The Gay-Marriage Hitch

I got married on Nov. 2, 1981. It was a sham.

Oh, not entirely. We were young and more or less in love; we just weren't planning to get married. But we did, in a civic ceremony in downtown Vancouver, B.C., that was conducted with a speed and a degree of romance that suggested our officiator was double-parked. We asked a former landlord and his wife to be witnesses, but his wife was sick, so he brought his mistress instead. After the cere­mony, we never saw either of them again.

The reason for the charade? I was a 21-year-old graduate student with a 30-year-old Japanese girlfriend whose work visa hadn't arrived. Three days before she was due to be thrown out of Canada, we wed. Ah, the sanctity of marriage. Ours lasted 22 years, of which we actually lived together about six. She's now a comfortably single, tenured professor in Osaka.

It was not lost on either of us at the time that we were taking advantage of a privilege available only because it was the first time either of us had been in an opposite-sex relationship. It's a common problem—at least half a dozen of my foreign-born friends have entered bogus marriages because their real, same-sex partners had the misfortune to be born in a different country.

But that's not the only reason my marital history is echoing strangely across this month's headlines. The deal had been that if Kiyoko were to follow me to graduate school, I, then, would return the favor when I finished. And so, in 1982, we found ourselves moving, much against my better judgment, to the city with the graduate program of Kiyoko's dreams: Houston.

How do you explain to someone from an entirely different culture and history that only a few short years before our arrival, interracial marriage was illegal in Texas? And that a lot of people there still regretted the change? How to explain that as late as 1967, the marriage we took for granted, thanks to our different genders, was considered unlawful in 16 states, thanks to our different skin colors?

It's not as though Kiyoko didn't get racism. I spent enough time as a white guy in her rural home valley (think Appalachia with rice paddies and bamboo) to testify that some Japanese can be as virulently racist as any American. (It could have been worse. I could have been Korean.) But what gets lost in translation is the institution of marriage itself, as it has evolved in the United States. Supposedly sanctified by religion, yet licensed by our secular government, it is used to predicate a whole array of rights and privileges overseen by that government.

As a young queer, I never understood why any two people of any persuasion should need a government's permission to commit themselves faithfully to each other. We don't, of course. But the hitch is that in the state's eyes, some love is more equal than others. Government and laws make those distinctions; hearts don't.

And that is why, no matter how many marriage-defense laws Sen. Patty Murray has already voted for or Gov. Gary Locke has signed, no matter how many constitutionally codified discrimination clauses President Bush threatens, no matter how many war dances or tap dances various officials perform, we know how this is going to turn out. People of the same gender are not going to stop loving one another. Now that they've got it into their throbbing little hearts that law and common sense ought to be on their side, these couples won't stop wanting the same privileges everyone else gets. And as science makes it easier to bend genders, trying to keep track of which combinations of genitalia deserve legal recognition is a doubly doomed enterprise.

Play all the legal and semantic games you want—call them private contracts or civil unions or lifetime commitments, or simply call it being really, really, really good friends. The idiotic dances of politicians near and far cannot obscure the fact that in every location where legally recognized same-sex marriages have been offered, there has been an astonishing flood of eager newlyweds. More importantly, other queers, singly and paired, are watching and reading and hearing the news. What was so recently unthinkable is fast becoming thinkable: Well, of course I should be able to do that.

In another 15 years, it will be as unfathomable to a young queer couple that they shouldn't be able to get married, for whatever reason, as it was for Kiyoko and me in 1981. All the laws and court decisions made or threatened with the intent of preventing such an outcome are exercises in historical futility. Their proponents can talk all they want, just as miscegenation's foes did 40 years ago, about tradition and Bible verses and the sanctity of marriage. Love, true love, is more sanctified than any of that. The law and its benefits will catch up. It will have no choice.

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