My Friend Reacts to Michigan Marriage Ruling

On Friday morning I took my dear friend Todd Heywood to the hospital for a medical procedure. He was going to be sedated, so someone needed to drive him there and back home. When the procedure was done and they called me in to see him, he was still very sedated and groggy, but the first thing he asked me was whether the ruling in the case challenging Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage had come down yet. It had not, but it did later that day.

I was a bit surprised by that question. He and I had talked about gay marriage before and it was never a subject that interested him much. I mean, he’s always been in favor of it happening, but had no interest in getting married himself. He thought there were far more important issues facing LGBT people, like discrimination protections and a number of better policies to deal with HIV. But the prospect of seeing marriage equality come to Michigan had suddenly become more important to him than he ever thought it would.

Later that day he met with a group of gay students at Lansing Community College, where he used to be a member of the board of trustees. He wrote on his website about his own surprising reaction when talking about the ruling to them:

It is no secret that marriage has never been on the top of my list of to do things for LGBT equality — in Michigan or nationally. I think economic security is much more important and believe amending nondiscrimination laws require much more urgent attention. I also believe the increasing rates of HIV infections among young men who have sex with men are a crisis and deserving of the same level of attention and action as the marriage movement has gained.

But there I was, trying to tell my editor at the weekly gay newspaper what happened in the room — about the cheers, the tears, the utter happiness of a room of LGBT people and allies — and I chocked, my eyes burned, and the tears came. Right there on Capitol Avenue in Downtown Lansing. I was three blocks from the Capitol building, and standing in front of the Student Services Building at Lansing Community College. I was literally standing on the same spot where, some 20 plus years ago, I held a press conference to discuss my pending, possible expulsion from the college for daring to pass out condoms without permission.

I was standing in front of the building where, weeks after the college relented and did not punish me for passing out condoms, the student government adopted a then comprehensive nondiscrimination policy including sexual orientation. I was standing less than a block from where the Board of Trustees voted months later, unanimously, to adopt sexual orientation officially into the college’s nondiscrimination policy — becoming the second community college in Michigan to do so…

Most importantly, I realized, I cried because this ruling came 18 years too late. David died in 1996 from complications of HIV — in fact, he died as I stepped onto the stage for opening night of the Jackson Shakespeare Festival to perform. And when his mother and I cleaned out his closet, we found his Christmas present for me for the coming December. It was a wedding band. Simple gold. I wear it often, but never discuss it.

Even if David had proposed to me, we would not have been able to legally say “I do.” And I cried today because that was true.

And I cried because I realized tomorrow, 18 years too late, I can finally visit David’s grave and say “Yes. I will marry you.”

And I cried reading that. After the ruling came down Friday evening, I watched my friends post to Facebook about their plans to finally get married, couples who had been together for years but could not have their commitment recognized by the state. I saw other friends who are legally allowed to preside over weddings offering to perform the ceremonies this weekend, free of charge and with little advanced notice.

This is what I keep trying to say to people about this. These are real people with real relationships whose love runs as deep as anyone else’s. These are couples who are committed to one another, who raise children together, who experience all the joys and heartaches and disappointments and achievements that any other parent does. Their love is the same as ours and they should be recognized for it on an equal basis.

And for those who decry this all as “moral relativism” I say bullshit. My position is not relativist, it is absolutist. I say without hesitation that as a matter of morality and decency, we cannot deny equal rights to LGBT people any longer. It is the moral thing to do, the ethical thing to do, the right thing to do. A few years ago, John Scalzi wrote perhaps the most eloquent defense of marriage equality I’ve ever seen.

I keep hearing how allowing gays to marry threatens marriage. Fine. Someone tell me how my marriage is directly threatened by two men marrying or two women marrying. Does their marriage make my marriage less legal? Does their love somehow compromise the love I feel for my wife, or she for me? Is the direct consequence of their marriage that my marriage and the commitment therein is manifestly lessened, compromised or broken? And if the answer to these questions is “no,” as it is, exactly how is marriage threatened?…

The institution of marriage lies in the union of souls; to discuss marriage in general without acknowledging that it exists because of marriages in particular is a pointless exercise. If no single marriage is directly affected by two men or two women getting married — if I and my neighbors and my family and friends and even my enemies are still well-ensconced in our individual marriages to our spouses — how is the institution of marriage harmed? No harm has come to its constituents, who are the institution…

On what grounds do I as a married person tell others who want to be married that they are undeserving of the joy and comfort I’ve found in the married state? What right do I have morally to say that I deserve something that they do not? If I believe that every American deserves equal rights, equal protections and equal responsibilities and obligations under the law, how may I with justification deny my fellow citizens this one thing? Why must I be required to denigrate people I know, people I love and people who share my life to sequester away a right of mine that is not threatened by its being shared? Gays and lesbians were at my wedding and celebrated that day with me and my wife and wished us nothing less than all the happiness we could stand for the very length of our lives. On what grounds do I refuse these people of good will the same happiness, the same celebration, the same courtesy?

I support gay marriage because I support marriage. I support gay marriage because I support equal rights under the law. I support gay marriage because I want to deny those who would wall off people I know and love as second-class citizens. I support gay marriage because I like for people to be happy, and happy with each other. I support gay marriage because I love to go to weddings, and this means more of them. I support gay marriage because my marriage is strengthened rather than lessened by it — in the knowledge that marriage is given to all those who ask for its blessings and obligations, large and small, until death do they part. I support gay marriage because I should. I support gay marriage because I am married.

I’m not married, but I support gay marriage too.

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  • John Pieret

    I think it might be a good exercise to compile biographies of all the plaintiffs in the vasious SSM cases to show their love, commitment, and, most of all, just how ordinary their lives are but for that one thing that the bigots focus on: who they happen to love. Sometimes the judges do a good job of pointing that out but even then the stories are sketchy. I think it would be a powerful argument in favor of giving everyone equal rights.

  • cptdoom

    Well, I certainly didn’t expect to have that much dust in my eye when I began reading the post – beautiful story, Ed. Reminds me in a way of the closing scene in Longtime Companion, when all the characters who have died return for a giant party on the beach.

    There are so many stories of loss and heartbreak from the plague years that will never be told or known except to those few who lived them and still survive – even some families will never know of their lost loved one’s true story. What’s ironic is that, in a very real way, the marriage movement came out of all that loss. It was during the time of AIDS, when partners were shut out of memorial services, barred from hospitals, deprived of homes and possessions because of the lack of legal protection, that the need for legal equality in marriage became clear. Same-sex marriage rights, nationwide, may be the best tribute we could ever create for all those who did not survive.

  • fmitchell

    Marriage was destroyed long ago when all this newfangled love and respect nonsense came into vogue. Marriage should be only between one white Puritan man and one white Puritan woman in the holy bonds of absolute master and subservient helpmeet, just like God wrote in the King James Bible, in plain English.

    You’re WRONG! Marriage is between one Muslim man and up to four Muslim women at a time!

    Infidels! Marriage is between one Hebrew man and any number of willing or unwilling women!

    FOOLS! Marriage is between one king and all the women in the tribe!

  • Ryan Jean

    A few years ago, John Scalzi wrote perhaps the most eloquent defense of marriage equality I’ve ever seen.

    That entry of his is from February 2004, which means it’s just over a decade old! That was at a time when eloquent defenses of marriage equality were rare and easily ignored, and he still put it better than most people today.

    It also happens to be new to me; I had no idea this was out there. I already had a lot of respect for Scalzi just from his actions when he was president of the Sci-Fi Writers of America (and also because his work is pretty-damn good), but he just went up a few more notches.

  • Michael Heath

    Ryan Jean writes:

    That entry of his is from February 2004, which means it’s just over a decade old! That was at a time when eloquent defenses of marriage equality were rare and easily ignored, and he still put it better than most people today.

    As a daily reader of both Ed Brayton and Andrew Sullivan back in 2004, it’s my observation that the volume of eloquent defenses in 2004 was prolific.

    And since 2004 was a key election year for gay rights (in a bad way), I heard a large volume of excellent pro-gay rights arguments that year and the year prior; even in the main-stream media. What I didn’t hear back in 2004, nor still do, is any media challenging anti-gay politicians they interview on their claiming to be all about liberty and the U.S. Constitution while simultaneously ignoring or avoiding the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. All along with a whole bunch of other false assertions those bigots make.

  • dannorth

    ” What right do I have morally to say that I deserve something that they do not?”

    But isn’t that purported right the bulk of the conservative agenda?

    Unfortunately I can’t give proper credit to the person who wrote that in the USA there are millions of people who would be happy to live in a cardboard box cooking sparrows with an old curtain rod if you could promise them that the black, latino or gay guy in in the box beside him will neither sparrow nor curtain rod but many conservatives seem more motivated to put down other people rather than to better their own lives.

  • marcus

    Todd Heywood …I choked, my eyes burned, and the tears came.”

    Funny I am neither gay nor from Michigan and I’m having a similar reaction to this story.

    Empathy. How the fuck does it work?

  • magistramarla

    Bravo to eloquent messages all around!