My Opinion: Why I Didn't Believe in Marriage
I was only 3 when my mother married my step-father. Their wedding is the first I ever attended, and though it was more than 30 years ago today, I still recall the occasion’s details with absolute clarity. I remember how happy my mother seemed as we took pictures throughout the day, how everyone laughed when I shouted “Hi, Mommy!” as she walked down the aisle, and the overwhelming feeling of joy as people cheered at the phrase, “You may now kiss the bride.” But most of all I remember the words my aunt whispered in my ear that night when I asked why people got married and had weddings.
“When two people fall in a very special kind of love, they make a promise to spend their lives together,” she explained, “and we celebrate that promise, and their love, with a big party called a wedding.” Then she looked me in the eyes, smiled, and added, “One day, you’ll fall in love just like your mom has, and it will be so special you’ll want to celebrate it too.”
Her words satisfied my curiosity. But they also served for years as my definition for marriage. It was only after I realized I was noticing other boys in the same way they were noticing girls that my aunt’s words took on a different meaning.
By the time I had come out of the closet during my early teens, her words no longer represented a possibility for my future. Instead, they were a reminder that I am excluded, and that I’m considered unworthy. After all, if homosexuality was the ultimate sin, as my Pentecostal Christian upbringing relentlessly hammered into my brain, how could any love I’d have ever be worth celebrating?
As I matured into a young adult, the shame I felt as a gay teen was replaced with confidence. By the mid-1990s, I moved to San Francisco’s Bay Area, immersed myself in the local gay scene, and entered into my first long-term relationship with another young man, James. But during the seven years James and I spent together, marriage only became more foreign; something people did in another world. Of course, I’d heard of gay couples having weddings and referring to themselves as “married,” but without the legal recognition it seemed like a grand role play; a grownup version of playing house.
Shortly after James and I celebrated our fifth year together, my younger brother married his girlfriend. While I was happy for him, I was frustrated. My family referred to James as my “friend” during my brother’s wedding reception. My brother’s relationship was not only recognized, but also celebrated. Mine was relegated to a status more akin to glorified roommate. Soon, I despised that I could describe the most important person in my life only as my “boyfriend” or “partner.”
By the time James and I decided to go our separate ways, I no longer yearned to adopt society’s heteronormative definition of relationships. I had grown tired of trying to fit in. The world, I assumed, would never accept my love for another man. So I rejected its idea of marriage altogether. More than ever before, those words my aunt had whispered in my ear seemed like a childhood fantasy.
But then something important happened.
I fell in love. And my current partner John is indeed so special that I not only want to celebrate our love, but I also want it to last forever and to grow old with him.
No matter how intense my feelings, though, I was defeated. Marriage would never be an option, not in my lifetime. And even as a number of states began to pass marriage equality for same-sex couples, the idea that John and I could ever be legally married – equal in every way to a heterosexual marriage – still seemed like a pipe dream.
It wasn’t until August of this year, as John and I attended the wedding of our friends Kurt and Shaun, that I realized something which profoundly transformed my view of marriage.
As I watched Kurt and Shaun speak their vows and proclaim their love for one another before their closest friends and family, it dawned on me what a fool I’d been. My friends’ marriage wouldn’t be legally recognized in California. (At least not yet.) But this was not a “gay wedding” or a “pretend wedding.” It was simply a wedding.
Somewhere along the way, I had subconsciously adopted the conservative opinion that says the highest form of a relationship is a legally recognized marriage. I’d conceded that my relationship with John, or any same-sex relationship, is not as worthy as my brother’s marriage merely because it isn’t recognized by a majority of legislators or voters. Now I know our love is not defined by law.
Before equality can be ours, we must first believe my aunt was right. Love is worthy of being celebrated – in every way.
As the Supreme Court decides the fate of Proposition 8 — the California, voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage —and with it the direction that same-sex marriage will take in the future, I’m hopeful. Perhaps one day full equality will mean that soon no young boy will ever be made to feel he is lesser because of the person he loves.
(Photos 2 and 3 courtesy of Walter M. White)
JASE PEEPLES is an Editor for Gay.net and a contributor for Advocate.com, Out.com, and She Wired. He lives in San Francisco with his partner.
Follow Jase on Twitter: @jasepeeples