It Took the Entire 65 Years of My Life to Get Here
“You have until 4 o’clock to do a new column. Probably not enough time,” editor Steve Elkins said.
Not enough time to make this deadline after waiting 65 years to be a full citizen of the United States? Watch me.
Today, Wednesday, June 26, at about 10 a.m., DOMA (the ill-conceived Bill Clinton law banning federal recognition of gay marriage in the U.S.) was overturned by a mostly-conservative U.S. Supreme Court. I watched, spell-bound, in my living room as commentator Rachel Maddow, former Congressman Barney Frank and a parade of others described how this (apparently) straight but apparently not narrow (at least five judges, anyway) court struck down DOMA as unconstitutional and granted full marriage rights to same sex couples in states where gay marriage is legal.
I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime. In fact, for the first 55 years of my lifetime I never even conceived of it. In the beginning, the very word “gay” made me sick. Was I one? And if so, based on furtive, whispered comments and society’s fear I was certain I’d have an unhappy, miserable life.
I never thought I’d see this day when I was hiding in the closet through high school and college; when homosexual conduct was still illegal; when I was guiltily sneaking around bad neighborhoods and seedy bars to meet others like myself; when I was ashamed and terrified to be outed at work.
Could I see this day coming when I sweated bullets about admitting I was gay to my parents? Did I think this possible when Bonnie couldn’t use her VA benefit to buy a house because we weren’t married? When doctors dismissed me as a mere “friend” when Bonnie was in the hospital? When I had to pay thousands and thousands of dollars extra for my own catastrophic individual health insurance because I wasn’t considered a spouse by Bonnie’s employer?
I never pictured this happening when I started writing for the Washington Blade (under a pen name so I would not lose my job!) in the 1980s; when I marched on Washington in ’87, ’93, and 2000; when I began writing for Letters (under my own byline) in 1996; as I wrote columns about protecting our relationships with the proper paperwork, railing against discrimination for AIDS patients, attacking conservative politicians as they attacked and denigrated us.
But in the last ten years, as gay marriage became more and more of a possibility in Bright Blue states, I still never dreamed our federal government would recognize me and my wife (married in Canada in 2003) as full married citizens.
I never dreamed this would happen as I went to Dover to support CAMP Rehoboth and Equality Delaware in their successful fight for gay marriage in Delaware; when our amazing Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf led the charge for anti-discrimination and equality; when our legislators did the right and just thing; when Equality Delaware’s Lisa Goodman and Mark Purpura engineered the words and spirit behind this momentous action. And when our amazingly supportive Governor Jack Markell instantly signed the bill so “you won’t have to wait one minute longer!”
But today? This conservative court striking down DOMA? This is the big one. I am recognized as a full, proud citizen by the U.S. government. The hell with what Justice Scalia, the Family Research Council and millions of ignorant or bigoted people think. Today, in Delaware, as it relates to the federal government, we have achieved marriage equality.
You know, when I was about eight years old, I was flipping through a copy of The New Yorker on my parents’ coffee table, looking at the cartoons. Most of them I didn’t understand. But one drawing wasn’t a cartoon really, but an illustration with a story. It showed an African American man, slouched down, driving a horse-drawn wagon. In the second panel of the drawing, the wagon passed the Mason-Dixon line into the Northern part of the country. The wagon driver was proudly sitting up, head held high.
My mother, with her ever-present progressive and liberal views, explained the drawing to me. I got it.
But I get it so much more today. Damn. It really does get better.
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach; and For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries. Contact Fay Jacobs