A cold wind whips through Annapolis on a Monday night, but the crowd is untouched. Several hundred people gather next to the Governor’s Mansion for a demonstration. Every ten feet or so someone holds up a sign with a district number. Police orbit the crowd waiting for trouble, but mostly giving directions.
It looks like any rally you’d see during legislative session in Maryland, until you notice the two young men in business attire clutching each other close to get warm. And the signs that read, “I Love My Two Gay Dads.”
It’s the movement for same sex marriage and tonight they are going to see their representatives in Annapolis. What only a few years ago seemed a wild dream has become a movement. And it’s a movement that appears to be getting stronger by the day.
In Maryland alone this year, the idea has generated discussion and legislation at an unreal level. Some of the proposed bills introduced this year by the General Assembly have included:
HB 351 – Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act HB 631 – Family Law – Change Term “Marriage” to “Civil Marriage” HB 848 – Family Law – Domestic Partnerships HB 1112 – Family Law – Civil Unions – Establishment, Rights, and Responsibilities HB 1174 – Domestic Partnerships – Establishment and Rules of Interpretation HB 1345 – Maryland’s Marriage Protection Act SB 168 – Family Law – Covenant Marriage
The talk is of civil unions as opposed to marriages, marriage as opposed to civil unions, the meaning of the Constitution and the meaning of the words of the Bible. Public officials have sworn to support it and public officials have sworn to oppose it. These discussions are being echoed back and forth across the country, but in Maryland, with its current one-party dominance, the talk has suddenly gained new weight. It could happen here, and it could happen here tomorrow.
I never thought much about gay marriage. I’ve thought about gays, sure. I’ve known people who knew they were gay the day they were born and I’ve known people who had to get married and have a few kids before they figured out they were gay. I’ve known flaming guys and in-the-closet-their-whole-life lesbians.
Being gay seems like a tough life to me and not one that anyone would choose for themselves. It seems gay people are just that way – by God or biology or early childhood or whatever – they just are. As decent, or not, as everybody else. So, I generally supported leaving them alone, tsking at attacks on them and shaking my head at their attackers. But I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.
So my wife was the maid of honor at this wedding. A straight wedding. This was the kind of couple that fell in love in college, started a life together, went through good times and bad, and came out stronger. They just never actually got married. Which, of course, drove their families crazy.
So, almost a decade into their relationship, they had the ceremony. It was one of those weddings everyone feels really good about. Single folks think about how they suddenly want to get married, when they’ve never thought of it before. Married folks think about how lucky they are to be married and how in love they are. You know what I mean, you’ve been there.
Now, one of the other bridesmaids was a lesbian, which I knew, and she brought her partner, who I’d met once or twice. Not friends or anything, just friends of my friends. And they introduced each other as, “This is my wife.” I’d never heard anyone say that before.
We got to talking while the bride and groom had their first dance. Had they gone to Massachusetts to get married, I asked? No, they had done it in town. Got the church, exchanged rings, had a reception. Everything except get a license and sign a certificate.
So I hear this, and I look over at the dance floor, and I’m taking in the newlyweds and their beaming parents and family and friends, and it hits me: These two woman I’m sitting besides, by the laws of the United States, cannot be married. They cannot declare their commitment legally, they cannot live their lives legally. These American citizens legally, have less civil rights than I do.
“It is the same for us”
Brick row house, suburban Baltimore City. It’s pouring down rain. Inside it’s warm. There’s a sofa under the front window with another at a right angle to it. Through an arched doorway is a small dining room. There’s a Christmas tree in the corner, a large brown dog half asleep on the floor. Rich sits on one sofa and Jason sits on the other. Jason was previously married and his teenage daughter is curled up next to Rich under a blanket. Her twin sister and brother wander in and out of the room.
Rich and Jason are both slim and younger-looking then they are. You wouldn’t immediately think “gay” if you met them, but when it doesn’t come as a big surprise. They’ve been together for awhile now, in love for years and comfortable with each other in a way that lets you know they’ve seen some rough times.
Ostensibly, they are engaged.
A few weeks before Christmas we sat around and talked about marriage. What is the reality of gay marriage to a committed gay couple in a state where it is illegal?
“I think it affects my life because you know, simple things,” says Jason.
“Some of it’s health insurance, taxes, and then I think just I see people married going through things and it’s like we get to experience all that, but we don’t have the validity, you know? We’ve been together for awhile and we have a lot of things we’ve done together, but the reality is that if something were to happen to him tomorrow, his parents could come here tomorrow and change the locks and be like, ‘Sorry,'” Jason said.
“Because that’s what I’ve asked them to do,” says Rich, to Jason’s laughter.
Jason continues, “He was my first real relationship with a man after my marriage broke up, and I said I just want to warn you, I don’t know if I can see myself in the house like ‘Honey, I’m home!’ and I don’t know, I’ve never been in a relationship with a guy and I don’t know what this is going to be like and after a few years it was like, hey, this is no different then the relationships I was in before with a woman. We have our ups and downs and fights and argue and great times together. We got to the point where we know each other better then anyone else. And you go through all that and have people come around and say, ‘Oh, it’s not a real relationship, it’s not legitimate, you don’t really deserve benefits’.”
Is it difficult to raise children not being married?
“I don’t think it really comes up” says Rich.
At this point Jason’s teenage daughter (whose name has been withheld at the request of her parents), chimes in: “Most of my closest friends know he’s gay and it doesn’t bother them, one of them said ‘That’s so cool – I want a Dad who’s gay.’ It doesn’t bother me and it doesn’t bother them either.”
Do they talk about Rich?
“I talk about him like my Dad’s partner. I mean, it’s my father, I can’t really do anything about it and don’t want to do anything about it, cause I love both of them – as people and as parents,” she said.
“We live like we’re married anyway,” says Rich.”We’re not as interested in the sacrament of marriage and I think that’s a real sticking point for the religious. If it weren’t marriage, if it were civil union, as long as there was something there to acknowledge that we’ re together and if something should happen …”
Rich and Jason are concerned about their future, about retirement. They both know people who have had to go back into the closet at a certain age because there is nowhere else for them to go; nursing homes are set up for men here and woman there. Where would they go?
As the conversation continues, it feels like we are talking about things that haven’t been said out loud before. I ask if they see themselves spending the rest of their lives together, and they say ‘yes’ in a way that seems to take even themselves by surprise.
If a state did legalize marriage, would they move there, I ask, and they say ‘yes’ without hesitation, or even a glance at each other.
When asked if they believe legal gay marriage will happen, Jason says, “When I was in ninth grade I could never come out and say I was gay, and now it blows my mind how open things are, and I sort of look at it like maybe I won’t get to reap the benefits of marriage, but we’re laying the foundation.”
Rich disagrees. “I think we’re close enough, with the whole civil union thing.”
I ask them what is the one thing about gay marriage they want me to write about.
“I really don’t think they push that we have the same pitfalls and the same tribulations as anybody else,” says Jason. “It’s no different, things like ‘Queer as Folk’ make it look like we’re doing drugs, like we’re having anonymous sex, and it’s a shame, that is out there, but no more prevalent then in the straight club, it’s there too. When we settle down we face the same challenges, learning to accept each other, everything that brought us together. People have this idea like it’s different for us. We go through the same things. If there’s one thing I want people to know, it’s that it is the same for us.”
Looking for a sign
Several weeks later, Rich and Jason stand together under the setting sun in Annapolis, buried in their parkas, hats and gloves. We don’t say much as I photograph them. The crowd is cheering and waving signs. As the rally finishes with applause, the couple start looking for their district sign. They’ve never done this before, but they have appointments with their representatives. They walk towards a red brick building, two openly gay men, under the eyes of cameras and police, ready to testify.