As I was looking through my files in preparation for my presentation tomorrow, I chanced across a book review I wrote nearly eight years ago. As it remains timely, reflecting some of the ideas on gay marriage I have expressed on this blog while it summarizes what I believed needed be said then — and still needs to be said now — in the marriage debate, I share it with you (in slightly revised form).
In the debate on gay marriage, I often fault many of my friends and associates for spending too much time in pursuing the legal “right” to marry, that is, using the courts or legislatures to gain state recognition for gay and lesbian unions. I have countered that marriage is primarily a social institution and that we must first establish marriage as a gay social norm. After all, the traditional concept of marriage, one man to one woman, evolved as a social and religious institution long before it was recognized by the state.
As I struggled in my teens and twenties with my own longings for affection and intimacy, I read whatever I could discover in the mainstream press on homosexuality and, when I could muster the courage, bought gay books and periodicals. Whatever I read, I found few images which corresponded to the love I felt deep in my own heart: for a tender and intimate monogamous relationship with another man that, to paraphrase the great Oscar Hammerstein, would last everyday of my life for as long as I live.
Since coming out, I have discovered that the gay norm is far closer to my own expectations than what I had been reading. But, even today, there still seems to be a dichotomy between gay culture as it actually exists and gay culture as it is portrayed in the media, both in the articles written about us and in the articles, essays, stories and novels that we write about ourselves. If we really want gay marriage, then we must present our lives as they are lived: of men and women seeking same-gender intimate, long-term relationships.
With his book, Together Forever: Gay and Lesbian Marriage, Eric Marcus has taken a necessary step in the right direction. He interviewed forty “self-described happy couples who have been together for at least nine years,” twenty male and twenty female. Some couples have been together for as long as fifty years and they hail from fourteen states, ranging in age from thirty-one to eighty-six. He noted that when he began the project some of his gay and lesbian contemporaries cynically suggested that it would be a short book.