Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Defense of Marriage

Note: This guest post was written by David R. Forman, a longtime friend of Peter's and mine, whose wife Leslie died earlier this year. Like David, as someone who has felt the blessings of a good marriage, I am outraged at the notion of denying the love of any class of people as a "defense" of my own marriage. Like David, I am dismayed that the voters of Maine were unable to see in equality, not an affront to marriage, but the strongest defense of love possible.

My imagination is beggared. I cannot understand how a subgroup of our citizen’s rights could be put to a popular vote in the first place. Should Jews be allowed to marry? Should post-menopausal women be allowed to marry? Should people who have once been divorced be allowed to marry? But given that such a vote was taken, I am at an utter loss to see how people could vote to strip their neighbors of the right to marry, in a country supposedly based on the idea that all are created equal.

I have no rhetoric to sway those who live in hate and call it love. To those whose chief concern is to keeping things as they always were I might gently point out that they aren’t, and can’t be, and that this won’t help.

I want words to help people see why this matters to me so much. I know my words are weak, but I will write them anyway, because it is all that I can do.

To say what marriage rights mean to me, I have to talk about my own marriage. But even before that, I need to say that I am a child of divorce, and that when I was eleven years old my parents’ separation hurt me. My inability to understand it created anger between my father and I, and my mother’s struggles with men confused me about how to be a man and still grow up to be a good person. From her suffering and mine, I vowed to do better. If I married at all I would marry wisely, would place that marriage at the center of my values, and would not inflict on any children what had been inflicted on me.

And so that’s what I tried to do. I took my time. In my early adulthood I didn’t just drift from sex to commitment. Despite how beautiful she was and how much fun we had together, I broke up with a girlfriend whom I couldn’t marry, knowing it wouldn’t work because we were so different, including a difference in our religions. We stayed friends.

There’s so much more to say, but my whole life story isn’t the point. It turns out that two years later we were living together and five years later we were married. It turns out that marriage is hard, but that long friendship, mutual respect and good communication help. It turns out that she gave birth to twins, and that parenthood made it even harder and brought us even closer together both at the same time. It turns out that being married to her helped me to live with the tough parts of myself, to grow up, and to ‘make something of myself’. Love is a mystery, and marriage can be a very, very good thing. It turns out that this year, at age 48, after a three-year struggle, cancer took my beautiful wife Leslie away from me.

I am no longer a whole person. My teenage children will not get to finish their childhood in that warm, functional, intact family I worked so hard to give to them. How does it help my grief to take this away from someone else? How does it ‘protect’ my marriage?

For the people who want to “save” marriage – how much work are you doing to see that people marry the right partner in the first place, that they really understand the commitments they are making? Where are you when they become irritable, when they grow into habits of not talking to each other, when they cheat on each other? How many divorces have you prevented today? Yes, I know, that’s very complicated work. So complicated that some of your prominent leaders, the “pro-marriage” senators and the “promise keepers” have sullied their marriages and broken their promises, and none of you knew the first thing about how to defend or protect those “traditional” marriages.

Leslie and I lived in Quebec— the first Canadian province to establish marriage equality. When I was in graduate school, we lived in Iowa. In her last years we moved to Connecticut. The fact that our neighbors could or couldn’t marry did not weaken our marriage, nor save it. The way to save our marriage would have been to take all that money spent on anti-gay television ads, and give it instead to cancer research. All that money gathered on collection plates, by people who say they value marriage and they value life. Used not to save my marriage but to prevent someone else’s.

My children are strong, creative, loving people, largely of course, due to the excellent mothering they received. They have been my greatest comfort, and the reason I still have a future at all. I hope that they succeed where I couldn’t. If anyone has a crack at growing up to make a family that surrounds their children with love, from birth all the way to adulthood—I’d bet on them. Without knowing what their sexual orientations are, I ask you, “Will you let them try?”

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