Thursday, November 20, 2008

What marriage is

The arguments back and forth about the meaning of marriage struck a chord in me. They've inspired the following.

This one's going to wander about a bit, as I try to express where I'm coming from--logic, legality, awe, respect, honor, gratitude and grace come into it. And that just begins to describe the profundity of the moment when I realized that I was married. It's going to get emotional, too. I cry. Deal with it. You've seen the wedding pictures. That's me, in all my weepy glory.

People are right when they say it's about the word or, rather, the meaning behind the word marriage. There is something so deeply and profoundly meaningful about the word marriage that gay couples have been striving and struggling towards if for years.

It's not just a societal norm, or cultural acceptance, or legal recognition, nor is it merely the status of being married. The legitimization inherent in the institution of marriage includes all of those things and more. Steve & I have considered ourselves "married" for most of the past 20 plus years. Having our status in those quotes for most of our time together has meant one thing: we aren't fully a part of all that is important to us. Our families. Our society. Our culture.

It's the same culture and society every citizen and resident of this country lives in. I'm from a Chicago Catholic family (as evidenced by my 6 siblings) transplanted to Northern California. Steve's family background is Pentecostal & upstate Pennsylvania German. We have an idiot brother-in-law, the troubled sister back east, the nieces and nephews we treasure beyond reason. We pay our bills, vote, pay our property taxes. But society still considers our relationship as something less. Less than other committed relationships, less likely to succeed, less likely to last.

It isn't always overt, and is usually more subtle. It can be something as simple as saying to your employer, "I have to leave, my partner is in the hospital" and being questioned about it. Rather than simply being told "Go" like the woman in your office who came in two weeks ago and said "My husband just got taken to the hospital." Your commitment to your partner is being questioned, even if your employer doesn't realize it. Suddenly, you're second class, your relationship doesn't have the same value as another.

Or you can be in the emergency room. Your partner is outside the entry, you know he's there, but you can't have him next to you, because the nurse doesn't think it's important. Worse yet, it becomes clear she doesn't think same sex couples should be allowed in her emergency room. You're terrified and alone, and you let the nurse know that's your domestic partner, and by law he's entitled to be there, by your side. The law says so. And she doesn't care. It's another 20 or 40 minutes before he's finally there next to you, let in by a different, more sympathetic nurse. And when you complain, you're told there's nothing that can be done. That your terror and pain are meaningless beside the prejudice of one woman, who should have known better. You don't even get an apology, not the first time it happens, nor the second.

So when you're next in the hospital, you fill out the paperwork, the powers of attorney, the designation of your "partner" as your care-giver--that piece of paper that exists specifically for those who don't have family around, that would normally be allowed by your side 24/7 without having to say anything except, "That's my husband." or "That's my wife." And you realize the power and the societal depth of meaning behind the word "marriage."

You don't just want it, you need it. You realize deep in your gut that separate isn't equal.

You see how profound the institution is. It's the one word that opens doors, and, at the same time, precisely describes the commitment you have for your partner. He's your husband. No quotes. No snickers. He's the rock you've built your life upon. The one person who's happiness is essential to your own.

That one word, marriage, moves mountains, hearts, and even nurses. In a myriad of ways, you see that it's an equalizer.

You hear of a court decision, and as you read it, tears fall down your face, unbidden. And you let out a cry from deep in your soul, so deep you don't know where that sound came from. You've never heard it before, it's a sound of joy, and sorrow that it's taken so long, and celebration, and the release of a pain, a burden you didn't know you were carrying.

The day comes that you go to the County Clerk's office to take out the marriage license, and you're choked up. You can't breathe, and it's wonderful. A hall is rented, a caterer and a DJ hired. And when you walk down the aisle, you shake. And when your partner takes your hand, your hand trembles. The minister says "Who gives these men to be married to each other?" And you hear your parents' voices, ringing with more pride and joy than you've ever heard, damn near singing "WE DO!" Your hand shakes, as you grip the ring in your right hand, and say "with this ring, I thee wed." And you see a single tear, sliding out of the corner of your stoic, Taurus, husband's eye. So you reach up, and wipe it away. Because that's what you do when you're married.

You hold your husbands hand and comfort him. You share the moments that touch the center of your life together. You go to him. You go with him. To the hospital in Texas, where they treat you as a couple, even (or especially) after you've gone all Shirley McClain on the (male) nurse's ass: "Give him more painkillers!"

Because your "husband" is in pain, and the only thing you want is for it to be eased. For the pain to end.

Years later, when you swear to love, honor and cherish him, you understand that it's the small moments that make it worth it. When he makes you German food, and won't let you in the kitchen until it's done. Or you go with him to see his favorite group down at Humphrey's by the Bay, that silly Australian group that sings those sappy songs about being lost in love. And you have a terrific time, simply because he does. Those are the moments that remove the scare quotes. He's your husband. No quotes. No snickers.

You know it's worth it, then and there, when you say "I do." Every minute of the last 20 years that has gone into this moment. The joys, and sorrows, deaths, births, surgeries, those flat broke evenings when you created a meal out of 1/2 a pound of hamburger and a can of tomato soup. The hours he's spent waiting for you to put down the damn book. The comfort you've felt just knowing that he's there, by your side or in the next room.

You realize, deep in your gut, separate is not equal.

Judges preside as ministers and lawyers fight over whether you should be "granted" the right to marry. You want to take the good book and the marriage code and the god-damned constitution and shove them all right down their throats.

Something so basic, profound, and essential as marriage isn't granted. Or earned.

It just is.

You earn the right to stay married, but that's between you and your husband. It's no one else's damned business. It's not the concern of the Liberty Counsel, or the Catholic Church, or some half-educated fundraiser from Colorado Springs. The only rights granted are between Steven and myself. He grants me the right to be idealistic and to be foolishly enamored of a small British car. I grant him the right to tell me to bring home a gallon of milk, and to be cynical about just about anything except our love for each other.

That's what marriage is.

No comments:

Post a Comment