I have never felt prouder to be an American than I do today. Most Independence Days I enjoy the parades and fireworks but am conflicted about this beloved country, how it has come to be the bully on the world’s playground. I have sometimes chosen to call this day ‘Interdependence Day’ instead, rooting for us to play well with other countries and also treat our own citizens with fairness and respect.
But this past week I have felt such joy at the progress we have made as a nation, thanks to several Supreme Court decisions that assure patients the right to medical treatment and same-sex couples the right to marry in all states and have that marriage recognized by the Federal government.
For those for whom this is not great news, please spend some time with your fears. Inquire within instead of just falling back on unexamined opinions. For example, some say that gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriages. In what way could this be true? When I saw all those couples lined up around the San Francisco Civic Center waiting all day to be wed in that first brief window of opportunity, I was reminded that marriage is indeed valued, a privilege, something worth cherishing. Those couples willingness to wait all day to be married (because they had been waiting for years for the right to be married!) naturally increased my appreciation for my own marriage, reminding me how fortunate I am.
What threatens marriage in our culture is not those couples who want it for themselves, who have committed relationships, who have created families, who contribute to the community with their dedication to make this a better world for their children. No, what threatens marriage is those who devalue it, like the heterosexual couple who gets drunk in Las Vegas and wakes up the next morning with more than a hangover, and then needs an annulment. What threatens marriage is people of any sexual orientation who take their vows casually, without consideration of the seriousness of this commitment.
I remember in the 1970’s it was very hard to be married because for a marriage to thrive it needs to be supported by the community, by parents and friends, but also by the culture. My husband and I were fortunate to have the support of both sets of parents. But when I met new people, coworkers or friends of friends, and they took note of my wedding ring, it wasn’t unusual to hear the question ‘Why are you married?’ So many people were getting divorced. The single life was supreme. Our local Fourth of July parade which today is full of family-oriented floats, was back then a long series of bands playing on flatbed trucks, each one sponsored by a singles bar wanting to promote its venue. Standing curbside for that parade with our children could be at times a little iffy, as the floats were floating on more than gas and goodwill, and the writhing dancers on them sometimes lacked good judgment. All in fun, but a very adult brand of fun.
Heterosexuals are sometimes squeamish imagining gay sex. The ew factor. I suppose that goes both ways. So don’t imagine it! It’s private! Not our business! But it IS our business as fellow human beings when others are being shamed and funneled into a world of casual encounters for their basic human needs. And that’s what the denial of the right to marry really has meant historically. The back alley bar and bathhouse activities that may have been viewed as ‘gay’ were really the result of the cultural and legal denial of normal channels of meeting, dating and marrying. Imagine if you and your mate had such restrictions? It wasn’t that long ago that just being gay could get you arrested and imprisoned. What if you and your true love had no rights and no future, and you had to keep that most treasured part of your life an absolute secret and live a lie. In my parents’ youth they only realized a friend was homosexual after he committed suicide. No one was out of the closet. And that was bad for everyone! It was bad for me back when I was a single woman dating. On occasion I dated men who confused me by claiming to want me but seemed conflicted. My ‘gaydar’ was not very sensitive, but my feelings were, and I had them hurt when a man played the part but could not honestly reciprocate because, though he so wanted it to be otherwise, he was only attracted to men. Society told him to keep trying to be straight and that was very trying for me and other single women. I imagine there were also men who were baffled by the inability of their girl friends to work up any enthusiasm for romance. I remember a guy I knew in college who I dated only briefly because he was so scarred by his last girlfriend who finally confessed she was a lesbian. With me he had to keep doublechecking, ‘Could you imagine me being a girl?’ and other weird questions. Poor guy. How much better it is today when we can love who we love and not mislead anyone else out of a desperate desire to conform. And a desperate desire to not be arrested, fired from our job and ostracized by our community.
This supreme court decision is a victory for all of us, not just gays. We aspire to be the land of liberty. We pride ourselves on the freedoms our country provides. Sometimes it takes us a while to see that the traditions of the past have not always been clear-seeing in this regard. It took a while for many to see that slavery was wrong, and a hard fought war created an untenable rift in our American family that is still being felt today as some cling to the flag of rebellion. It took a while for many to see that women are people and should have equal rights. It took a while to see that this land was made for you and me, not just white men. And it will still take a while for some to see that gay people have been denied a most basic freedom, the freedom to marry. Now a gay person is assured the right to marry the person they want to make a life with, the person who will be there through sickness and health, the person who will be a helpmate and equally responsible for raising their children, the person who will raise them up when they are feeling down, the person who will be by their side when they are dying. They will have the property rights that hetero couples take for granted. And their children will have the security and respect they deserve. How can anyone who has taken the marriage vow, who has enjoyed the many benefits of marriage feel justified in denying it to anyone else?
A great injustice has been righted this week. And my appreciation of my marriage and my country has deepened because of it. Happy Fourth of July! We have a lot to celebrate.