I’m finally married to my wife!
A little less than a month after our wedding last summer, my wife and I moved from Massachusetts to Tennessee. With the move, the legal standing of our union went from firm to shaky. Although we’ve found Knoxville to be a friendly, welcoming place where both the laws and attitudes toward same-sex partnerships are relatively modern, Tennessee consistently ranks among the worst states for gays and lesbians because of its commitment to blocking any sort of recognition or protections for LGBTQ people. For the most part, ensconced in our tolerant little college town, the punitive state laws didn’t affect us much. True, we were expected to file three separate tax returns, but lucky for us, we avoided this by not making enough money to have to file any state taxes whatsoever. In the local hospitals, we were never very likely to be barred from one another’s sickbeds, and we still don’t own enough property to worry about what happens to it in the unlikely event of one of us dying suddenly.
But there has been one big worry hanging over our heads: My wife and I would like to start a family, but there’s no way to jointly adopt a child here, and if one of us conceived with donor sperm, the other would have been blocked from becoming a legal second parent of our own son or daughter. Instead, we’d have been forced to rely on a guardianship agreement just to ensure that custody of our child would pass to its other parent in the event of the birth mother’s death. Meanwhile, the second parent would have had no legal standing and no avenue for attaining it.
Now, with the latest decision of the court, that’s all in the past. My wife and I can grow our little family without fear. Five justices looked deep into the U.S. Constitution and found that Tennessee can’t bar same-sex couples like us from all the rights and obligations civil marriage bestows on heterosexuals. It’s a great day to be gay, married, and living in a red state!
My joy over the decision is real, as is my relief. And still, somehow I can’t quite help wishing that this process had gone differently. Throughout Tennessee and states like it, I know there will be anger and resentment toward the court and all LGBTQ people. The ruling is to be imposed unwillingly on states in which attitudes are changing—but not quite fast enough to have made it unnecessary for the Supreme Court to step in.
If it had been up to me, it wouldn’t have gone down that way. The arguments that gay men and lesbians deserve to be treated with dignity under the law would have persuaded ordinary people as swiftly, or more, than they persuaded judges, and a wave of legislation allowing for same-sex marriages would have made equality by judicial fiat unnecessary. If I’d had my way, Tennesseans would have seen through the lies spread by the religious right and welcomed gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender folks, and others in the spirit of true Christian fellowship long ago. Instead, many in the Christian right will continue to define their faith primarily by whom it opposes and whom it keeps out, and grow even more bitter and resistant in the face of their loss. And, now that the marriage question has been decided, it may slow the pace of change on equally important, but less flashy and symbolic issues in the LGBTQ community.
Still, if the past is any guide to the future, tolerance will only increase throughout the nation now that marriage equality is a fait accompli. This has been the trend going back more than a decade now, to 2004, when my home state became the first to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and I hope and expect this trend will continue in red states in the coming years. For my part, I’ll continue to be a married gay ambassador to a part of the country that remains unfamiliar and somewhat uncomfortable with queerness, but now I’ll finally be able to do it with all of the stability and safety that a state-sanctioned marriage provides. Truly, that is a thing worth celebrating.