Gay marriage is going to happen. It must.
– Lady Gaga –
As a young boy, I dreamed of finding my one true love, getting married and living happily ever after… Not exactly what boys do, but hey, I was different.
Now, almost 37, I know that this dream was an over-simplistic romantic fantasy fuelled by Walt Disney and the likes of Cinderella and every handsome prince hiding in the magical forest.
My mother didn’t give me a lot of relationship advice, but I remember her saying this in jest: Marriage is not as easy as picking a horse for the races.
This is probably closer to the truth than the promise of ‘Happily ever after’.
However, for a very long time, some of us weren’t even allowed to pick a horse… we didn’t even consider joining the race and so, never gave ‘Happily ever after’ any serious consideration…
Gay Marriage, or Gay Civil Partnerships have only, in recent years, slowly been accepted in mainstream society as part of the social and political liberation of gay people around the world… Sadly, some countries are slow to catch on and in a select few, being gay is still punishable by death.
It’s atrocious, I know… and for those being persecuted there is still a very long and tough road ahead – something the rest of us must always be mindful of.
Recently, I joined a gay couple from New York for dinner, Barry and Bob, who, as Barry jokes, have been engaged for the past 37 years.
They must’ve met the same year I was born, in 1974… 5 Years after the Stonewall riots took place in 1969 — widely considered the single most important event that led to the birth of the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights….
…7 Years before the AIDS pandemic broke out in Los Angeles and New York, in 1981…
During our conversation, I couldn’t help but to think how far we’ve come…
Back in 1981, HIV/AIDS had tremedous stigma, prejudice and discrimination attached to it. It was called hideous names like, ‘gay-related immune deficiency‘ (GRID), ‘gay cancer’, ‘community-acquired immune dysfunction’ and ‘gay compromise syndrome’. As the pandemic escalated daily, more and more people were getting infected by their hundreds…
I remember hearing about this ‘terrible gay plague’ on the news as a little boy, back in South Africa — I was only 7. Even then, still unaware of my sexuality, I somehow knew HIV/AIDS would affect my life in some shape or form. However, at the time, as a pre-teen, I couldn’t possibly comprehend the degree of fear that gripped the cities of New York and San Francisco.
Little did I know that the entire world was holding its breath whilst the Reagan administration was silent, doing nothing to grab hold of the escalating health crisis… watching passively and unsympathetically as the Gay Community was brought to its knees by the monolithic path of destruction of HIV/AIDS. The US government’s reluctance to act quickly resulted in the deaths of thousands and thousands of gay men across the United States… The attitude from authorities and medical staff, at the time, was, “What is the big deal? If it kills a few of them off, it will make society a better place.”
I only learned about the true magnitude and impact of these event much later in my life as I started to embrace my homosexuality. It turns out that I’ve lost a few close friends in their battle agianst HIV/AIDS, in spite of massive medical advances being made since 1981. Today, I am still horrified byt this part of our gay history.
Bob and Barry speak candidly of those days. They recall a time that if you were found out to be gay, you could lose your job and even be evicted from your home… As they tell their life story and the obstacles they were facing, I think: It’s amazing what fear and contempt does to people…
These two beautiful, funny and elegant men are both part of an older generation of gay men that lived through so much heartache… losing loved ones and friends — more at the hands of social prejudice and moral judgement than the effects of a, now perfectly treatable, disease…
As we order our drinks, Bob casually mentions that he and Barry will be getting married within the near future. This is as a result of gay marriages having been legalised in the state of New York as of 24 July 2011. 37 Years of trials and tribulations tested their relationship, the strength of their love and their commitment to each other. This makes them worthy and deserving recipients of the fundamental freedom to be legally married… Not that enjoying this basic social liberty should ever be subject to passing a test or suffer such torment like they (and many others) have endured…
Much as the new law in New York is a giant leap forward for Gay Rights in the US, sadly, US Federal Law still doesn’t recognise same-sex marriages. Meaning that when Bob and Barry visit their second home in the state of Florida, their marriage will legally mean nothing!
As we gain ground slowly but surely, our battle is far from over.
The social impact of our struggle for recognition and acceptance is tremendous on our, still very fragile, Gay Community. Several psychological studies have shown that an increase in exposure to negative conversations and media messages about same-sex marriage creates a harmful environment for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population, contributing to a very negative affect on their health and well-being.
In fact, a Mailman School of Public Health study examined the effects of institutional discrimination on the psychiatric health of LGBT individuals and found an increase in psychiatric disorders, including a more than doubling of anxiety disorders, among the LGBT population living in states that instituted bans on same-sex marriage.
Since the gay community has experienced so much hardship and intolerance for far too long, it’s no wonder that the act of getting married is often turned into a political statement… A ‘Fuck You! See What We Can Do’ gesture of defiance.
I cannot help but to think that as a community we must be painfully aware of this. Our defiance may send the wrong message to those opposing Gay Marriage. The last thing we want to show the heterosexual mainstream is that we have turned love into some kind of commodity too. We’re much better than that.
It’s a transitional time for gays all around the world and the younger gay generation (who is growing up in a much more tolerant society) can look forward towards building much more positive, healthy and lasting relationships – whether they end up in marriage or not.
Now is the perfect time for us to evaluate the way in which we build relationships, reform the bad and destructive elements associated with the ever-so-often short-lived gay relationships, and re-establish ourselves on much firmer and stable ground in society. This of course does not exclude the older generation who has faught so hard for the liberties we’re enjoying today…
As we evolve and transform because of more equal human rights, it’s only wise to look at the future with caution. Marriage is indeed not as easy as picking a horse for the races and as my mother also said, ‘Marry for the right reasons’.
I genuinely respect Bob and Barry for finally saying their I dos. They seem to have gotten it right. Their commitment to each other and their loving bond have survived all the adversities they faced over the years. They’ve chosen to have their nuptials without the witness of a cheering crowd, a big fanfare or a gay parade… Instead, they will go to court, just the two of them, where they will have a small and humble ceremony. They are obviousy doing it for the right reasons…
As I think about Bob and Barry planning their special day, I thank them from the depths of my heart for the wholesome example they have set. I admire them tremendously for the love they have sustained between the two of them, no matter how viscous the storm or how strong the tide might have been at times.
I’m no longer the naive child that I was 30 years ago and personally, I am in two minds about marriage. If I do feel inclined to tie the knot, I hope it is with a partner that truly loves me, honours and respects me. Most of all I pray that I will have the courage to do the same for him in return and that we will have the ability to evolve and grow together… no matter how difficult the road ahead of us might be.
Bob and Barry, may the rest of your life be as wonderful as the 37 years you have already shared together.
Text: Francois Lubbe
Images: FR Lubbe
- Watch the White House LGBT Conference on HIV/AIDS (whitehouse.gov)
- Pride: A New Beginning (alaskapride.wordpress.com)
- A Straight Guide to Gay Pride (alaskapride.wordpress.com)
- AIDS Outreach Names New Executive Director (dgsmith.org)