I remember a long time ago (aka, “college”) talking with some friends about whether or not it mattered if gays could legally marry. I found it surprising that several of my gay friends passionately expressed feelings that it didn’t matter. Marriage was a “straight institution” that they didn’t want any part of. Plus, none of them were that interested in marriage if it meant monogamy. And yes, these were all gay men in their early 20s, so not representative of all gays. (Though perhaps fairly representative of men in their early twenties!)
As we all aged and began to settle into long term relationships, some of these friends softened their stance and did want to marry. And some of us straight(ish) friends wondered if we could (in good conscience) marry when that right was being denied to our gay friends. As feminists it was hard enough to wrap our heads around concepts of traditional marriage. What would we do about wedding ceremonies, vows, and most importantly roles within the family structure? Perhaps we should opt out of marriage altogether until the day came when anyone could marry the person they love. And then we could decide (in good conscience) if we wanted to participate.
Over the years, I’ve heard this topic discussed with increasing openness and frankness. (It helps to live in the city where Dan Savage got his start. And where two of my three state legislators are out and proud, and fighting for marriage equality). And now that I live in a state where – for the past three weeks – gays have been able to legally marry, I can tell you that it does matter.
The best evidence I have is what I have seen with my eyes. Couples – out for a walk in the chilly night air – holding hands. Lots of them. Couples everywhere engaging in the really simple and beautiful act of opening holding the hand of the person they love. In every neighborhood. At holiday events. At the grocery store. Places where I scarcely noticed same sex couples before, now I am seeing them everywhere.
Passing Referendum 74 legalized love – and even better – it legitimized it. No longer is the bond shared between two women or men something that is “lesser” to be shoved to the margins. It is something that can be demonstrated publicly. It is real. And it can be as simple as holding hands.
Changing our institutions matters. Having choices matters. Human rights matter. I sincerely hope that the tide has shifted in 2012, and that now the conversation about gay marriage can be taken to the national stage. It’s time – time to hold hands across America.
My hands are extended.