On New Year’s Day, my wife Eileen and I received so many congratulations and expressions of good will that I felt like we had just gotten married. In fact, we had – and for the third time, no less. We’d held two wedding ceremonies in 2011 – one in Washington, DC, where same-sex marriage has been legal since early 2010, and then a traditional Jewish wedding in Maryland. This time, however, there was no ceremony; no exchange of vows nor signing of documents; no blessings over wine nor stomping on wine glasses.
This wedding occurred quietly, with the gentle tick of the clock, at the moment the date changed to January 1, 2013. Same-sex marriage had just become legal in the state of Maryland, and our DC marriage certificate would now be recognized in the state we live in. How wonderful it felt! It was time to celebrate. Of course, we had already rejoiced on Election Night when the votes came in indicating passage of the referendum to uphold the Marriage Civil Marriage Protection Act of 2012. And eight months earlier, we had partied with Governor Martin O’Malley after attending the bill signing ceremony. But this time, we wanted to celebrate with our close friends and neighbors.
So, we threw a party, an Open House, on New Year’s Day. What surprised me – at this gathering as well as beforehand – was the high degree of enthusiasm generated by our newly recognized status. It felt like we were our friends’ poster children for marriage equality. We are their living example (should I call us a live specimen? J) of why gays and lesbians should be able to wed each other. I have no problem with this. In fact, I enjoy the attention of being what they consider trailblazers. It’s just that I don’t feel I’ve done anything cutting edge. In fact, my coming out and my decision to marry my wife have been relatively easy for me because of all the LGBT advocacy of thousands of people before me. And, on a personal level, because of my friends’ and family’s support.
You ask how I’ve felt the love and encouragement? Here are a few examples. After Election Day I received emails from friends across the country saying they were thinking of us when the heard results of the Maryland vote. On the day the law went into effect, we were showered with wine, flowers (first time I’ve ever received a bouquet of flowers via FTD!), cards and kisses. Not only that, when the Washington Post printed a photo of the Governor at the bill signing, Yours Truly were in the background. Alas, had we known that we’d be on half a million breakfast tables on January 1st, we’d have looked up a few seconds sooner. [I guess we’re not such good poster children, after all…]
I send thanks to those of you have offered such warm words and gestures. You are my heroes, even while I (or we) seem to be yours…
And now, a note to anyone who questions the fanfare:
While writing the above, I realize that the majority of Americans, including many Marylanders, could care less about the change in our marriage law. Some don’t know about it, and most will not be affected by it. Understandably so: they’re straight so it doesn’t pertain to them; they don’t know people who want to marry and couldn’t or still can’t, if they live in the any of the 41 states that don’t allow same-sex marriage; they’re gay and never planned on getting married; or they just don’t realize the importance of having the freedom to marry anyone you choose.
If you’re in the latter category, I’ll share a few reasons why this freedom is one worth fighting for, why I and thousands of other Marylanders spent many hours on the phones and in the street campaigning for marriage equality. Under this law, we now receive many of the legal benefits that other married couples in Maryland have, including being able to make health care decisions about our partner if she is not able to; tax-free inheritance of property when one of us dies; and joint health insurance coverage on Eileen’s health plan (which, in our case, did not come without much persistence).
More importantly, it means that we can now shed that inkling of ambiguity about our marriage – that feeling that our matrimony is not as valid as those of our heterosexual friends. For even though we stood in front of a rabbi and nearly 100 people on May 1, 2011 and stated our commitments to love and care for each other “’til death do us part” (or something to that effect), we were seen as different from most other married couples. Our commitment was not deemed legitimate by the state. In effect, it was considered second class. [Of course, it still is in the eyes of the federal government. But we have high hopes that this will change in the upcoming Supreme Court session when the Defense of Marriage Act is addressed.]
Most importantly, marriage equality is a step towards ensuring equal rights for all Americans – and eventually, all people. It’s an official statement that marriage is a gift that anyone, no matter her gender preference, should be able to partake in and receive the legal and economic benefits of. In short, LGBT people should have the same rights as all Americans. Amen, I say (while realizing the irony of using a word appropriated by religious bodies, some of whom are opposed to all I have said…).