Today is our eighth wedding anniversary.
That’s not so important, really, to anyone except us. But because we got married just as soon as we could, with the first wave of legal same-sex marriages in the United States, this day and this week ring with history.
The hammer that rings this matrimonial bell is, in some ways, a chime of triumph: Since Massachusetts led the way eight years ago, a number of other states have followed suit.
But that same hammer is also a cudgel of anti-gay reaction and homophobic hysteria. Thirty states have amended their constitutions in a way that singles out and punishes our families-most recently North Carolina, where voters passed an restriction not only on marriage, but on civil unions and domestic partnerships, a restriction so vicious and unnecessary that even David Blankenhorn, a prominent backer of the most notorious of all anti-gay ballot initiatives, California’s Proposition 8, came out against it, together with Elizabeth Marquardt of the Institute for American Values, in an April 11 editorial.
"For one thing, it means that North Carolina could not, now or ever, take any step or devise any policy to extend legal recognition and protection to same-sex couples. No domestic partnership laws. No civil unions. Nothing," Blankenhorn and Marquardt wrote. "That’s mighty cold. If you disdain gay and lesbian persons, and don’t care whether they and their families remain permanently outside of the protection of our laws, such a policy might be your cup of tea. But it’s not our view..."
It was, evidently, the view of 62% of North Carolina voters.
There’s good news out there, too, such as Washington State’s lawmakers having approved marriage equality for all families there, and Maine marriage advocates putting a pro-marriage initiative on the ballot for this fall. But the good news feels thin and provisional: It’s a shame and a disappointment that we’re now going along with the idea of voting on people’s rights, and even if we win in Maine it feels like a betrayal of a deeply important core value. As for Washington State, as you might expect, anti-gay forces there are working to put the new law up for repeal at the hands of the voters, as happened at the Maine ballot box in 2009 and California in 2008.
Barack Obama’s attitude toward marriage equality has completed its long epicycle back to what it was in 1996, now that the president has "evolved" back to support for the full legal equality of our families. But will he win in the fall? Mitt Romney, who was governor in Massachusetts in 2004 when the first legal same-se marriages in this nation took place, is poised to pursue a federal amendment that would wipe out the progress we have made over the last eight years. And the Supreme Court, packed with activist judges that effortlessly fly below the radar of conservatives who clamor whenever a "liberal" jurist interprets the law in a way that expands the liberties of minorities, is all but certain to hear important cases on the matter of marriage equality, including a challenge to Proposition 8 (already found by two federal courts to fall short of Constitutional muster) and at least one challenge to the inaptly-named "Defense of Marriage" Act from 1996, a shameful piece of legislative bigotry signed by Bill Clinton that denies our families federal-level recognition in spite of the growing number of states where we’ve won the freedom to marry.
The great French satirical writer Voltaire claimed that things would be better if we could all just tend to our own gardens. My husband and I didn’t need the state to tell us, eight years ago, that we were married; we knew that for ourselves, and it was our business, not the state’s. But because we knew firsthand the inequalities that come with denying families legal equality (and legal existence), we leapt at the chance to assert the validity of our union in the eyes of the law.
Someone once said that a government big enough to give you want you want is big enough to take away what you have. We see that happening in the arena of marriage: Government should not be in the business of telling people with whom they may and may not form civil contracts of any sort. The moment a state government granted marriage to same-sex families, other state governments, manipulated by big-money interests, started to build up bigger and harsher obstacles to families gaining similar recognition.
I’d love to busy myself with my own garden, except that the weeds of bias and legal attack keep threatening to creep in and snuff out the flowers. So, yes: The wedding that took place eight years ago today may be a private occasion for my family, but it was also a public milestone. This eighth anniversary may be a special day for two people under this roof, but it’s also an important anniversary for thousands of others, for whom May 21 was the first day it was possible to marry in the entire history of this, the greatest nation on the planet, the cradle of liberty, and the cauldron of the greatest experiment in history: The experiment of democracy.
Some people like to call marriages like mine an "experiment," and they say this with a sneer or a grimace. They’re right to say that it’s an experiment, because most things in life are experiments; you never know quite how they are going to turn out. It’s not a dirty word, and it’s not a dangerous thing. Human liberty is an experiment, too, and I think it’s quite a good one that’s led to unparalleled god things. But human affairs are complicated, and as we can see from the marriage debate itself we still have not quite figured out where to draw the lines between personal liberty and social curtailment of liberty. People who are afraid that gay spouses will somehow take liberties with the rights of others (religious rights, parental rights, whatever) respond by, well, taking liberties with the rights of others... for example, voting them out of existence.
Will my husband and I still be married eight years from now? Not if the anti-gay crowd get their way. (Sorry, marriage deniers, but if you’re against my family’s right to exist because two gay men are involved, that does make you anti-gay. And yes, it also makes you a bigot. Either own up to it or change your anti-gay ways, but quit pretending otherwise.)
But trample on our garden as they might, our detractors will not take our union away from us. We were together long before we signed that piece of paper. Indeed, five days ago we celebrated our real anniversary... our 27th. The world spins always forward, and the clock only reaffirms our supreme right to family with every passing tick.