time after time those hopes have been dashed by a government that says we can’t, that our relationship, our long-term commitment to each other, is of less value than those of our friends, that our family is sub-standard compared to other families, that we are not fully entitled to the rights our constitution promises and that our fellow citizens take for granted. Our government takes arguments from some (not all) religious traditions that our relationship is immoral, inherently sinful, and destructive — destructive! — to other families, to American society, and to civilization as a whole, and it codifies these beliefs — contrary to a system of government that is not supposed to privilege any one religious doctrine over another, especially in matters of civil law — into laws and constitutional amendments that deem us of less worth than prisoners on death row, than convicted pedophiles and rapists, than people who have abandoned their spouses and children; all of these groups of people have had their right to marry affirmed by the government as inviolable. My government imposes upon me all the responsibilities of citizenship — I registered for the draft, I pay the same taxes — but denies me some of the rights that others never even question as being theirs. My government confers to me only a second-class citizenship.
Our marriage never took place in 2009. A few months earlier, 52% of our fellow Californians voted — a vote that may not even be legal under the US Constitution, which exists in part to ensure that the rights of disadvantaged, even hated, minorities are not subject to the whim of the majority — to enshrine discrimination into the state constitution and to strip us of equality, in a chilling case of a constitution being used to take away rights rather than enhance them.
Our marriage didn’t take place last week. A judge who believed that our constitutional guarantees to equality were being denied nonetheless withheld our right to marry for a few days.
Our marriage won’t take place today. On Monday, three judges withheld our right to marry until they can decide if we merit equality.
So, what was I doing on Monday, the day the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied my right — you may argue that it merely delayed it, again, but the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., accurately noted that “a right delayed is a right denied” — to marry the man I love, the man with whom I’ve spent the past seven years, and the man I intend to be with until the day one of us stops breathing? What sinful, un-American civilization-destroying immorality was I indulging the day our hopes were dashed again?
I was making soup, for Jeff. I was taking care of the man I love more than my own life while he was suffering from a cold. I was doing what I hope any legally married spouse would do when the person he or she loved was feeling down and miserable.
As we sat eating it that afternoon, only then did I recognize the irony. “Do you realize what we’re eating?”, I asked, and then answered. “It’s Italian wedding soup.” We both laughed at the black humor, often the only kind of humor we can find in the situation; we laugh to beat back the tears, the frustration, the despair, the anger that otherwise sometime threaten to overwhelm us.
I don’t know if I can accurately convey what it feels like to go through this roller coaster — we have the right to marry, we don’t have the right to marry, we have the right back?, no it’s on hold for a week, we have it back now?, no it’s on hold indefinitely — to someone who isn’t in the same boat. It might seem like a relatively little thing — not everyone wants to marry, or chooses to, and, after all, we have domestic partnership, right? — but no matter what you think of the relative importance of marriage generally, or of the “separate but almost equal” institutions of domestic partnership and civil unions, you probably can’t really imagine — especially if you’re white, or male, or a member of my post-Jim Crow generation or younger — what it’s like to have a right, a right you and more and more of your fellow citizens believe is a constitutional right, a right that others take for granted, passively withheld from you or, worse, actively taken away from you. To have this right recognized and then withdrawn, again and again, and sometimes even at the moment you’re hoping to be able to exercise it… is painful in a way I can’t fully describe, painful to the very core of my intellect, of my heart, of my spirit. Perhaps only the death of my father has generated pain as deep and despair as bruising as having my equality stripped from me. Conversely, little in my life has risen to the joy I felt on those occasions that my government agreed that I am not a second-class citizen, when even if just for a few moments my equality seemed fully realized.
Over the past couple of weeks, Jeff and I have become more visible in the fight for marriage equality. We’ve given interviews to NPR and local radio stations; we’ve had television news teams in our home; we’ve seen photos of the two of us, standing together, supporting each other, in papers from San Francisco and Oakland to Toronto, New Zealand, and Denmark. Yes, the ham in me enjoys talking to reporters. But we’ve stepped forward, when we can — despite the pressures and stresses it sometimes can impose — not for some kind of narcissistic kick of seeing ourselves on television, but because we believe so strongly in this issue, and we especially believe it’s critically important to put a human, personal face on it. We’re not invisible inhuman immoral terrorist monsters who want to destroy the institution of marriage. We’re just two guys who live down the street with their two cats, who love each other, who take care of each other when one is sick or hurting, who laugh with each other, who just want the same thing that many of you do, to marry the person you love. We don’t want to destroy marriage; in fact, we may give more thought to the ideals and importance of marriage than many who take it for granted. We don’t want to destroy marriage; we want the same things that most people do, to love, to be loved, to build a family, to take care of each other. And we want just one more thing: to be equal in the eyes of the law.
So, for now, our tuxedos have gone back into the closet. But we won’t.