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The Decision of a
Lifetime

The Decision of a
Lifetime

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Brenda Freiberg lost both of her sons to AIDS. One never even thought about marriage -- his fight was simply to stay alive. But her good friend Chief Justice Ronald M. George's landmark decision to legalize same-sex marriage still made an imprint on her heart.

The morning of May 15, 2008, I heard some garbled news on the car radio, something like "gay marriage has been struck down." I turned from my FM classic music station to check the round-the-clock AM news networks. This time it was the opposite: News was just coming in from San Francisco, but it appeared that the California supreme court had overturned the ban on gay marriage. I changed stations to be sure the news wasn't going to change again. It was the same. Gay marriage had been deemed legal by the court.

I pulled over to the curb and started to cry and called my husband at his office. "Honey, you won't believe it: The court has ruled that gay marriage is legal." An intake of breath, a sigh, an "Oh, Lord! This is amazing; it's wonderful."

I said, "Can you believe Ron's courage?" We know the chief justice; we've known him almost all our lives.

I hung up and called his wife, Barbara, and could barely get the words out, I was crying so hard. "Oh, please thank Ron," I blubbered. She was crying too.

I don't know why it hit so hard; neither of our sons were waiting for the decision, though many of our friends were.

We had two gay sons who died of AIDS, in 1991 and 1996. Brett, the older, never even thought about marriage, even though he was in a long-term committed relationship; he was just focused on trying to stay alive.

Michael, the younger, began to talk about the marriage issue near the end of his life. One beautiful spring day in 1995 I picked him up from a friend's wedding in Santa Barbara and we put the top down and headed back to Los Angeles. The sky was bright blue and billowy white cumulous clouds led the way down the coast.

"You know, I almost moved to Denmark and got married," Michael said.

Now, the reason I was picking Michael up was that he could no longer drive due to a form of AIDS-related dementia. As a result, sometimes he said strange things. But he seemed serious; there was nothing delusional about him. His huge hazel eyes -- which almost matched his olive-green shirt that day -- were focused on mine; his hand rested calmly on his pant leg. I had to think about a response.

"I had no idea!" I said.

"He was an opera singer, and I met him last summer in Santa Fe," he said. "He asked me to move back to Denmark with him, where we could get married; I really loved him." Now Michael was looking out the window too.

"I know what a broken heart is; there was someone I wanted to marry, and I didn't because my family disapproved of him," I said.

"You mean someone before Dad?" Michael asked.

I never knew what happened to the man who had bought me an engagement ring, the man I never saw after I attended his graduation from Harvard College. But strangely enough, it was through AIDS that I found out about him. I was on my way to Washington, D.C., to be the lead speaker for a group of mothers who were to meet with President Clinton in the Oval Office. I was reading TheNew York Times, and the article I was following continued opposite the obituary page. When I glanced over to the obit side, there was another article that caught my eye: "Pittsburgh Industrialist Killed in U.S. Air Crash." The industrialist was the guy I didn't marry. I had always thought I would see him again one day.

"This was when I was in college, long before I had even met your father," I said.

And the day after the gay marriage decision was handed down, as coincidence might have it, I was once again on a plane, on my way to a memorial service in Washington, D.C., for Olie Westheimer Rauh. Olie and her husband, Joseph L. Rauh Jr., who died in 1992, were old family friends. Joe, credited with making civil rights a part of the U.S. agenda, was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993. During his lifetime he said, "What our generation has done is bring equality into law. The next generation has to bring equality in fact."

That's what our dear family friend Chief Justice Ronald M. George, a brilliant and thoughtful leader, did when he wrote the majority opinion on gay marriage for the California court: This man of Joe Rauh's "next generation" brought us "equality in fact."

Often when I am on a plane I look out the window at the blue sky and the white clouds and imagine I see the baby from the last scene of the film The World According to Garp. Garp returns as a joyous baby, floating freely outside the airplane window, smiling, laughing. And I think, Maybe this is how my sons are. Wherever they are, I hope they know that they are truly equal at last.

We must not deny our children the right to a civil ceremony. We must defeat Proposition 8. However each of us works within our own religious beliefs is our own personal decision. Vote NO on Proposition 8.

All anyone wants is an equal chance to be their best for themselves and their children.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Brenda Freiberg