Category: Marriage

Why Marriage Matters

Dear Christopher

While sitting with Dad in rainy West Virginia in July, we went through the album you and Mark put together to celebrate our 50th Anniversary.  So many years, so many memories.


One photo stood out to me in light of our recent conversations about the Supreme
Court decision on marriage equality.  There Dad and I were all dressed to the nines going out to dinner with our friends in Florida during a 1966 car trip south for Easter vacation.  Besides looking so young it brought back memories of the travel through the South, the shock of seeing “colored” and “white” drinking fountains and restrooms.  It was shortly after the Civil Rights legislation was passed, but not quite implemented yet.

Of course after years of watching the Civil Rights movement right in front of my eyes on TV I certainly knew of conditions in the South.  I was so very impressed with the courage of black and white people who came together to fight and even die for the cause of greater freedom and dignity.

Yet even in our Northern living rooms and classrooms I saw discrimination against African-Americans.  As a first year teacher at an integrated school in the city, I remember my chagrin when another teacher said something to the effect that black kids can’t learn.  And there were jokes about these students when white teachers got together in bars and living rooms after hours. I remember Dad and I having all night debates with family members about the justice of greater rights for African-Americans. Some thought there were too many breaks being given by that “crazy” President Johnson.

But coming face to face with reality of separate and unequal in the South was sobering.  On the back roads we saw many shacks with poor black people living in poverty.  Our white Cadillac, compliments of Gram’s loan, stood out for its width and its New York plates which brought many suspicious stares from white Southerners.  Were we those bleeding heart agitators instead of four kids looking for Florida fun for a week?

After the passage of legislation there were opinion pieces critical of the strategy of focusing on voting rights for African-Americans, there were other issues more vital commentators said.   There was criticism of the move to integrate public places like restaurants and even restrooms.  More important issues the naysayers said.  But in that spring of 1966 traveling though the South I saw first-hand the insult to dignity to some of our citizens.

The issue of dignity seemed very clear just two weeks ago when my dear friends, Jimmie and Geri, were married in front of family and friends.  It was a perfect day.  The sun shone in the garden and they were walked down a short path escorted by their family. All of us dabbed the tears from our eyes.  Jimmie, a wonderful poet, and Geri her dynamic partner of 35 years, could finally be recognized as a married couple by their state.  Yes, most of us knew of their love over the years.  Yes, a few years ago they were married in Canada, but now their own country and their own state publically recognized them.  It reminded me how long this has taken to be real.

At the beginning of their relationship, 35 years ago, Jimmie and Geri had to be secretive, especially in work situations.  Geri’s work in the business world made it hard for them to be out in that venue.  As a teacher Jimmie could be freer. Some years ago they were featured as a gay couple in a story in the Buffalo Spree, a glossy magazine that has a large following in the Western New York area. The Buffalo area tends to be very conservative.  Geri has private clients she works with in the business arena.  So it was brave for her to be out.  They have seen lots of changes in their years together. On that day it felt a privilege to celebrate marriage with them.

It made me think how things have changed so much in the 20 years since you came out.  During the party Geri said to me, “This means a lot to you doesn’t it.” Yes it does.  And each time I see and hear of a gay couple married, it makes me understand the importance of that public affirmation.  It is much more than taxes, or even visitation in the hospital, and parental rights, though all of those things are important.  It is the recognition of a common humanity.

I can see all the more clearly why African Americans fought so hard for voting rights, and integrated public venues.  It makes clear the recognition of their very humanity.  And that is what marriage equality does for you and Patrick, for Jimmie and Geri, and for all the LGBT community.

Love, Mom

SCOTUS 6.26.2015: Readers Respond

Hello Our Family Matters readers! Happy Pride! 

Below you will find letters Mom and I wrote regarding the Supreme Court’s historic decision on marriage equality.  Even though we were together on Friday to witness and celebrate, I left that afternoon for Long Island to visit Patrick’s family, so an exchange of letters was in order.  

We are interested in your reaction.  Please leave a comment below with your thoughts and feelings. As always, thanks for your continued support and interest!


Dear Christopher

What a day! I never dreamed we would reach this day in my lifetime. Marriage Equality across our United State!! Glad we were together. Through my tears we could celebrate.

I talked to Isabella about how long her parents have been married. She thought it was 20 years, but I told her it has been 14 years since that August day in Seattle. All of us East Coasters who saw you and Patrick grow up traveled west to celebrate your union. A moment of grace we all thought. I think that so many of us remember it fondly partly because we knew that the state would not recognize you two and we wanted to be sure we did. (Plus it was a darn good party.)

That does not make the fact of not being able to officially marry any easier. I see how legal standing makes such a difference. To say to the world you are a family is so important. As one of the commentators said today, this happened because you and thousands like you took the brave step to be honest with your family and every one else you know. Isn’t that what the President said, a series of small pebbles made huge change. I like to think about our family as being one of those pebbles that helped tear down the battlements of fear and ignorance.

Some years ago I was finishing up my semester at Buffalo State. The office was hot and stuffy. I was copying some last minute items for my classes. A colleague of mine, a man I had know for many years, came into the office. Before I could say hello he said,

“I saw your opinion piece in the paper about your gay son and the Catholic Church’s lack of acceptance.” I waited for what I thought would be compliment. So many people had given me positive feedback I admit I was becoming a bit used to it. Others said nothing, which was fine by me.

But this man raised his voice, “How can you believe that homosexuality is anything other than a grave sin according to our Church? What can I tell my grandchildren other than it is a mortal sin?”

Astounded, I answered, “Your grandchildren will be who they are.” He made me even angrier at the Church’s position.

But today I was almost proud to be Catholic. One of the plaintiffs gave thanks to God. He said he and his husband were loyal Catholics and he felt God surely had a hand in this decision. I am not such a faithful Catholic, but I do believe the “arc of freedom bends toward justice.” And I still hope the Holy Spirit is at work in the world. That bigoted colleague, I hope his grandchildren have bent him toward the light.

Love, Mom

Dear Mom,

Soon after the news of Friday’s decision was handed down, I received a text from my colleague Kim: “After Prop 8, I clearly remember telling my GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) students that I wouldn’t see this day in my lifetime but I had faith that they would see it. So happy I was wrong.”

A bit later my friend David wrote to say “This is a great day to be an American. Haven’t felt that way too often!”

In his statement to the media after the decision was handed down, James Obergefell, the lead plaintiff on the case, said “It’s my hope that the term ‘gay marriage’ will become a thing of the past. And our nation will be better off because of it.”

I couldn’t agree more with all of these sentiments. As I’ve said countless times, I never imagined I would see this day in our lifetime. It does make me immensely proud (Happy Pride Ya’ll!). And it is my sincere hope that our country can move past the division of “gay marriage” and “traditional marriage” and move towards marriage.

It was one other quote that I heard on Friday that resonated the most with me. You and I were listening to the coverage in your living room, while Jordan and Isabella were occupying themselves with screens and Legos. It was fantastic to be with you, celebrating this historic moment. Now here was our president speaking from the Rose Garden, celebrating along with us.

imageThe last section of his remarks struck a chord. Obama said the ruling was the “consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, who talked to parents — parents who loved their children no matter what. Folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts and stayed strong and came to believe in themselves and who they were, and slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.”

We—you, Dad, Patrick, Mark, Lillian, Aunt Judy and I—all contributed to this moment. I had enough faith in you all to share who I really was, knowing that you would “love (me) no matter what.” (I also had enough faith in my colleagues and students to come out at work.) All the members of my family embraced me, my spouse, and my children. You each have challenged colleagues, friends, and other family members to see the love that Patrick and I share is no different just because we are gay.

We uncovered as a family the power of truth, integrity, and love, and in a small way contributed to a seismic shift in the history of our nation. Our example was a pebble, and in our way we showed those in our world that love is love.

That is something to be truly proud of this June.

Much love,

Nail Polish Does Not a Woman Make

Dear Mom,

In 1976, after Bruce Jenner won the decathlon, he transitioned into the role of a sports mega star, the (as many commentators called him) World’s Greatest Athlete, gracing the covers of many magazines, newspaper, and yes, even the Wheaties cereal box.

I remember that cereal box well.  I was eight years-old in 1976, and although I didn’t have the words to name it, I knew that in some fundamental way I was different from most other boys my age.  I saw Jenner’s image in the morning and was fascinated.  To me, he personified all that was male: chiseled features, handsome face, and those well-defined muscles.  He was definitely a sex-symbol, one of the first public figures I secretly drooled over.

DATE TAKEN: rcvd 1996---The 1976 Wheaties box featuring Bruce Jenner after he won the decatholon at the Montreal Summer Olympics. ORG XMIT: UT24783
DATE TAKEN: rcvd 1996—The 1976 Wheaties box featuring Bruce Jenner after he won the decatholon at the Montreal Summer Olympics. ORG XMIT: UT24783
Or maybe at eight I wasn’t drooling, but I was certain that I felt differently about this paradigm of manhood than Mark, who was sitting next to me at the breakfast table.

Forty years later, Jenner is again in the public eye, this time gracing the cover of Vanity Fair as a sexed-up babe named Caitlyn.  What strikes me about this photo is not just that she is buying into a certain version of what it means to be female, which may or may not fit for all women. Rather, it is also that once again, this individual is the extreme: hyper-sexual, completely stereotypical, a sex-symbol.  Except that this time, it’s the exact opposite of Wheaties Bruce from 1976.

I spoke with Colette about the Vanity Fair cover this week, and she pointed out that nobody really looks like an Annie Liebowitz photo, particularly one on the cover of a popular contemporary magazine.  “Good for her,” she said.  “If you look that great at 65 and they’re willing to splash you over the cover of Vanity Fair, more power to you.” Perhaps, she went on, what women should be focusing on is the fact that, for the first time, a 65 year-old woman, who happens to look really great, is gracing the cover of the magazine.  Why not fight for more representation of older women (cis- or transgender) on the cover. Where’s Helen Miren? Susan Sarandon? Meryl Streep?

I also spent some time this week watching the interview that Bruce gave to Diane Sawyer on 20/20. What I heard and saw was an individual who struggled for years—a lifetime really—grappling with the issues of gender identity.  He described how, after placing 10th in the 1972 decathlon, he trained every day with the singular goal of winning the gold in 1976.  He discussed how he was also determined to prove his own manhood, as if becoming strong, athletic, and a medal winner would somehow convince himself as much as others of his essential male-ness.

I heard in that interview an acknowledgement that, of course, it ended up proving nothing, at least to himself.  The struggle to understand his essential gender identity lasted years and years, and was fraught with fear, depression, and anxiety.  What should he tell the women he loved? Would he lose the love of his siblings and parents if he expressed the inner feelings of discomfort with his male identity? If he lived his life as a woman, would he risk hurting, and perhaps even losing, his children?

Over the course of ninety minutes, Jenner does make a few comments that seem to reinforce traditional, perhaps outdated stereotypes. He mentions that his “brain is much more female than it is male” and that he wants to wear nail polish until it chips off.  But these are isolated moments in a long conversation about his experiences as one human being struggling to come to terms with this elusive concept called gender. I was moved by his story of struggle and survival as he ultimately found a path to an authentic life in an obviously imperfect, sexist (homophobic, racist, and on and on) society.

I’m sure many women—like yourself—look and Caitlyn’s photos and cringe, thinking “Really? After all these years, this is what it means to be female?” But the (then still Bruce) Jenner in the interview was describing a process of trying to figure out how to come to terms with his soul as a human, and how that could be expressed.

He was—and still is—a work in progress. He made repeated references at that point to “she,” the woman he would become publically in the near future, and yet started the interview by telling Sawyer that, for all intents and purposes, he was a woman.  He offered to dine with Sawyer as “she,” but would only do so off camera.  He promised to speak with Sawyer again in a year, recognizing that it would be a year of many changes.

Adding to all the uncertainty were distinctions about sexual orientation versus gender identity, the fear and uncertainty involved in discussing these issues with his ten children, and the deplorable harassment he received in the last several years at the hands of paparazzi and comedians. All of this because the experiences and histories of transgender individuals are only now something that many—perhaps Sawyer and her audience, along with a great many in the LGBT community—are beginning to understand.

As a gay man dealing with my own struggles to come to terms with my sexual orientation over the last 40 years, I identified with the language that Jenner used in that interview.  I recognized his struggles with depression, his tentative steps to accept his difference (he was on hormone therapy for 5 years in the 1980s), his relationships that ended in a great deal of hurt for a series of women, and the relief and freedom found in acceptance.

It seems to me that Jenner and other transgender individuals have a great deal to teach us.  We all need to be thinking and discussing what it means to be male, what it means to be female, what it means to be human.  Without the willingness of the Jenners and Laverne Coxs and our friends and neighbors to try to explain the crazy territory of what gender identity means (not gender expression and not sexual orientation—all three of these are separate characteristics), we will never come to a new place of understanding, a new place of acceptance.

This week the Supreme Court will most likely release its opinion in the case it heard this spring on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.  Many court experts expect that there will be at least some form of victory for same-sex marriage.  Of course, it is my firm hope that is the case.  My worry, in the aftermath, is that the wonderful discussion we have been having in society around sexual orientation will fade if civil marriage rights for all individuals regardless of sexual orientation are affirmed.  There is still so much understanding that needs to happen, still so many misconceptions, so much hate.  Just as with Jenner, we need to keep having that difficult discussion, not closing ourselves off into our respective camps.

I think before we close the doors on identity—whether it be sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression—we need more people like Jenner who are willing to open doors.  My hope is that Jenner will use her public platform to bring more attention to issues of gender in our society.  The Caitlyn Jenner I have seen thus far is doing just that.  I hope she does more than just appear as a sex symbol on the cover of a magazine, but given who she is and the way her journey through life has unfolded, I’m not surprised that was her first appearance as “she.”

Love Christopher