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November 13th, 2008
02:35 PM ET

The impact of Prop 8 on my family

Editor's Note: Andrew Solomon is the author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, which won the 2001 National Book Award, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and has been published in 24 languages. He is a Lecturer in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, and writes for The New Yorker and The New York Times. He is also the author of the novel A Stone Boat and of The Irony Tower: Soviet Artists in a Time of Glasnost.

Andrew Solomon
Author, The Noonday Demon

My partner John and I tied the knot on June 30th last year. John had wanted to get married for some time, and we could have done so in Massachusetts, but gay marriage has no federal recognition there, and thus offers none of the myriad legal protections that heterosexual marriage entails, so I felt that it would be something of a sham. Then Great Britain passed a law giving civil partnership legally identical status to marriage.

Because I am a dual national, it made sense for us to get hitched over there: if we ever decided to give up our US citizenship, we would be treated as each other’s next of kin, and would not be taxed on each other’s estates. The name may be less than in Massachusetts, but the rights are more.

Even after our well-attended celebration of union, I was shy of calling our relationship a marriage, and social reserve made me leery of using the word husband in referring to John; it seemed unmasculine and almost kitsch. Over time, though, I found myself increasingly incensed by the opposition to gay marriage and I recognized the use of that term as a tool in the battle for civil rights. My hesitancy owed to a society that had always made me feel that I could assume my real identity only at a cost.

Gradually, however, I’ve become convinced that words and rights are ultimately inseparable, and that it is pusillanimous for me to call John anything other than my husband. Linguistic apartheid gives license to those who would treat us as lesser citizens, and our love as an inferior love. It exacts a price, compromising our feeling of participation in the great history of love that our parents’ marriages reflected. Philip Larkin’s poem about a tomb in which the remains of a husband and wife were placed together, ends, “What will remain of us is love.” Marriage is the institution by which that love is sanctified, for better or worse—the mechanism of that remaining.

Since our wedding, I've gone from mild advocate to passionate supporter of gay marriage, of unions but especially of marriage itself. In the grand scheme of things, I'd rather have an election that brought in Obama and failed on marriage than the other way around, and I am almost embarrassingly excited about our new president. But it has been a bitter pill to hear the throngs shouting for joy about this election, while so many gay men and lesbians are being hit with a sense of how regressive society is about our rights and priorities.

Activists have consoled us that gay marriage will end up winning, but I don’t want to be the equivalent of the 106-year-old woman Obama lionized in his victory speech, winding down old age with the satisfying experience of seeing prejudice finally fall. I may have to wait that long to vote for a gay candidate for the presidency, but I will not wait so long for permission to refer to John as my husband not as an affectation but as a matter of national legal record, affirming the same rights and the same status between us that our heterosexual married friends and family enjoy.

I have become involved in the Gay and Lesbian Studies program at Yale University, where I studied as an undergraduate. In that capacity, I have spent time with Larry Kramer, the well-known playwright and activist who started the program. I hear his stories about being gay at Yale in the 1950s, when every effort was made to “cure” him, and I wonder how he ever managed to stay alive and intact in the face of that era’s view of gay people. I am not sure I could have survived it. I also spend time with the current undergraduates, and looking at them I feel a great envy for the life they have, and think how, if I had been of college age now instead of in the 1980s, I might have avoided years of self-hatred and confusion and self-flagellation, and perhaps had the early, open, happy romantic life that seems now to be available to so many students. I could have imagined for myself the future I am having now, one of marriage and family and relative social sanction—a future that hardly occurred to me at the time. Describing the gap between the Kramer-Solomon-Today generations to some of the undergraduates, I concluded by saying to them that I hoped that when they revisit the campus in twenty years, they will feel a similar sad longing for the lives of a new generation, so much more free and so much more full of hope than anything they can now imagine. Perhaps they will live in a time when gay lives are neither easier nor more difficult than straight ones, when gay hopes need not be different from straight ones, when the language of the gay and straight worlds do not differ.

I have a one-year-old daughter, and John and I are expecting another child in spring. I would like them to grow up with the social affirmation that their gay parents' relationship was as valid as anyone else's. The success of Proposition 8 hurts not just me and my husband, but also those children, and all the people who don't have the right to emigrate to England in case society persistently denies us our due. Progress in gay rights over the past twenty years has been astonishing, but those advances have whipped up latent hatreds among the opposition and blunted the sense of urgency among people who consider themselves on our side. Too many people see language as a minor reflection of the reality we aspire to, but language is that reality.

Our fight for equality, at this otherwise euphoric moment, and our belief that separate but equal is not equal, are perceived by even our supporters as being somehow shrill. Gay marriage is not merely a matter of self-interest for gay people in relationships who want to use a fancy word to refer to their intimacies; it is an issue of human justice, of affording affirmation in a world that suffers a severe shortage of love and of joy.

soundoff (106 Responses)
  1. John Pugh

    Karen,

    I agree with you. I am a happily married man, my wife of 35 years, Judith and I agree that marriage represents a committment to love in the eyes of God.

    Love is the key. That's what Jesus is purported to have said and although we are not supporters of organized religion because of the bigotry we see there, we both agree that if Jesus was to weigh-in on this issue, he would be on the side of love.

    We feel that time will take care of this. As each generation passes, enlightenment improves. When I was young and living in the UK, gay couples met in toilets because it was illegal. Now, we see a much greater tolerance.

    Women were not allowed to vote, black americans were segregated and now gay men and women are denied marriage based on nothing rational whatsoever. I think Jesus would be incensed by it. He would likely say many things including the words – Judge not, lest ye be judged. Love – that is the key.

    All the very best to you and your partner.

    November 17, 2008 at 5:19 am |
  2. Julie San Diego, CA

    Andrew, congratulations on finding a situation that has worked for you.

    I don't have any opposition to extending the rights of marriage to the gay community, but I can understand the feelings of some who are not so eager to do so.

    In the tradition I was raised in, marriage is a sacrament, and is something to be earned, not an automatic right. There were many preconditions to getting married in my faith, and I had to abide by these preconditons to earn the right to be married within the faith.

    You are in a committed loving stable relationship. To me, that's a precondition to marriage, and your relationship passes, in my book. However, many feel that some in the gay community practice behaviors that don't earn the right to an institution that some of us view as a sacrament.

    When we see gay people engaged in casual hookups, a large number of partners, multiple partners at the same time, or certain activities that happen openly in gay bars that you would get arrested for if anyone (gay or heterosexual) practiced them on a city street – what this does is reinforce the opinion that there is no respect for the institution that many of us call a sacrament. Hence, many are not willing to extend that institution/sacrament to the gay community.

    I agree that there are many heterosexuals that engage in casual hookups, numerous partners, etc. Maybe they haven't earned marriage either.

    The best way to "win hearts and minds" is for the gay community to police itself and encourage stable committed relationships. If the gay community truly wants marriage, they've got to come down hard on their representatives who don't promote what many consider a psychologically healthy expression of sexuality (George Michael's arrest for openly masturbating in a public bathroom is an example of this). Gay people have lousy PR because of the activities of a small portion of the community. Until the community polices itself, it's going to be difficult to sway the opinions of some.

    Congratulations on your relationship and your family.

    November 17, 2008 at 5:10 am |
  3. Jeff

    It is so nice to see stories with positive Gay role models. It is couples like you will help show this nation that Gays and Lesbians are productive members of society who support family values just as much as the rest of the world.

    The Conservative Christians may want to place a narrow definition on marriage, but in time, they will be on the wrong side of history. And to say this is a "Christian" issue, is false. The list of Christian Churches that are opening their doors to Gays and Lesbians is growing everyday. Sadly their voice is not as loud as the Christians who want to promote their narrow view of Christianity.

    Congratulations to you both, and I wish you a happy and blessed life!

    November 17, 2008 at 3:54 am |
  4. dskinnison

    I have been listening to the guest on the various shows discussing Prop 8 and I have heard, more than once, that it is all about the children, stating they should have a mother and a father. If this is the case, then shouldn't divorce be banned.?? How many children are being raised by a single parent, with no involvment by the absent parent? How many children are born into this world by a single mom who does not list the father, for various reasons, on the birth certificate. (That is until they decide to seek child support )
    I wish someone would look at the statistics on commited gay reationships who are raising children and the "breakup" rate is among this group. I believe they would find the numbers stageringly low. So, what is really the best for the children, two people who are committed to staying life partners and raise their children, or those who just procreate and figure if it works great, if not, we'll get a divorce.
    By the way , I am hetrosexual, and the product of divorce.

    November 17, 2008 at 1:34 am |
  5. JO

    Think how hard it will be for kids who call a Man " MOM ",a Woman "DADDY.What will their last name be?Wil they ever have a new baby brother will it be a boy baby or a girl baby, if Daddy and Mommy have a relationship with another different gender and still
    be in a so called Marriage.THINK reproductive proceedure should be behind closed doors and be private.A MERGER instead of a MARRIAGE would solve the problem A FAMILY is a FATHER man,MOTHER woman.
    (capable of producing kids and or all kids they have from nature or adoption.
    HAVE A MERGER CEREMONY I AGREE , instead of "I DO " VOWS.
    Be registered in a courthouse,Legally

    November 17, 2008 at 1:18 am |
  6. Chuck

    I just heard DL Hughley say that he doesn’t consider himself to be particularly homophobic, but that he doesn’t condone the gay lifestyle/relationships based on his religious beliefs/theology.

    I find it fascinating that so many people state their religious beliefs as the reason for disapproving of the gay lifestyle and/or gay marriage, and yet so many of these same people have (or have had) sex out of wedlock, are divorced, have lied, stolen, bared false witness against another, or far worse.

    I don’t know DL Hughley, and I can not therefore say whether any of the above would apply to him, but I’m sure he knows people who have committed the above noted sins, if he has not himself, and yet I didn’t hear him say that these people should not possess equal rights even though they’ve committed offenses against that which is written in the bible (nor have I heard anyone else state the same for that matter).

    I'm therefore curious as to how when it comes to gay people’s human rights, that these same people are all of the sudden so religious.

    Hypocrites, one and all? Or is it a combination of hypocrisy and ignorance?

    And for all those who quote the bible as being their reason for this stance, enabling them to harbor the need to create an environment where they righteously and openly discriminate against a minority that has been persecuted throughout history, I must insist in the spirit of equal time that we gather all women who wear mixed threads to be stoned to death in the town square.

    We of course would never do this because it is absurd, but it’s in the Bible… Come on one and all, once and for all, do the math.

    We are all made in his image, which is vast in scope and deep in understanding.

    I wish people who believe as such could take a deep look inside and own up to the fact that they have hatred in their hearts (a sin in and of itself) and the desire to discriminate against others as an intrinsic part of their personal makeup, then pray to their God for the ability to move beyond it. Pray for the ability to love their neighbor as they would love themselves.

    I pray for the ignorant that they will one day be free, because there is no freedom in hatred and fear of others who wish only to live their own lives, the life which God gave them.

    November 16, 2008 at 11:23 pm |
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