We’d only been together for 14 years and 10 months. We weren’t one of the couples of silver-haired people who finally got to legally tie the knot after 50 or more years together. But it still deserved a non-ironic finally. And even though we had been together those years, and I had never doubted his love for me, and couldn’t fathom my life without him, there was something magical and wonderful and powerful about being able to finally call him husband legally.
I had been introducing him as my husband for years. It was a linguistic and political decision I had made before meeting him. Years before Ray died, we had had a commitment ceremony, signed some legal papers (medical power of attorney, wills, that sort of thing). And after that, I called him “my husband.” And now more than 20 years after his death, I still call him “my late husband.”I had tried some of the other words, such as boyfriend or partner. But boyfriend sounded far less serious and fleeting than what our relationship had become. And partner—well, let’s just say that one of the times I used it, an acquaintance literally asked about the business that they thought we were joint owners. So, I started saying husband. And while that sometimes evoked nervous stuttering replies, double-takes, and even the occasional angry comment, it was the word that most accurately described our relationship. And, as I had decided a couple years earlier with the word “queer,” there is power it seizing a word and wielding it like a weapon back in the face of both the actively homophobic and the more thoughtless forms of heterosexism.
I wasn’t surprised that I cried at the wedding (and cried while we were on our way downtown three days earlier, and when strangers handed us rosebuds as we exited the license office, and when a random stranger ran up to us as we were walking away from the courthouse still carrying our roses and gushed “Congratulations!” with tears in her eyes, and when two friends surprised us with a string duet at the ceremony, and… and… and…). There’s an old idiom “he cries at card tricks” to describe those of us who are easily overcome with emotion which most definitely applies to me. But what did surprise me was how, after the ceremony, I would have a little hitch in my voice and feel the surge of my eyes getting watery—not quite tears, but definitely tearing up—whenever I said “husband” for the next several months.
I’d been calling him that (and thinking of him as that) for years, but now it was different. Because for most of my life I had thought I would never be able to legally marry the man I loved. The thought was completely unimaginable! I still have vivid memories of a film they showed us in health class, back in the mid-seventies, during the week we studied “sexual deviancy,” and the film included a scene of two men in pastel tuxedoes walking hand-in-hand down an aisle in what seemed to be a church with the narrator talking about how sexual deviation was so normalized in places like California that people pretended to get married. And it was edited to make it look like they were skipping (you could see the jumps in the flow of the image) with some ridiculous music playing. Meanwhile an entire classroom of my peers were laughing and making gagging sounds all around me.
I had lived through a small number of the most liberal cities in the country setting up domestic partnership registries that carried no actual legal rights, but gave some way to register the relationship so that an employer that decided they wanted to be magnanimous and hand out some benefits to their gay employees, there was a legal-looking paper to point to. And I’d lived through the grudging middle stages, fighting every step as the way, as we got some civil partnership or other half-assed quarter-measure acknowledgement in some states and so forth. I’d watched the bigots spend millions of dollars campaigning against civil unions, angrily insisting that it would destroy the fabric of society and so forth. I had watched, as we slowly won the hearts and minds of a growing percentage of the population, those same bigots suddenly switch to insisted the domestic/civil unions/partnerships were more than adequate and why can’t we live with that so that marriage can be reserved for something special?So intellectually I understand why those same two syllables felt so very different after marriage equality became the law of our home state. As I said after the election, a solid majority of my fellow citizens — a whole bunch of straight people — voted to include us. They staffed phone lines to urge people to vote in favor of equality. They donated money. They showed up and voted. And then hundreds (or more) of those straight people turned up at the courthouses and county offices and so forth on those first days we could get licenses to cheer for people they didn’t know. On the first day the ceremonies could happen, a huge crowd gathered outside city hall to cheer and clap and being the receiving line for a bunch of queer couples — strangers! — who had just been joined legally in matrimony. Knowing that made me cry then. And it makes me tear up long long after any time I’m reminded of it.
Which happens to be every time I refer to my husband…
So! Today is the five-year anniversary of the day we stood in front of many of our loved ones and exchanged vows. We were pronounced husband and husband and I cried. He’s the most wonderful man I know. I really, seriously can’t quite understand why he puts up with me, let alone loves me. But I’m eternally grateful that he does.
Happy Anniversary, Michael!
A note about the title of this post: I’ve been reading the Savage Love advice column for decades, through the years before Dan Savage met his husband, Terry, when they started dating, when they adopting a kid together, when they finally legally married (in Canada), and so forth. After the Canadian wedding, Dan started referring to Terry as his husband in a very exaggerated pronunciation: “mah huzzzzben!” And I always took it as his way of being proud and a bit shocked that marriage equality had arrived in at least some places within his life time. I always thought it was cute. In a recent blog post he answered a question from a reader who felt that the weird pronunciation was an insult to Terry, or something, and Dan explained:
I started calling Terry mah huzzzzben when we got married—more than a dozen years ago—because in all honesty it felt so weird to call him that. To be able to call him that. I never expected that marriage, legal marriage, would happen in our lifetimes. And while I didn’t have a problem calling him my boyfriend, calling him my husband took some getting used to. So I played up my… well, not quite my discomfort with the word. I played up my unfamiliarity with it. It felt strange to say it—the word “husband,” unlike my husband, felt awkward in my mouth—so I said the word in an awkward way. I did what I advise my readers/listeners to do: you gotta embrace awkwardness to get past it. And I am past it now. It no longer feels strange to call Terry my husband, and I’m capable of saying the word these days without hesitation. But you know what? I like calling him mah huzzzzben. It’s less “this is weird and new and feels awkward to say!” and more “this is my own affectionate pet name for him!” And I’m gonna keep saying it.
I still think it’s cute.
I was first alerted to the shooting at Townville Elementary School in South Carolina by a friend on Twitter sharing the link and commenting that this school was only about 10 miles from his parents’ home. I read the first story, and was relieved that despite two children and a teacher being shot, that authorities said none of the injuries were life-threatening. So later in the week, when I looked for a more complete story to put in Friday Links, I was sad to see that one six-year-old boy was still listed in critical condition. I found more detailed stories since: 6-Year-Old Boy Hurt in South Carolina School Shooting Remains in Critical Condition, Has Brain Damage and
South Carolina first-grader critically wounded in school shooting lost 75% of blood.
So the poor boy nearly bled to death, and has suffered brain damage (and mostly likely several other organs as well) due to the lack of oxygen because of the lack of blood. He was reportedly clinically dead twice, but was revived both times.
Reading these stories is really difficult. I am reminded of Mr. Rogers’ famous advice when reading or seeing tragic news: look for the helpers. We have at least two heroes in this story: Jamie Brock, a volunteer firefighter who tackled to the teen shooter and held him until police got there, and Meghan Hollingsworth, the first-grade teacher who was shot and when the volunteer firefighters arrived, refused treatment until the two children had been seen to.
It’s a sad story all around. The 14-year-old shooter had been expelled or suspended (depending on which news story you read) from public school at some point earlier for bringing a weapon to school and has since been homeschooled. The day of the shooting, the teen apparently shot and killed his father, called his grandmother but was crying too hard to be understood, then jumped into a pickup truck and drove three miles before crashing at the elementary school and opening fire. We don’t know if he intended to go to that school, since he didn’t have a driver’s license and may not have had good control of the car. We don’t know why he killed his father. Was there an argument, or was it something even more stupid? And so on.
Which makes it not unlike the shooting that happened here in Washington state last week. No motive has yet been uncovered, and going by news headlines, all the media cares about is that the initial reports that he was a permanent resident alien were incorrect, he had actually completed the naturalization process a while ago. But that hasn’t stopped our incompetent state Secretary of State from proposing draconion voter ID regulations using the shooter as an excuse.
Seriously, why he killed five strangers in less than 60 seconds is a more important question than his citizenship status.
I need some happy news after that, so here’s this: One Judge Reunites with Hundreds of Couples She Married, Helped with Adoptions. Just four years ago, after the voter-approved marriage equality law went into effect here in Washington state, Judge Mary Yu opened her courtroom at midnight to perform marriages for gay and lesbian couples on the very first day. “Let Mary Yu Marry You” was in the official announcement that the court would open that night.
Judge Yu has since been appointed to fill an unexpired term on the state Supreme Court, becoming the first openly queer state Supreme Court Justice (she’s also the first asian and the first woman of color to sit on the court). She had to win a special election in 2015 to remain on the court for the rest of the term… which ends in January, so she’s up for election again.
Anyway, the article I linked includes a lot of stories from the couples whose adoptions or marriages Yu handled during her years on the county Superior Court. Here’s just one:
“In August of 2011 Whitney [Taylor] had unexpectedly been diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after our daughter was born,” Amy Babcock wrote. “We wanted to make sure Whitney’s second parent adoption of our daughter was finalized before her surgery to remove the tumor, so Justice Mary Yu spent her lunch break the day before Whitney’s surgery finalizing the second parent adoption for us. It was a time of fear and uncertainty for our family, but Justice Yu provided us joy and thankfulness during that time. We are forever thankful to Justice Yu for ensuring our family was protected and celebrated. In 2015, Justice Yu performed the second parent adoption of our son as well, and we were able this time to celebrate with a room full of friends and family.”
I need a kleenex.
Part of the reason I kept tearing up was because it was a historic moment. A nice majority of voters in our state has agreed that gay and lesbian couples should be able to legally marry just weeks before, and so we were officially tying the knot on the very first day that it was allowed in our home state. This was over a year before the U.S. Supreme Court extended that same legal right all across the country. So we’d been fighting for the right to marry for a long time, including a previous attempt by the religious right to repeal the state law granting domestic partnerships all the legal rights the state could. So part of the celebration was for the thousands of other couples around the state who were finally able to access such legal rights as hospital visitation and community property and renting, leasing, or buying property jointly (without having to pay extra taxes if one of you predeceased the other), and so on. Much of which doesn’t sound very romantic until you read heart-wrenching stories of people who are kicked out of their own homes or barred from the deathbed of a dying lifelong partner because of homophobic relatives.
Another part of the reason my eyes kept brimming over with tears was because he had already been together for 15 years at that point, and while we had called each other husband and many of our friends saw us that way, we weren’t husbands before the law.
Another part was that so many of our friends had gone to great lengths to make the ceremony I kept referring to as “the elopement” into something a lot more fabulous than I had expected. From the surprise string duo to the incredible number of flowers, to the custom chocolates, and so much more, it was a magical day.
And then there are the friends themselves. Contrary to what some people say (including a lot of the anti-gay folks who try to pretend they aren’t anti-gay), a marriage is not just a private agreement between two people. Legally a marriage isn’t just a piece of paper, nor is it only a contract between two adults, nor even merely the list of over 1000 federal legal rights that were often talked about in the court cases dealing with marriage equality. Legally it is a binding agreement between those two people and the state. The state (and by extension local and federal governments) promise to provide certain rights to the people being wed, and to hold them to certain responsibilities. That’s where all that assurance of property rights and survivor benefits and hospital visitation rights come from, the fact that the government is agreeing to recognize your mutual decision to name each other next of kin.
Likewise, a wedding isn’t just a formality or a ceremony you do for attention. It’s an affirmation and a covenant—not just between the brides and/or grooms, but between the loved ones who attend and those who can’t but offer their support and love. When we attend a wedding, we’re making a promise to support the resulting union.
So our loved ones who attended the wedding, and those who were unable to, but had sent their love and well wishes, were also on my mind that day. And their love and their belief in our love had my heart so full, it nearly burst.
But of course, the biggest reason I kept crying and could barely make my voice work to say the important “I do” when needed, was because Michael is the sweetest, smartest, kindest man I’ve ever known, and for reasons I still can’t quite fathom, he loves me.It may only be officially our third anniversary, but I’ve been privileged to love and live with this man for over seventeen years. Every year with him thus far has been better than the one before. Which means I must be the luckiest guy in the world.
Happy Anniversary, Michael!
In the his first podcast recorded after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, Dan Savage explained how he no longer felt any urge to argue with the haters. No matter what messages they sent, no matter what outrageous thing he’d read them saying about marriage, his reaction was no longer to get irritated and start arguing. And he admitted it was a bit of a surprise. “I realized that I’m just over it. They have lost.” And listening to him, I recognized that I was feeling much the same way. I’m still annoyed that so many state and local officials are fighting it, and the BS religious liberty laws still get my dander up, but I know what he means. The court based its ruling on the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. They’re done. The haters can’t win.
The Fourteenth Amendment was passed in the wake of the Civil War, and it is specifically about rights of the citizens which can never be denied by states. The entire point was to try to prevent individual states from denying fundamental rights to citizens under states’ rights claim. No matter what argument they put forward, eventually a Federal Court is going to look at their case, will point to Justice Kennedy’s ruling, and will order the county or the state or the judge to comply. They’re done. It’s over. I find I don’t feel the slightest urge to click on headlines about some clerk or some judge or whoever refusing to issue licenses. I was reading them during the first week or so after the ruling, but my righteous indignation has moved on in regards to that specific issue.
Not everyone has. I get reminded of that every time I stray onto Facebook and accidentally see anything posted by most of my relatives. And some of the people who haven’t moved on are being complete dicks about it, angrily going off on people who have done nothing more than use the rainbow filter on their user picture on social media. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who feel the other way: Restaurant Owner Overwhelmed By New Business After Standing Up To An Anti-Gay Bully My favorite line: “food does not judge and everyone is welcome under a roof of love here!”
Meanwhile, because the Supreme Court ruling casts the right to marry as a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment, Same-Sex Couples Are Securing Retroactive Recognition Of Their Marriages. Again, it’s a matter of fundamental rights that belong to everyone under the law, which means that they always ought to have been available.
Of course, a lot of people understand that the battle is over. Some of them have understood for a while, and have stopped supporting the organizations whose only mission is to take away marriage rights from queers (and before that they opposed civil unions), as well as take any other rights they can think of. As their fundraising has dropped off, they’re becoming more transparently desperate for cash: And now NOM is literally pleading with its (theoretical) supporters. Their fall has been predicted for a while now. I have had no doubt myself once the tide turned.
One of my favorite bits from the 2014 Slate article:
At every turn, NOM has played dirty, illegally keeping its donor lists secret and actively hiding its fundraising reports from ethics commissions. Its unprecedented campaigns against equality-minded judges represent a shocking encroachment upon judicial independence. And its constant barrage of ad hominem attacks against LGBTQ Americans turned a political campaign into a vicious assault on gay people’s dignity.
—Mark Joseph Stern, writing for Slate
There is an important detail that they have left out of the article: that 2.5 million dollar debt? It’s actually part of an even larger “loan” that their non-political “charity” made to the political arm a couple of years ago. The “charity” other money was raised under IRS rules that say it cannot be used for political purposes. So it’s a teensy bit unethical to loan it for political activity, though technically not illegal. Unless they don’t pay it back. Which, at the rate their fundraising has fallen off a cliff, I suspect they won’t.
It’s so bad, that when as part of his campaign finance statements made after the 2012 election ended (so after 2012), even Mitt Romney’s people felt the need to distance themselves from the donations the Romneys had made to NOM earlier. He’s not running for any office, any longer, and he’s probably the most famous living Mormon right now, so most everyone assumes he’s opposed to marriage equality, yet even he felt the need to minimize his involvement in the fight against marriage equality.
At least some people can read the writing on the wall…
And what is the nature of our triumph today? Well, it’s summed up really well in the closing paragraph of the decision:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
—Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority in the historic Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality nation wide.
Our triumph is a love that may endure past death. Our triumph is equal dignity in the eyes of the law. Our triumph is not to be condemned to loneliness. Our triumph is a hope to find another person who we love and loves us in return, and together to become something greater than we were apart.
“Love your way through the darkness.”
Our society is a collection of customs and laws. Those laws exist for the times when customs are not enough to prevent injustice. Some people still claim that love doesn’t need legal protection. The love itself may not, but the people who share it sometimes do.
Sometimes things happen. Our health fails. There is an accident. And suddenly one member of a relationship is no longer able to make decisions for themselves. The law steps in at that time, and if our relationships aren’t recognized by the law, that means that instead of a person we have loved and shared our life with for decades making decisions about our health et cetera, that person is kicked out of our hospital room by bigoted relatives. The person we have loved and shared our life with may find themselves legally barred from entering the home we shared for those years. They may find themselves, like one old friend years ago had to, trying to prove in court that his clothes, personal belongings, and his own family photo albums were his, and not the property of his partner who had died in a car accident.
So while I believe in the power of love, and believe that the best way to get through darkness is love, I also believe in the power of the law. And I and my husband deserve to enjoy the law’s protection exactly the same as anyone else.
“The opposite of injustice is love.”
Not everyone is happy about this, and they can say some pretty irrational things while expressing their disagreement. Others try to act as if this disagreement doesn’t matter. Well, Eleven years ago… my friend Barb, beloved wife of my other friend, Kathy, wrote this essay that says much of what I want to say on that topic. It’s a really great post.
Just a year ago, many conservative pundits were pointing out that the number of states that had adopted marriage equality, and where a majority of the citizens of said states supported it, meant that there weren’t enough states left to ratify a constitutional amendment. Then we have polls released just this week that not only show that a majority of americans support marriage equality, but that a whopping 63% believe that marriage equality is a constitutional right and that the court should rule it so!
I have to point out that back in 1971, four years after a unanimous Supreme Court had struck down bans on interracial marriage, that a majority of americans disagreed with that decision. But no one even tried to pass a federal constitutional amendment to allow states to begin banning interracial marriage again. I don’t believe that anyone could make a credible run at an amendment to ban gay marriage now when a majority of americans support gay marriage.
I should point out, that while 63 percent said they thought the constitution protects the right, a “mere” 57% said they fully support it. Which means that about 6% are personally opposed to queers marrying each other, but also believe it should be legal. That isn’t a contradiction. Lots of us disapprove of things that we also don’t think should be illegal for other people to do if they really want.
The most interesting statistic on that, as always, is the demographic number. We’re used to, in these polls, seeing that young people are more supportive of gay rights than older people. So it is no surprise that roughly 73% of those under the age of 50 are in favor of marriage equality. But the surprise is that just over 52% of people aged 50 and older are also in favor. It’s almost evenly split, but for a long time it was a clear majority of older people who disapproved. Of course, some of that shift has been a simple matter of aging. People who were in their late 40s when polls were taken a few years ago, and were therefore at least slight more likely to be in favor of marriage equality, are now in the older cohort, and they’re brought their beliefs with them. But aging alone doesn’t account for the change. So in the last few years, some of those older people who previously opposed it or answered that they weren’t sure have changed their minds.
It’s that last piece, I know, that some of the haters hang onto. They remain convinced that somehow, if they just keep screaming about how horrible and icky gay people are, that they can start getting people to change their minds the other way.
I don’t think so. I continue to believe that our two best weapon are visibility and familiarity. The more people who know actual gay people—and specifically, the more they see their own relatives and the relatives of their friends not just be out, but stand in line for marriage licenses and have their weddings and so forth without the world coming crashing down—the more supportive they become.
The cliché is that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. I agree that the marriage equality genie is out and isn’t going back. More importantly, none of us queers are going to allow ourselves to be chased back into the closet.
The Supreme Court is hearing arguments today on four cases involving Marriage Equality. Over the last year, the Court has declined to hear appeals of cases where a federal court struck down a ban on same-sex marriage. These four cases are ones in which the lower courts have struck down some aspect of a state ban, and an appellate court has stayed or overruled the lower court ruling. It’s not a done deal by any means, but it seems clear that a majority of the court is at least willing to let marriage equality become the law of the land. My own worry is not that the court won’t rule that gays have a right to marry, but rather that the less enthusiastic justices will force a very narrow ruling that would ultimately allow people to get fired from their jobs if they marry, businesses to refuse to sell to gay people, and so on.
Anyway, they will hear arguments today, but the ruling is not likely to be announced until nearly the end of the term, in June. Still, people are rallying in Washington, D.C., and there are local rallies happening around the country today.
But here are two nice videos that sum up our side of things:
Nobody’s Memories – PFLAG Canada:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
It’s Time for the Freedom to Marry:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
The New Yorker calls it “The Moment for Marriage in Alabama,” while the Religion News Service says, “[the] Handwriting [is] on the wall for gay marriage.”
And they’re both right, at least in the big picture sense. Though we must remember the proverbial warning about counting chicks before they’re hatched. It is clear which way the arc of history is going, but Alabama shows us yet another example of how smooth sailing isn’t in the immediate future—even though In 17 Words, Justice Clarence Thomas All But Declared Marriage Equality Inevitable.
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between the Alabama Chief Justice’s declaration that state officials don’t have to follow the federal court orders about marriage equality to George Wallace’s refusal to let schools integrate racially back in the 1950s. Enough people have drawn that parallel that now op-Ed prices are being written to claim that it isn’t merely “Alabama being Alabama.” According to those pundits, this is somehow not merely prejudice but a manifestation of a deeper-seeded conflict between local and state control versus federal control.
The only way you can make such a ridiculous argument is to be completely ignorant of the history of the struggle for racial equality. Because the argument that it wasn’t prejudice but rather a states’ right claim is exactly what Governor Wallace and the other opponents of segregation and the civil rights movement claimed at the time.
Alabama isn’t the only state where officials are fighting tooth-and-nail against equality for gay people, so in that sense it isn’t just Alabama being Alabama—but it is most definitely bigots being bigoted. If the opponents of LGBT rights were merely (and really) concerned with local control, they wouldn’t (at the same time as they’re making these states’ rights arguments) also be passing state laws to overturn individual cities’ gay rights ordinances.
So, the haters are gonna hate. They’re going to lie and defy. They’ll impede and interfere. But in the end they’re going to lose. Justice will triumph. Equality with reign. Love will prevail.
So, get those lesbian and gay couples to a church, chapel, or courthouse, and let love win the day! And then, let’s dance!
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here!)