I received my first marriage proposal at the age of eighteen. My fiancé, a year older than I, was a real catch. A Tom Hanks look-alike, he was tall and lanky, with curly brown hair and a sweet, slightly loopy smile. Kenny was smart, funny, athletic, a gifted actor and a talented saxophone player who helped me get a full-tuition music scholarship at the community college he attended a year ahead of me. His mom had been my first piano teacher, and we had been friends ever since I was in the eighth grade. We bonded in high school, both of us being theater geeks, band nerds - not terribly popular but cool with being 'on the fringe'. Music and drama helped us both to find our own place in the spinning vortex that is high school.
Kenny was a college sophomore and I was a freshman when he proposed. We were both music majors, and both had jobs as well - I was playing keyboards in local bands at night, and he was the night manager of a convenience store. Unlike most of my other male friends, Kenny was already planning for a home and family. Hard-working and thrifty, he was putting away money for a down payment on a house. I adored him. We had so much in common - including the fact that we both liked guys.
Yep, Kenny was gay. It was not a 'lifestyle choice'; it was not a 'sexual preference', like drinking tea instead of coffee. Believe me, Kenny did not just wake up one fine morning and say, "I think I'll alienate my family, exclude myself from the social mainstream, jeopardize my ability to choose where I live and what I do, and lay myself open to rejection, discrimination, violence, hate, and fear." Folks, I'm afraid he was born that way. Take it from someone who grew up with him.
As close as we were in high school, we never talked about it. He had a 'girlfriend', a sax player at another high school, and we both pretended that he was in love with her long enough for him to have a prom date. It wasn't until after I graduated in the late '70s and disco was king that Kenny opened up to me about being gay. He introduced me to the gay subculture in our town, and I went with him to the gay bars and the all-night discos. He would have crushes on guy after guy, always so sure that this one was 'the one', but somehow it never seemed to work out. Although finally free to 'be himself' with other people who felt the way he did, the long-term relationship and stability that he wanted so much was at odds with the hedonistic excesses of the era, and there was no social framework in place to support him.
This was where I came in. As we saw it, our getting married could solve a lot of difficulties (I plead the ignorance of eighteen). Kenny's mom knew me and liked me; she would be forever grateful that I would give Kenny social validity; Kenny could have the home and family he wanted - well, at least the home and the appearance of a family. I could have my cake and eat it, too - a partner who would be there for me financially and emotionally without asking for sexual fidelity, who would give me a home and not care what time I came back to it!
Well, it turned out we didn't get married after all; there was that pesky detail of 'being in love' that we knew, as young and nutty as we were, was the real reason for getting married. As much as we loved each other as friends, there would never be a marriage in our hearts. We went our separate ways; I went on the road and he stayed in our home town, still working, still saving, still waiting and hoping for the dream to come true. We still kept in touch, and when I came home to visit my family, we'd get together and catch up on each others' lives. Kenny eventually got the home, but the life partner to share it with never happened.
After a few years, I moved to California and my visits were spaced farther and farther apart. Sometimes I saw him, sometimes I didn't, but there was always 'next time'. I got married (for real) and after the birth of my first child, I flew back home with my husband and new son, eager to introduce them to my family and friends. I couldn't catch up with Kenny; I left messages on his machine, but in the whirlwind of activity surrounding the new baby, I put Kenny on my 'next time' list.
Two weeks after I went back to California, my sister called me to tell me that Kenny had died of AIDS.
When I hear people talking about the "Defense of Marriage", it just makes me want to spit. I believe that if Kenny had been allowed to marry, if there had been a social structure in place at that time that encouraged and rewarded commitment in gay people as well as straight, that Kenny would most likely be alive today.
Just who are they 'defending' marriage from? Is there some straight woman that won't be able to find a mate because the gay boys 'got' all the men? The arguments that the staunch 'Knights of Matrimony' throw out don't hold water to me.
point: A child should have a mother and a father.
counterpoint: First off, I think it pretty much goes without saying that in today's society, reproduction is not the only reason to be married. I don't remember the 'Fertility Test' when my husband and I were applying for our marriage license. There are straight couples who (gasp!) choose not to have children! And how about the couples who just can't and decide to live with it? Should their licenses be revoked? What about parents who have lost a partner to divorce or death? Should their children be taken away from them?
Then, of course, there are the straight couples who have absolutely no business having children, and have them any old way? Abusive parents, neglectful parents, parents who, in their heart of hearts, don't want children but have them because of outside pressure? Am I to believe that a loving, committed gay couple would be worse for the emotional health of a kid than parents like these? Apparently so. That's right along with the "Murphy Brown" school of condemnation - those awful, selfish women who want a child so badly that they choose to have one without being married. Selfish? Most single (by choice or not) moms (and dads) I know have very little 'self' at all - they're too busy trying to raise their kids right in a two-income society. They're always at the bottom of the list. But I digress. Maybe we could force them to marry a gay man or woman. One of the opposite gender, naturally. Serve them all right.
No doubt about it, mothers and fathers are great. Optimal, even. I am not suggesting that the mom-and-pop deal is just another family model choice. It's not. It is the dominant one, and, all other things being even is the situation that our society set up to best suit a family. But all things are not always even, and just as no one in their right mind today would force a woman to stay with an abusive man 'for the sake of the children', the idea that any two heterosexuals (no matter how sick and dysfunctional) are better parent material than any two homosexuals (no matter how emotionally healthy and loving) is not an idea that I am prepared to accept. I am sure that there are bad gay parents out there. But I know there are bad straight parents, lots and lots of them, and no one is suggesting we abolish marriage for straight people because of that. I might even posit that, as a group, gay parents might have a higher percentage of good parenting because they often have to go to extraordinary lengths to have children, and in the face of strong opposition. It doesn't just 'happen', and I suspect the process would tend to weed out the less-motivated.
Gender role modeling? Maybe. But the overwhelming majority of gay people have (drum roll, please)… straight parents! What happened there with the 'gender modeling'? Good parents of any kind make sure their kids have positive models around them.
And then there's always the trump card - IMMORALITY! Who sez? God sez! Whose God? My God! Oh, my God. I'm not even going to bother to discuss the Bible quotes in Leviticus that are trotted out on a regular basis - smarter people than I have refuted the 'cherry-picking' of Levitical laws employed by those who feel that God Hates Fags. To these people, I say, "Fine. You're absolutely right. No one should force you to marry a gay person." Like any self-respecting queer would want to. Our country was founded by people who left their homeland and traveled thousands and thousands of miles to be free to worship as they pleased. And,ß yes, they were Christians. But the whole idea (and a radical one it was) was to build a country where EVERYONE was free to worship as they pleased - not just Christian Puritans. Freedom of religion. Freedom NOT to worship if so inclined. Again, I'll leave the debating of the Constitution to my betters, but unless I'm way off the mark here, the United States of America is not a theocracy. Isn't that exactly what we're trying to avoid setting up in that other place…what's it called again?…oh, yes - Iraq!
Well, folks, I'd better get out while the getting's good - I can see I'm heading into deep water here. But I'm still not convinced that there is any sort of justice in the fact that a mass murderer can marry and have children, if he or she chooses a partner of the opposite sex, but a law-abiding, upstanding member of society - if gay - cannot. To my mind, the 'Defense' doesn't have a leg to stand on.