It was a wedding like any other. Beautifully-dressed flower girls traipsed up the aisles. A harpist played “Songbird.” Vows were read, rings exchanged. A kiss sealed the deal. There was a five-station buffet–oysters, caviar, dumplings, pastas, cheese altar–that we all gorged ourselves on before our three-course dinner and cake (Oh, the cake!). There was a first dance. Then the Hora. The best man told a bawdy joke in place of a toast. A teenage cousin stole sips of champagne. The Governor sent a hand-signed note. The couple’s brothers got up to speak and brought tears to everyone’s eyes. The band played Gaga and we danced until we ran out of breath and then danced some more.
And it was all legal.
That’s because it was in New York State. Had it been in New Jersey or my adopted North Carolina or my home state of Minnesota, my boss and his partner of fifteen years would not now be pronounced “husbands for life.”
If you’re opposed to same-sex marriage, or what some call “marriage equality” (or what I call “marriage”), there’s probably little I can say to make you change your position. Just know you’re quickly becoming the minority. Recent polls show that a majority of Americans are in favor of marriage for all. Even stalwart conservative Dick Cheney was “delighted” when his own daughter, a lesbian, married her long-time partner and the mother of their children. Also know that if you cite the Bible to define “traditional” marriage, the Old Testament condones polygamy, too. (As much as I would love to take on some of my friends as Sister-Wives—my friend Melody has a Vita-mix Blender, for Pete’s sake!—I doubt the Hubs could deal with more than one woman in the house.) And if you plan on using the “marriage is a religious institution” line to deny homosexual couples the right to marry, remember that you can get married at the courthouse without a minister, but you can’t be married by the minister without first going to the courthouse. The fact is, all our marriages are civil unions.
I haven’t wandered into political or social waters here on What’s Camille Dewing?—though, like my Grandma Dewing, I’m exceptionally opinionated. But watching my boss and his now-husband share their vows before all their friends and family struck a nerve with me: Why would anyone in their right mind want to tell others who they could or couldn’t marry? And, more importantly, why wouldn’t those of us in our right minds—straight or gay—champion marriage for everyone?
While it probably goes back farther, I can trace this socially liberal mindset back to 1979, the year my parents divorced. My mother, rightly or wrongly, drilled into me that, being a child with divorced parents, I would be different from all my Catholic Kindergarten peers whose parents were, naturally, all still married. From then on—and sometimes to this day—whenever I walked into a room, I was certain that no one would like me, as though I had a tattoo on my forehead that read “different.” The upside to this alienation is that I met a bunch of outsiders like me—nerds, geeks, and artists. And theatre folk. As the saying goes, “Wherever there’s a gathering of theatre geeks, you’re bound to find jazz hands.*” (*Actually, no one says that.) You also will find gay men. That leading man who dreamily sings while the lovely ingenue swoons? Gay. The hunky villain who throws the plot into turmoil? Gay. The dancer whose high kicks leave you breathless? Gurl, please. I won’t be lame and say these gay men helped me become better at being a woman, though they did teach me how to do my hair and makeup, but these men made me a better human. (Acceptance comes easily when you both appreciate Stephen Sondheim and Absolutely Fabulous.)
I confess, though, I stumbled a bit when it came to my gay friends. In high school, a friend, Kathryn (not her real name), confessed to me her feelings of loneliness and feeling “different” than everyone around her. “Camille, I think I’m a lesbian.” Her voice cracked as tears welled in her eyes. This wasn’t a shock to any of us who knew Kathryn. But I started to withdraw from her. It wasn’t that I was uncomfortable with her being a lesbian. I simply wasn’t mature enough to handle a friend’s big time emotions—10th Grade or not, intimacy has never my strong suit. Plus, I hadn’t even kissed a boy yet, so I was wholly unprepared to deal with my own sexuality, let alone anyone else’s. I think maybe I said, “You shouldn’t feel upset about it,” yet that must’ve been cold comfort. I truly had no clue as to how momentous that revelation must’ve been for her—I mean, I was one of the few people she came out to! I have every confidence that Kathryn now enjoys her life and likely doesn’t even recall our conversation. But if she happens to read this, I’m sincerely and profoundly sorry that, when you needed an understanding friend, I was a dumbass. And know that, as embarrassed at my behavior as I am, it taught me to speak up for my friends…and my voice is real loud.
As my boss and his husband said, “I do,” everyone smiled and cheered. The earth didn’t crack open. And my own “opposite” marriage—long-feared by some to be a casualty of same-sex unions—remained intact. If anything, it felt stronger. Marriage means something again. Frankly, I was getting tired of the celebrities and cynics who kept using the “it’s just a piece of paper” line. Even I was starting to buy into it. Are the Hubs and I really married? Would it really be any different without the paper? When I see people putting themselves in the crosshairs for the right to marry, that “piece of paper” takes on a greater meaning, which is a good thing since Hubs and I will be celebrating 11 years of wedded bliss next week. So, thank you, Grant and Bob, for giving a voice to marriage, for being pioneers in this brave new (and economically advantageous) world, and for throwing one of the best parties I’ve ever been to. And may you have many more years of love and laughter ahead. Mazel tov!