First published August 21 2007. Full wedding pics here.
So this is what it feels like? In a week's time, I'll be walking down the aisle with my soon-to-be husband. Our families are both coming for the big day. We're getting hitched in Massachusetts, where I've lived every summer for the past decade or so, and which is the only state in the US where civil marriage is legal for everyone. Every now and again, I have to pinch myself. This is real? For me? It is hardly possible that it could be real for anyone. But me? After so long?
A brief personal history. In 1989, as a jejune junior editor at The New Republic, I got involved in an editorial argument about proposed domestic or civil partnerships for gay couples. The idea had emerged in the 1980s, in several major cities, partly because of the trauma of couples torn asunder by hostile relatives in the AIDS crisis. Some social conservatives were understandably worried that by setting up an institution like "domestic partnership," we were creating "marriage-lite", an institution that would spread to heterosexual couples and weaken the responsibilities and prestige of marriage itself. As a gay conservative, I found both arguments compelling. I saw the pressing need to give gay couples legal protection, but I could also see the danger of a easy-come-easy-go pseudo-marriage could pose for the society as a whole. The solution, however, seemed blindingly obvious to me. "Well, why not let gays get married as well?" I asked. "Isn't that the true conservative position?"
My liberal bosses loved the idea of irritating conservatives with a conservative argument. So I obliged. The cover illustration was the first time a major magazine had put two guys on a wedding cake on the cover. And the piece created a mini-sensation. I enjoyed the buzz, but the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that this was not just a necessary change, but a long-overdue one. With straight marriage no longer legally linked to children, and with gays desperately needing integration into their own families and society, it seemed like a no-brainer to me. It was a philosophical decision, not a personal one. I was in my twenties and had no intention of marrying myself. In fact, I was a pretty swinging bachelor. But it was the principle that mattered.
Almost two decades later, after years of intense political debate, after years of personal activism, court cases, Congressional testimony, threatened constitutional amendments, civil disobedience, and a global revolution in marriage rights, the political has now become personal for me. It's a week away. And I officially have the jitters.
We decided on the most minimalist wedding possible - basically close family only. We're getting married in the same place - a beach house - that we're having the tiny reception. It's a block down the beach from where we live. We have the license, the judge, the clothes, the menu, the photographer (although he hasn't been in touch lately - gulp), and the rings. I've written out the civil liturgy. We've settled on the vows. I should relax now, right?
But the other night it hit me for the first time that this is really about to happen. I guess I just put it out of my head until it's only a matter of a week or so away. My fiance, Aaron, and I have lived together for three years. I have no qualms about our actual relationship. For me, this is for life. But standing up in front of my family and my spouse's and saying the vows out loud has me in a state of butterflies. I can go on TV and barely break a sweat, but I'm terrified of performing in front of my own family. I'm scared I'll lose it. I bawled through the last same-sex wedding I went to. When I was diagnosed with HIV fourteen years ago, I assumed this day would never come. And now it has, the emotional impact is a little hard to measure.
You fight for something, never expecting it to happen, let alone to you, and then it does, and it can overwhelm. Taking yes for an answer can be harder than no. Maybe it's a function of having over-thought this issue for so long; maybe it's just handling a big family occasion of any sort (Christmas is bad enough). Maybe it's a lifetime in which my actual relationships have always been private, or so targeted by political enemies I've become very defensive. Maybe I'm scared that two decades of passionate advocacy in theory is easier than a simple act in practice. But whatever the reason, going public with my husband - even in front of our supportive families - is suddenly much tougher than I expected. My throat is a little dry. My stomach is a little unsettled.
My sister emailed support:
"Don't worry, it is natural to stress, I practically had a baby the day before mine! 75 to the church, another 75 in the evening, the food, the flowers, the photos, all those people watching me! On the day it just felt like a dream, I felt like I was letting out a huge breath all day, like that waiting to exhale, I exhaled all day and it was wonderful."
Our wedding is much smaller. My old friend and marriage advocate Evan Wolfson reassured me as well:
"You're supposed to be in a zombie-state till the beauty of it breaks through."
Are zombies nervous? They never seem to be. They just stagger forward. Oh, well. Here goes ...
"I, Andrew, take you, Aaron,
to be no other than yourself.
Loving what I know of you,
trusting what I don't yet know,
with respect for your integrity,
and faith in your abiding love for me,
through all our years,
and in all that life may bring us,
for better or worse,
for richer or poorer,
in sickness and in health,
till death do us part,
I accept you as my husband
and pledge my love to you."
So revolutionary for some; so simple for me. For the first time in my adult life, I will have a home.