Life after gay marriage

What happens now that gay and lesbian couples can get hitched in San Francisco and Massachusetts? The political backlash has already begun, but the battle for equality may be won in the newlyweds’ everyday lives

BY Chad Graham

March 02 2004 1:00 AM ET

It may be hard to
imagine in the midst of the same-sex marriage firestorm
that’s engulfing the country, but if the people who
predict public opinion are correct, in another two
decades gay men and lesbians will likely live in a
world that won’t think twice about their weddings.
By then, newspapers won’t be interested in reporting
on whether ceremonies feature cakes topped by two
grooms, two brides, or a bride and a groom. Planners
who cater to same-sex weddings will be a dime a dozen.
In 20 years or so, the spring of 2004 will seem
just a momentous blip in the history of
America’s progress toward equal rights. It all
started, history will tell us, in 2003, just months after
the U.S. Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws. In
November the highest court in Massachusetts ruled that
same-sex couples had an equal right to marry under
that state’s constitution. On February 4 the court
reaffirmed its decision, asserting that civil unions
or domestic partnerships were not enough, that
separate did not mean equal for gay people.
By then, the trickle of historic events around
same-sex marriage had become a deluge. The president
had come out repeatedly against equal rights;
legislators in Massachusetts and numerous other states
rushed to debate whether the tide of equality could be
stopped. At press time, that debate remained
unresolved in Massachusetts, where in February
legislators voted down three constitutional amendments to
ban same-sex marriage but scheduled additional debate
for March—although no legislative action can
delay the court’s order to allow same-sex
weddings no later than mid May.
History books will no doubt focus on more upbeat
moments, such as snapshots showing beaming gay men and
lesbians signing marriage licenses in San Francisco on
February 12—where new mayor Gavin Newsom
ordered that the city allow same-sex unions despite a
California statute outlawing gay marriage—and
in Massachusetts on May 17—the first day in
U.S. history that same-sex marriages will be fully and
unquestionably legal. Our kids will study these days in school.
Yes, they’ll also read about the bizarre
plan by the right-wing chunk of the country to stop
gay marriage at any cost: to amend state constitutions
to deny marriage to certain citizens, to target for defeat
politicians who favor equality, to rally again and again at
churches and state capitols across the country to
shout their religious beliefs and pro-discrimination
slogans. These are the Anita Bryants of the new
millennium, the people heartened by President George W.
Bush’s $1.5 billion plan to promote marriage
for straight people.
The history of American equality is not likely
to be kind to the people pressuring Washington
lawmakers to add a 28th Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution to ban access to marriage for gays and
lesbians. The amendment would be the first ever to
mandate discrimination against one group of Americans
and the first constitutional decree of second-class
citizenship since the end of slavery. Nor will history make
heroes of the Republicans who rant against gay
marriage to fire up the party’s conservative
base, nor even of Democrats like presidential front-runner
John Kerry, who asserts his absolute opposition to equal
marriage rights while insisting he favors equality for gays.
“I think we will look back—in not
that many years from now—and will marvel at
what people were saying,” says Cheryl Jacques,
executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay
advocacy group. “Every single time a majority
of people decide that someone is different because of
race, religion, skin color, or who they love, they say
they’re not worthy of equal rights. Every time
we’ve looked back with horror on the fact that
one group of people had treated another group of
people this way.”
On a more personal level, gay and lesbian
couples will remember the exact moment they decided to
tie the knot. After years of gay marriage existing
only as a subject for political debate, it actually arrives
as an extremely personal conversation between two
people about planning a ceremony in Boston or P-town.
After bruising battles in Hawaii in the mid 1990s and
Vermont later in the decade (culminating in the
nation’s first civil union law in 2000), gay
men and lesbians are finally on the cusp of achieving
the security that married couples take for granted.
They are finally going to have to settle the issue of who
walks whom down the aisle, if they want a band or a
DJ, and if Crate and Barrel is a good place to
register for gifts.
Provincetown residents Bob Anderson, 46, and
Michael MacIntyre, 48, will hold their ceremony during
Memorial Day weekend at the historic inn they own.
They’ve been together for 12 years, which “is
probably a lot longer than some marriages, definitely
longer than Britney Spears’s wedding,”
quips Anderson. Next year they plan to allow guests to
book the inn for weekend weddings.
Other couples—such as Christopher Sieber,
who plays a fictional gay dad on the ABC sitcom
It’s All Relative, and his real-life
partner, Kevin Burrows—will celebrate the arrival of
equal marriage rights without heading immediately to
Massachusetts. Not that they don’t think
marriage is a great step toward equality—and a
boost to the economy. “On Saturday Night Live,
Tina Fey went off about gay marriage and how much
it’s going to boost the economy because
they’re going to pump millions into these
weddings,” Burrows says with a laugh.
“She said, ‘How can you not vote for
Kerry when the economy is just going to be saved by that alone?’”
Burrows and Sieber met at a mutual
friend’s birthday party a few years back. They
became friends while both were in The Lion King
on Broadway and started dating when Burrows left to play a
part in The Full Monty.

Three years into the relationship, the pair are
busy commuting cross-country to see each other.
Sieber—who tapes episodes of It’s All
Relative
in Los Angeles—is grateful for a
flexible schedule that allows him one week off after every
three weeks of work. But does that leave them enough
time for a marriage ceremony? “I think
we’ve had more of a discussion about where
we’ll have the marriage than actually the ceremony
itself,” Burrows says. “We have a great
house that’s on an island in New Jersey that
would just be the most fabulous place for a ceremony that
you could imagine.”
Adds Sieber, who terms the couple’s
relationship easy and comfortable: “For
everyone who knows us, it would be kind of redundant
to get married at this point. We’re not going
anywhere. We’re not looking anywhere else.
We’re done.”
Burrows and Sieber marvel at the speed with
which gay marriage is progressing through the country.
It seems like only yesterday they heard the news that
the Supreme Court had overturned all remaining sodomy laws.
“We were on an Atlantis Cruise,” Sieber
remembers. “Here we were at sea on the biggest,
gayest cruise ever and they got on the public address
system on the boat and they said, ‘Lady and
gentlemen…’ and announced that sodomy laws had
been abolished across the nation. You’d never
heard so much screaming. It was very funny.”
The main benefit they see to getting married is
ensuring the legal and financial protections afforded
everyone else, says Burrows, who is in the process of
getting his will in order. Adds Sieber: “Marriage is
all about getting certain rights in everyday life that
straight couples who are in terrible marriages still
have. Some [straight] people have these crappy
marriages, yet there are thousands of gay men and women out
there who love each other desperately and
they’ve been together for decades and they
don’t have those same rights.”
And don’t get him started on divorce.
“I think we have a responsibility that if
you’re going to get married, you should mean
it, because the divorce rate in this country is
insane,” he says. “Gay people have never
been able to make this kind of commitment to somebody.
I think we’ll have a better track record.”
By 2024 perhaps most gays and lesbians will have
forgotten about the bitter conflagration that the
Massachusetts ruling is currently fueling across the
country. Religious conservatives have turned gay marriage
into their most unifying issue—and the biggest
boon for fund-raising—in years. In
Massachusetts, for example, gay-marriage opponents
have formed the intentionally misnamed Coalition for
Marriage, while supporters have countered with the
formation of Mass Equality, with the slogan “No
discrimination in the constitution.”
So-called defense of marriage movements have
rocked statehouses from Rhode Island to Georgia to
Utah. On February 6, Ohio’s Republican
governor, Robert Taft, signed into law one of the
nation’s strictest same-sex marriage bans,
forbidding even health benefits for state
employees’ unmarried partners.
“This backlash was inevitable,”
says Michael Adams, director of education and public
affairs for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education
Fund, based in New York City. “The reality is that if
we’re a civil rights movement—and what
we’re trying to do is to win equality for
ourselves and our relationships—you get to a
tipping point where you’re getting close to winning.
We’ve gotten to that point. It’s a great
thing, but we also have to deal with the
backlash.”

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