My first-hand look at gay marriage


UNLIKE MOST PEOPLE, I’VE actually been to a gay wedding. It was about four years ago, when my cousin Michael married his long-time partner Anthony. The ceremony was pretty incredible, in no small part because it was in Maui, on a patio at the top of a 300-foot cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The weather, unsurprising for Hawaii, was absolutely perfect. All around, a pretty amazing setting.

I was one of about 25 guests, all close friends and family of Michael and Anthony. We wore shorts and Hawaiian shirts. When the ceremony was complete the pastor draped leis over our heads. The reception, if you could call it that, began immediately. We talked and drank wine and laughed and watched the sun set together. It was really neat.

It’s an ancient tradition for friends and loved ones to attend weddings – not just to eat good food, but to act as witnesses and to support the couple as they enter their union. Our presence helps to invest the vows with the emotional meaning that their solemn words imply. After all, it means an awful lot to make a lifelong commitment with all your loved ones watching you do it. Also significant, just by being there we tell the couple that we support them and their joining. We convey to them that we will do what we can, in our small roles, to make their union work for the rest of all of our lives.

Michael and Anthony, of course, are gay men. Legally, according to the state of Hawaii and all other states in our nation at the time, their ceremony had no significance at all. We called it a wedding, but it was nothing more than a gathering, a get-together, in the eyes of the law. This we all know.

Yet paradoxically, for the very reason that this was a gay wedding, I felt my role as a witness and my act of support were that much more important. I believe that it was deeply meaningful for Michael and Anthony that my family and I were there – more meaningful, in a way, than even a typical wedding ceremony would be.

Even in my relatively open-minded, loving family, being gay has not been easy for Michael. He’s about 20 years older than me, and I remember how our family dealt with his sexuality when I was a kid. Or rather, how we didn’t deal with it. Michael didn’t talk about his homosexuality back then, and neither did anyone else. My parents, I now know, never even talked about it with each other. My brother and I put the pieces together on our own – it’s not hard to figure out that Michael is gay. But even then, it was the family secret that everyone knew.

That day in Maui, our family put behind us our days of secrecy and accepted Michael actively rather than silently. I stood with my brother, and my parents, and I saw my cousin so happy, and I felt proud to be a part of that ceremony. And I felt so tremendously proud of my parents because I know that for so many cultural and personal reasons their journey to openness and acceptance must have been much harder than mine ever was.

Many people believe that gay weddings like Michael and Anthony’s should remain unrecognized by the law. Some believe that gay weddings would harm society by devaluing marriage. I say to those people that their argument is not only factually unsupported but logically absurd. Gay people want to marry because they take marriage seriously, not because they don’t. Or maybe I should ask opponents this: how exactly would recognizing Michael and Anthony’s wedding harm anyone?

If opponents want to argue that gay marriage will cause broader social harms, I think it’s fair to ask that they provide us with something besides histrionics and lamentations. How about some empirical evidence, some study, some statistic, some reason to believe that legally sanctioned gay marriage will have any legally cognizable affect on anyone except gays who want to marry? And by legally cognizable, I mean that “a lot of people will be pissed off if gays can marry” doesn’t count. Just like “I’d be thrilled if black people weren’t allowed in my neighborhood,” policy arguments supported only by personal animosity thankfully get you nowhere under our laws.

Many people also say that gay marriage is immoral. I disagree. In this magnificent country of ours, however, I respect their right to disagree with me vehemently on what is moral. I do not accept, however, that anyone’s vision of morally justified discrimination should be encoded in our laws. If opponents can’t demonstrate how secular society would be harmed by gay marriage, then I ask them to take their moral arguments out of our legislatures. And it’s probably too much to ask, but maybe when gay marriage opponents finally take their moral arguments elsewhere, they could dust off the Constitution they’ve been walking over.

Chris Giovinazzo’s column appears bi-weekly.

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