I came out in '69, pre Harvey Milk. Things were way different then; even doctors thought homosexuality was a disease. Gay was just being invented; we were faggots, queers, poofs, buggers, dikes, and worse, in fact when people were being nice they called you homosexual. Most of us were in the closet and those of us who were out didn’t have a clue what being out meant. The messages we heard were that if you were queer, you were doomed, sick perverted and you could only expect a furtive life of despair and loneliness. We were told to expect a constant stream of sex partners. Our doctors, relations and teachers drilled this into our heads until we believed it and told it to ourselves. You can be sure the idea of marriage never came up in that environment. So what did we do? We embraced the myth and threw a party that lasted over a decade. In fact, that party didn't slow down until AIDS sounded a "last call." What a shock that was. As friends died around us, we were told the epidemic was our fault, that our sinful ways created it or that God Himself had sent the plague to destroy us. That was a lie and yet we all kind of believed the basis of it: that healthy and happy relationships were not for us, that commitment was silly for queers.
But some good things came from those days . . . and they all started with unapologetically coming out. In fact, we found our power simply by coming out to everybody we knew. We found our power by making no excuse for our sexual orientation or who we loved. We found out that life wasn't sad, desperate and lonely, that we weren't sick in the head, that we could lead meaningful lives even if we were gay and lesbian. We watched our families, co-workers, friends and doctors realize that we were still the wonderful people they loved before they knew we were gay. We watched society begin to accept us, and we found love. Well, first comes love then comes marriage!
Here’s the thing, we may not buy those myths about ourselves any more but a lot of society still does, so we have to change that. You know, our friends and our relatives want that to change too and these people, our allies, are our greatest strength. But we have to arm them with the right words and the right arguments. We need to tell them that this is about civil marriage, not an attack on anybody’s religious views. It is about family and love, and property, not a licentious attack on marriage. It is about making sure that the children of a gay or lesbian couple don’t suffer needlessly from the death of a parent. It is about recognizing the facts about finances and property when two people live together. It is a way to strengthen and protect our society, not tear it down. This is about equal rights for all not special rights for a few, or separate rights for a majority.
I met my husband in 1993, and for the last 15 years we have lived the marriage vows. We have shared our life, and we have loved, comforted, honored and kept each other for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others. We have raised our children and grandchildren. We have cooked holiday dinners for our family and taken vacations together with our parents. We have supported our family, our community and our country; in short, we have been married for 15 years -- in all but fact until October. In October we were married in California. It may not mean anything to this state, but it means everything to us. Our marriage is an acknowledgment by society of the validity of our union. It is a social and legal acknowledgment, not a religious one. If it were religious, it couldn't happen at the County Clerk's office. We deserve this acknowledgment and we do not want the State to divorce us.
Now, when I talk about Mitch I introduce him as my husband and we freely discuss our marriage with anyone who wants to know more about it. When I stopped describing Mitch as my significant other or my partner, I found it empowered me in a way few other things have. It demands recognition of our relationship. We deserve such recognition, whether or not the hearer rejects it. You should also tell it like it is. When people assume you are straight, set them right. When someone calls you on the phone and asks to speak to your wife, put them on the phone to your husband, or educate them yourself. Go to parent teacher conferences together. Don't hesitate to share your wonderful family with others, and expect them to be supportive of your family. They expect you to be supportive of theirs. If we are who we are, and proud of it, then the world will see that we, too, have families which must be acknowledged and protected by our country with the right to marry.