I got married. I always wanted to get married. In high school we had to plan a full fantasy wedding and build a wedding album. I chose Freddie Prinze Jr. and we had a glorious Christmas-themed wedding complete with a Christmas tree wedding cake. I planned to complete this life event no later than age 25 and already had the colors, music and guest list sorted out. But there was a sadness to the whole thing, as in the back of my mind I knew it wouldn’t be real, or at least legally recognized. The idea of a ceremony without substance behind it felt hollow and defeating.
By the time I developed my conservative position on most topics, same-sex marriage was well on its way to becoming a legal standard in states across the country, mine included. I always supported gay marriage as a concept, but over time my interest grew more towards the method of implementation than the outcome itself. I argued then as I do now that marriage is a positive force and an answer to the many social concerns in the LGBT community. Financial security, legal recognition and ease of property transfer were and still are benefits to the institution. Regardless of the nature of opposition to gay marriage by conservatives, I never encountered anyone opposed to the adaptation of basic legal protections for same-sex couples, and that mattered more to me than the word “marriage” did.
But all of this was experienced in the abstract world of political discourse, and until I found myself fantasizing about what it might be like to actually be married to my boyfriend, it always felt distant from my reality. From flying to England to meet his family to driving several hours in the snow to meet my own, I discovered the humor and joy in the simple rituals of dating. My friends, coworkers and online companions in politics embraced us effortlessly, and no matter how many ridiculous and cliché couple selfies we took, there were plenty of likes and encouragement. I came to enjoy the nodding in understanding from more seasoned people in relationships and relished the day-to-day activity exclusive to a serious commitment. Marriage just seemed natural.
I have always been a private person when it came to dating. Holding on to old prejudices and fears surrounding how people might judge me kept me from really introducing romantic partners into my regular life. Before social media this was much easier to accomplish, and my family never met anyone I considered seriously until now. My anxiety, driven by years of media warning me of rejection and isolation, kept my happiness in the exclusive world of other gay people and very close friends. I just never felt safe holding hands in public or sharing my life beyond the tight control I insisted on holding.
But that changed. Over time I discovered that acceptance tends to come slowly but steadily as people see your life unfold in real time. Every picture I posted, every inside joke and casual reference, every innocent, unguarded moment of affection in public opened up my realization that everything I grew up hearing was simply wrong. Online, my friends embraced us with such affection it surprised me a little. I honestly did not expect people to be so happy for us. Across the spectrum in my personal life and through political Twitter people openly and warmly celebrated with us as our relationship grew. If anyone held any opposition to our relationship for religious or socially conservative reasons, they certainly never mentioned it.
In my day-to-day life, coworkers, friends and acquaintances from long ago all dedicated moments of their time to making sure he and I felt loved and appreciated. Both of our families embraced us individually without hesitation as well. Mine in particular took a great deal of pleasure in welcoming us into the family, insisting on referring to him as a new son. My nephews and nieces embraced him and called him “uncle Jacob” without a moment’s pause. The comfort level and support admittedly felt strange to my perspective that always anticipated polite hostility and cool tolerance. It turns out the fantasy scenarios I had played in my head for all these years surrounding just about everybody existed exclusively there.
In the regular world, our coupling seemed so profoundly mundane as to be absurd in context to what one reads in LGBT media on a daily basis. Stores, restaurants, and random passersby never seemed to blink twice at seeing he and I hugging, leaning close in to each other or sharing a private laugh or quick kiss. Visiting a theme park, the zoo, an aquarium and even getting our portrait drawn just felt, well, normal. I found myself forgetting that I was “different” and falling into comfortable relaxation with the man I was quickly falling in love with. Without awareness of what others around me might be thinking, all that mattered was that moment with him.
The day of the wedding was certainly different than I imagined as a teenager. We decided to go with a simple service outside with just my family. Setting up the details with courthouse clerks and scheduling an officiant felt similar to renting a car. No one hesitated when I used the word “boyfriend” or a male name after “fiancé.” The marriage license process was enjoyable, and like most interactions with the government, fairly tedious. We chatted and gave our information and paperwork and the clerk didn’t seem to notice we were both men. The straight couple right before us had the exact same experience. It was, to be as clear as possible, perfectly equal.
But I had an interesting realization throughout the process. Despite literally everyone’s best intentions and efforts, with kindness and openness throughout, it was pretty obvious we were breaking new ground. There is no good way to describe two men in a marriage together. Are we each other’s “husbands?” Are we “partners?” I despise the phrase “significant other.” Right before we said our vows, the officiant asked us for our preference, and I recognized that the whole thing was slightly silly. We were clearly taking something that did not belong to us and making it our own. Neither good nor bad, just honest.
While the attitude has been a sense of entitled outrage from the LGBT community towards this topic, I find myself far more grateful to a tolerant society offering me and my husband the opportunity to join in on something beautiful and meaningful. As a citizen I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect legal equality and certain legal securities and benefits afforded exclusively to married couples were perfectly fine to seek out. Today I have the ability to combine his and my life together in a way that brings us both assurance and comfort. But it really is the goodwill and acceptance of everyone else around us that we are so enthusiastically welcomed into the institution itself, despite the method in which it was imposed legally.
No one there acted against their will. We were not asserting legal entitlement or demanding something from a person morally opposed to the act. I specifically asked the officiant if she felt comfortable marrying us, as I did not want her to feel obligated to do so out of concern for an accusation of discrimination. While legally obligated to do so, she was perfectly open and genuinely excited to participate. Outside of the framework of natural equality, open tolerance and societal libertarianism, I may never have had this opportunity to join my life to a person of my choosing. I think that matters a great deal.
In my journey I firmly believe that acceptance comes naturally through daily interaction and witnessing the genuine, human experiences of others. No one in my life was forced to embrace me. They all chose to because they love me. I can honestly say that neither I nor my husband have experienced anything coming close to hostility, discrimination or intolerance in our everyday lives. I don’t think this is a result of legal demands or imposed social change. I just think most people are simply happy that we are happy and really, that’s all that should matter. When people are allowed to express kindness without coercion, it comes effortlessly.
I share this because we far too often hear nothing but the extreme and negative from LGBT media. Certainly not everyone will have the same accepting experience we have had. But it bears witness to the reality that most people are kind, generous, accepting and genuinely pleased to see other people happy. We have to remember that the good outweighs any bad that may exist, and, as gay people integrate further into normalcy and the mundane, we must remember that we were first welcomed here by people who love us. We don’t have a right to demand space, but we are fortunate to be surrounded by people who offer it to us anyway. I am grateful to everyone who welcomed us into their lives and gave us such open and genuine friendship and encouragement. Thank you for being so happy for us. I think this truly represents America and I am lucky to live in a country where my natural liberty and freedom are not only understood but defended and celebrated.