You never know when life will suddenly land you right in the middle of a semi-historic event, but when it does it helps to be equipped with a camera and your own blog.
I haven’t had much time to write lately as I just recently returned from Germany after teaching English there for three years, and I’m currently back in the USA for about a month before starting work in Japan. During that time I’ll be criss-crossing the country and visiting every old friend and family member who might want to see me. One of those visits took place this past Saturday evening, and it led to something completely unexpected.
I have an aunt and uncle with three kids who live on Long Island in Glen Cove, NY, and I went there Saturday expecting merely an afternoon and evening of chatting with the parents and playing with the kids. During an epic 5-hour session in their swimming pool (the heat was still pretty unbearable on Saturday) my aunt got a phone call from one of her friends from their church. Apparently, two fellow church members—a gay couple by the names of Gaitley and Jim—were having a small ceremony at the town hall at midnight just as the new gay marriage legislation was going into effect in order to be among the first gay couples in the state of New York to have their marriage officially recognized.
My aunt asked me if I wouldn’t mind going, and of course I said “of course!” Just a few weeks ago I’d been cheering the state legislature’s decision from across the ocean in Germany, and now I had an opportunity to be right at the epicenter of the historic occasion. I wouldn’t pass up such an opportunity for the world.
So at 11:15 I went with my aunt, uncle, and two of their kids (the third will, I expect, eventually regret his decision not to go) to Glen Cove’s town hall and were greeted at the back entrance by the mayor himself, Ralph Suozzi, and his wife. The front door was closed and locked, and there were no formal announcements made regarding the ceremony. They wanted to be extra cautious in case there were any nuts out there who might be inclined to make some kind of bloody political statement.
It was a relatively small gathering, about 30 people altogether, and the first thing the happy couple did was get everyone in attendance together for a few photographs downstairs. The actual ceremony would take place upstairs where the clerk could print out the marriage license and have them sign it, but this wouldn’t be able to happen until 12:01.
It was hot and crowded upstairs, but the anticipation of the moment to come was enough to keep the attendees from complaining. Someone had brought a case of bottled water to hand out to anyone who wanted one, which was a nice gesture.
Because of the timing issue, they had to separate the ceremony into two parts. At about quarter to eleven, Mayor Suozzi started things off by saying a few words to the effect that this was one of the proudest moments of his political career and he didn’t care if it lost him a few votes in the next election. I think it’ll actually help him, as just about every gay person and supporter of gay rights in Glen Cove will now be much more likely to show up to the polls than they might have been before—a political calculation I think it would be wise of the current President of the United States to make as well.
After the “I do”s, they paused to let the remaining time before midnight pass, and that’s when Gaitley addressed the crowd to make his emotional speech about what this meant to him. He said that while they’d actually been “married” twice before (once as an unofficial ceremony and once in a different state where gay marriage was legal) this meant the most to him because now his partnership with Jim would be officially recognized by his home state as 100% equal to the marriages that all other couples enjoy. He compared the feeling of being in a gay relationship to being a Jew during Christmas, watching everyone else enjoying the whole Santa Claus thing but knowing that it wasn’t for you. He said, “But today it feels like not only is it Christmas but Santa is real and he’s coming!”
The crowd was mostly made up of middle-aged and older people, not exactly the stereotypical image of gay rights enthusiasts, but they were all visibly happy for their friends, applauding frequently throughout Gaitley’s speech.
Gaitley remarked on how he’d never expected this to happen in his lifetime, but here they were. Jim was a lot more shy than his partner, first declining to say anything but then remarking on how happy he was to have found such a wonderful circle of friends in Glen Cove. One thing that was apparent to everyone was just how overjoyed the two of them were. Gaitley was positively beaming.
At midnight, the clerk printed out the marriage license and the two of them got to filling out the paperwork. The number on their marriage license was 10, so it appeared that 9 other couples in New York had beaten them to the punch, but it was still cool enough to witness the 10th gay marriage in the history of the state of New York, as that number will probably balloon to tens of thousands very shortly.
Once everything was signed and notarized, Mayor Suozzi stepped up to complete the ceremony. The rings were exchanged and the pronouncement was made: “By the power vested in me by the state of New York, I now pronounce you married!”
Big kiss, thunderous applause, champagne corks popping…just like any other wedding only with one additional element: this was not only a marriage but also a victory. This was the culmination of decades upon decades of fighting relentlessly in pursuit of equality on the part of the gay community, and in New York state they’ve now triumphed. It should only be a matter of time before the rest of the country follows suit.
Two nights later I was visiting another set of relatives whom I don’t want to besmirch by identifying in any way, but suffice it to say they’re from an older generation and spend a good deal of time watching Fox News. I had to hear their reaction when I mentioned that I’d been to a gay wedding, and it was a combination of amusement and mild disdain.
We launched into the standard arguments for and against gay marriage, and I poked holes in every case they laid out. “The purpose of marriage is for procreation,” they said. “Then what about a barren woman? Should the state ban her from getting married? What about a very old couple that can no longer produce children? No marriage for them either?”
“If gays can get married, what’s to stop a man from marrying a cow?” My reply: “There’s no slippery-slope argument. As long as there’s consent from both parties, the marriage should be legal. Cows, children, and inanimate objects can’t consent, so the slope ends at gay couples (and possibly polygamy, which I also don’t have a problem with)”.
Of course it all boils down to religion. “The Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman.” “Or a man and many women,” I said, “the Bible says that too.” “The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination.” My reply: “If God hates gay people, why did he create so many of them? Either he made a mistake or he meant to create them.” They insisted that God doesn’t make mistakes, so I insisted it had to be part of his intention. Their only response was that it might be some kind of test. I decided not to say that if God intends to test people by making them fall in love with members of the same sex and then demanding that they never act on this love, he’s a cruel sort of God indeed.
Love, after all, is really what it's all about. I wished my relatives could have been at this ceremony, as the love between Gaitley and Jim was powerful, their joy at having this love now deemed equal to the love of everyone else was palpable. I don’t think anyone could have been at this ceremony and not seen it as a good thing.
“They just want to be treated like everybody else,” I said. In unison they replied, “They’re not like everybody else!” Resisting my urge to start singing my favorite Kinks song, I summed up their feelings by saying, “So you believe that your heterosexual love should be legally superior to their homosexual love?” They said yes.
And that’s really all there is to it. People who are opposed to gay marriage don’t necessarily hate gay people—they just see them as inferior, and don’t believe their love is as valuable as the love between a man and a woman.
The solution is clear, and luckily the gay community has already been carrying it out with great success for some time now: come out. Come out of the closet and let everyone see your love, let them see how happy it makes you and how the only difference between it and the love they feel is that it’s directed at someone who happens to share the same anatomy.
If everyone in the country could attend a gay wedding and experience that kind of joy first-hand, there’s no doubt in my mind that gay marriage would be legal nationwide within a couple of years. Here’s hoping it will be anyway.