Defending marriage for myself - not from gay people

Posted: July 01, 2013

TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS ago this weekend, my husband and I vowed to love and cherish each other, for better or worse, until the moment either of us took our last breath.

That promise is the best one I ever made, though some years it's been easier to honor than others. My husband and I are different people today then we were 27 years ago, so keeping our vows has taken plenty of negotiating.

What's helped us stay together is that we remain, at our core, crazy about each other even when one of us is making the other one nuts.

Which has been often enough, trust me. Over the past 27 years (and speaking only for myself, since my husband deserves some privacy here), among the many things that threatened our bonds of matrimony were:

Pettiness and impatience. Money worries. Job stress. The exhaustion of parenthood. Illness. Caring for elderly parents. Aging. Pondering life's meaning and panicking that I've squandered the short time I have on this planet. Regret. Lack of gratitude. Neurosis. The death of people I love. Holding a grudge. Needing to be right.

You notice what's not on that list? Gay marriage.

So I'm delighted that the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade gay people from marrying, was repealed this week.

The act was idiotic, having nothing to do with protecting heterosexual marriage and everything to do with labeling homosexual relations as immoral. Beyond that, DOMA's very name implied that people outside of a marriage have more power to keep it solid than those within it.

Lord, if only it were that simple.

Over the past 27 years, the only thing that my marriage has ever needed defending from is the nutty behavior of me and husband.

And what's nurtured our marital union? Certainly it's not been the absence of gay marriage. It's been:

Kindness. Laughter. Admitting when we're wrong. Getting therapy to find out why it's so hard to admit when we're wrong. Prayers. Saying "I love you" even when we're not feeling very loving. Working on a solution when we're sick of working on a solution. Asking for help. More laughter. Basically, staying in the marriage game even when the stands are empty, the floodlights have been turned off and the crickets have come out for the night.

Don't get me wrong. I wish I could blame someone else when we fail in these respects. I wish, every time our marriage gets hard, I could point to married gay people or some other easy scapegoat and say, "It's their fault. They've destroyed the sanctity of marriage."

Doing so would let me off the hook to do the tough, grown-up work of committed love - which takes courage, affection, vulnerability, imagination, humor, acceptance, forgiveness and every other virtue that doesn't come easily when you're caught up in emotional vices like fear, worry, anger and spite.

But gay married people can't destroy the sanctity of my marriage or anyone else's, even if they absurdly wanted to. And you don't have to just take it from me. The Supreme Court threw out a challenge to California's gay-marriage law because the people suing to get the law overturned couldn't prove they had standing. They couldn't show that gay marriage could hurt them or their marriages.

On the other hand, if gay married people were to take the blame for bad marriages, wouldn't it stand to reason that they'd also get to take credit for the good ones?

In that case, my husband would just be a guy who'd done what some gay couple told him to do, not a man who acted out of love for me and our dreams for ourselves as a couple.

And me? I'd be the stooge who took her marching orders from outside of her own heart.

So bye-bye, DOMA. The marriages of committed couples - heterosexual and homosexual alike - don't need defending as a matter of law. The pride I feel today, looking back at my 27-year union, and knowing how hard my husband and I have worked to rack up these years together, is ours and ours alone. Depriving others of their right to marry all these years has had nothing to with the fact that my husband and I have cared enough about each other and the family we've created to work as hard as we have to keep our union solid.

All the good times and all the bumps in the road - so many of each that I've lost count - are all our own. And for that I am thankful beyond words.

May every committed couple, gay or straight, feel the same gratitude.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

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