As New York ramps up to begin marrying gay and lesbian couples on Sunday, July 24, Frank Bruni of The New York Times shared a story of one gay couple and their two children that drove the importance of this new legislation all the way home for me. Much to my embarrassment, I found myself getting a little choked up as I read it on the subway today. You can read it by clicking here.
I like Bruni’s writing a lot. There’s a snappiness to his voice without being bitchy or condescending, and his intelligence and wit come through without ripping others a new one. Maybe when he wrote as the food critic for The Times it was a different story. My boyfriend brought him to my attention when we first started dating almost four years ago, and I’ve become a fan of how simply he outlines an argument and then finds a way to drive his viewpoint home. It’s an elegant style that I enjoy.
Bruni’s description of this family helped me to understand why marriage equality has had so many people jacked up for so long now. It’s been difficult for me to understand because I’m not so into viewing myself as “less than” other people just because I couldn’t get married. In general, I think that we Americans of all races, creeds, and orientations spend way too much time thinking up ways to view ourselves as “oppressed” in some way, shape, or form. I remember watching the march on Washington for marriage equality on television back in October 2009 and seeing someone holding a sign about being a second class citizen because he couldn’t marry. There I sat, on my comfortable couch in my nice apartment, drinking a glass of chocolate milk after an 18-mile run in preparation to run a marathon, and I thought, “Am I a second class citizen?” I certainly didn’t feel like one. And I’ve witnessed countless other examples of people assigning themselves the “second class” or “oppressed” title for reasons that I find trivial. Granted, I am white, male, and supposedly privileged out the whazoo, and I also recognize that one’s perception is one’s reality. So if a person thinks that he or she is oppressed, then I guess that’s fair. However, I do think that there’s a difference between oppression that is self-imposed and/or self-actualized and then accepted as truth versus the oppression that is institutionalized and historical and out of one’s control. Like the kind of oppression I witnessed on a trip to India, where I got my clock cleaned in terms of thinking that I had anything to feel oppressed about.
But this article by Frank Bruni got me today because he explains how two little girls have found it difficult to understand why their parents–two dads–were not married like their other friends’ parents. And for some reason that clicked for me. In my opinion, adults should be able to separate out the differences between institutionalized oppression and self-imposed oppression, and then make some decisions about how to navigate their way through the world with that information. Children cannot and should not have to make these distinctions, should not have to feel “less than” because their family hasn’t been validated and acknowledged. It’s these children that helped me to understand why this whole marriage equality argument makes sense and why for many gay and lesbian couples who have children or who want to have children that this legislation levels the playing field.
The “marriage nomenclature” is the only real way that most of our society understands “family.” It’s unfortunate that our view is so limited, as lots of different family constructions exist. I know that viewpoints are changing and expanding, but less than 400 years out from our Puritan roots isn’t quite enough time yet. Change like this is glacial, and we need to be patient. It’s part of the reason why I’ve stopped expecting “equality.” Puritans came to the New World to escape religious persecution (read “oppression”), I would imagine with the hopes that they could remain homogeneous and insular on this very large hunk of land. Clearly, that didn’t happen, and we’ve been trying to figure out how to co-exist with each other ever since. Americans don’t have a stranglehold on this ditty, as it’s the oldest conflict story in the world. Yet we Americans keep working for and demanding an egalitarianism that I’m not sure will ever exist.
However, if you read the article by Bruni, you’ll learn that seeing your two dads get married and having the cupcakes and icing to go with it may just help us to stick it out as the glaciers continue to shift and melt.