3 months now my marriage is recognized and still I’m waiting for guests to arrive at the reception

Daddy’s Day at Charlie’s church-based preschool class. The man who plays the title role in our grandson’s life can’t get off work for the hour-long program. Dave and I shoulder grandfatherly duties and attend in his stead. Charlie’s mom ushers us to the classroom door, chats briefly with the teacher, then leaves. Charlie takes over from there.

“This is my Papa,” the four-year-old says, pointing to Dave. He turns to me. “And this is my Iso Papa.”

The teacher laughs. “Your evil papa?”

Charlie looks daggers at her. “EESO-Papa,” he says, and leads us over to a stack of wooden blocks.

Maybe the teacher spoke her truth in referring to me as Evil Papa. Later she makes an elaborate point of there being a “special friend” in the room. She uses her voice to draw quotes around the term.

“Children, you may ask your father or grandfather or ‘special friend’ to join you at the craft table.” “Boys and girls, I want you to sing your best for your father or grandfather or ‘special friend.’” “Students, you may now offer your father or grandfather or ‘special friend’ a half-doughnut and glass of juice.”

I seethe with anger. Does it matter that she and others locate me outside the family? Label gay people as wicked? Feign inclusivity? Broadcast such messages to four- and five-year-olds?

Sure, it does.

Even before they’re taught to use the potty, children receive training in societal prejudice, gender expectations and roles. I learned at a young age to despise a deep part of myself. I’m coming to realize a lifetime is too short for me and others to undo all those early lessons.

Not that we should quit trying.

Since July, Dave and I have frequented a local film club. We’re the young ones in a crowd of 15 or 20 who gather once a month to watch old-time Western movies. At the club’s 38th anniversary celebration this fall we cakeweb2learned they’ve cancelled meetings only twice—once for the blizzard of 1977 and again for the blizzard of 2014.

Last month we decided to ante up the annual dues, only $10 per person or couple. We approached the treasurer, an amiable white-haired man of short stature and warm smile, and told him we wanted to become official members.

“Do you have change for a twenty?” Dave asked.

“Um, it’s $10 per person.”

“Not $10 per couple?”

“Well, are you two brothers?”

“We’re married, actually,” Dave said.

A bystander chortled loudly, then flushed when neither Dave nor I laughed. He quickly retired to his seat.

The treasurer checked his wallet and waved us off. “I don’t have change.” He, too, beat a hasty retreat.

“That was a conversation stopper,” Dave whispered.

I nodded. “You sure know how to clear a room.”

We talked about it on the drive home, how Indiana’s marriage equality played a role in our actions. “I’m feeling bolder,” Dave said. “More ready to publicly claim you as my husband.”

“Me, too,” I said. “Most of the time. Not the other night at that new theatre. You dropped me off at the door. The usher wanted to seat me. I told the her I was waiting on another person. When you came in she asked, ‘Is this your friend?’ I didn’t correct her. I could have said, ‘He’s my husband.’ But I was in new territory, didn’t feel safe. I kept mum.”

Maybe this happens to others, too—the club treasurer, the preschool teacher, my evangelical pastor brother, my deceased mother, my children. Marriage equality is new territory for them, may feel unsafe, scary. I want them to get over it. Buck up, duck. If our conservative state legislators have to accord me the dignity of marriage, you should, too.

But it may a hard pill for them to swallow. Maybe instead of scorn I can offer a glass of water. While still holding them accountable to treat me with respect, I can offer grace instead of judgment. After all, I’m asking the same of them. For me and my special friend. For every last one of my grandchildren. And theirs.

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My Big Fat Gay Marriage Issue, Resolved

The minister signed our marriage certificate with a flourish, then said, “One of you needs to sign here as ‘husband’ and and one over here as ‘wife.’” It was 2005. Dave and I were wed in Canada on our ninth anniversary as a couple, soon after Ontario legalized same-sex marriage—so soon that gender-neutral forms were not yet available.
When we returned to the U.S. our marital status lodged in the Twilight Zone. It’s still there. We believe we’re married. A whole vast country north of us believes we’re married. But what happens in Canada stays in Canada. According to those with saying power, Dave is married to nobody. Guess what that makes me.
Being nobody wears on a person. Researchers have long documented the negative effects of the stigma of homosexuality on gay people. Recent studies show that residing in a U.S. state that outlaws same-sex marriage has a direct adverse effect on the mental health of lesbians and gay men.
It makes me sick to live in Indiana in a marital state of perpetual confusion. Here’s my marital history: Not married, 23 years. Married, 14 years. Not married, seven years. Married, but not according to my state or federal government, nine years. Married and recognized as such by the state, 36 hours. Back to married-but-not-married, two months, followed by 10 days of being married. Then back to yes-but-no, then over to yes-but-not-really, not until the Supreme Court says it’s okay. (Did you follow that?)
In June a federal judge ruled Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. As gay couples lined up to obtain marriage licenses, Dave and I marveled. We could sip coffee at our own kitchen table as a bona fide married couple. For all of three days. The court ruling was stayed, pending appeal. For us, it was back to life in limbo.
Our summer vacation offered a breath of fresh air. We spent 10 consecutive days touring several states and two provinces where marriage equality is the law of the land. “This is the longest we’ve been married since we got hitched,” Dave said.

vintage collage
Toward the end of our trip we visited Niagara Falls, took in the view from the Canadian side, along with a thousand or more other spectators. So much water rushing over the brink made me have to pee. When I returned from the rest room I soon spotted Dave among the crowd. It’s not all that difficult to recognize someone you care about.
At the same time it’s easy to dismiss those you refuse to see. Experience has taught me this. My three children have severed contact with me over my having come out gay. As has my brother. As have former friends and fellow church members. No place at the table for the likes of me.
Where am I welcome? Life keeps me guessing. This past weekend I attended a college class reunion. I almost didn’t show up. I often encounter judgement and rejection from people who knew me before I came out of the closet. I feared more of the same should my classmates learn I am gay. I tested the waters. The first time a fellow alumnus asked about my spouse, I mentioned Dave by name. I was peppered with questions, taken to task for believing homosexuality cannot be changed, and charged with a lack of religious faith. Sheesh. Thereafter I mostly dodged questions about marriage and family. I avoided some conversations altogether. I shut down, hung back, withdrew. I was present but not present—off in limbo land again. This is familiar territory; I check in there frequently to visit my marital status.
Not long ago the federal court of appeals ruled against Indiana’s gay marriage ban. The state has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But I’ve been thinking: Dave and I could settle the matter now. As our state government is so antsy about keeping marriage between a husband and wife, we should send the folks in Indianapolis a copy of our Canadian marriage license. It’s there in black and white: on March 12, 2005, Dave took me to be his lawfully wedded wife.