A few hours after the Supreme Court handed down its decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 U.S. states, as profile pictures across Facebook took on a rainbow glow, my phone convulsed in excitement with a message: “Yay SCOTUS! Better be out celebrating AND hopefully planning a wedding soon.” No, the sender wasn’t my mother suddenly free to unleash pent-up anxiety over grandchildren. It was my 30-year-old brother, himself unattached, and merely sharing in the monstrousness of the moment. It meant the world to me.
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But it also hinted at something that gay people have long been able to avoid and now will no longer be able to escape: the hope – nay, expectation – that we should be getting married. Of course, this is exactly what the LGBT community fought for and it is indeed our right – our Constitutional right, according to Justice Kennedy – to have that option regardless of the state in which we live.
It’s a right I fought for as well. In 2008, while living in San Diego, I spent evenings cold calling potential voters to urge them to vote “no” on Proposition 8, which sought to overturn the right of same-sex couples to marry in that state, and shivered in the rain outside polls on election day in a desperate attempt to convince the undecideds. I joined the fight with thousands of others – many of whom have toiled for decades to build the foundation for this movement – and I celebrate this outcome with my entire being.
Still, I cringe slightly at all the social media posts that popped up in the aftermath of the court decision in the vein of “Now I just have to find myself a husband!” or “Hold on, mom’s calling again” Of course, much of it is in jest and merely plays up an old stereotype, but it does speak to the cultural pressures that have long burdened our straight brothers and sisters. It’s a burden that gay people are now privileged to shoulder as well: Our families are legitimate, so you better go make a family.
I came to terms with my sexuality in college during a period clouded with fear and confusion, unsure of how family and friends would react as I started the long process of coming out (you never come out just once – it’s a lifelong practice). But I also remember having a thrilling realization at the time that I was somehow forging my own path – if coming out meant being excluded from traditional institutions, why should I adhere to other seemingly pre-selected paths?
I entered college as a Communication major with vague ideas of working in public relations, or going to law school – something generic and acceptable. But I graduated with a degree in Dance, something I became passionate about, emboldened by the sense that if being gay set me apart and subverted cultural expectations then, dammit, I was going to embrace that difference and let it open up new possibilities, which it has.
For good reason, Jewish culture has celebrated the family unit and made it a central component of the way we practice our Judaism and build strong, supportive communities. But it is also sometimes unfairly held to be an individual’s central responsibility to the faith – procreation as duty. The degree of this sentiment varies by denomination of course but growing up as a Conservative gay Jew in the era B.G.M. (Before Gay Marriage), I felt wonderfully free of that responsibility. I expressed my Judaism through writing, through culture, through friendship, and fantasized about an uncharted future that might include a family and might not – it was my choice and no one was bothering me about it.
It’s not that I think gays should suddenly feel nostalgic for a time when we were left out of the beautiful tradition of marriage, rather it’s that I wish everybody – gay and straight – was able to experience and consider marriage as an individual choice rather than something that would finally make mom happy or that granted entre into our cultural institutions.
Jewish organizations, for better or for worse, are notoriously family-centric. As tough as it has been to get many of them to be more welcoming of LGBT individuals, I worry that they’ll now easily adapt to these “new” young families while still fumbling with how to embrace trans people, older gays and lesbians, and single straight people who, whether through choice or circumstance, are flying solo through life.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage of course has much more important consequences than just a wedding ceremony and the 1000+ federal rights that come with it. It bestows dignity on a population that has been at best dismissed and at worst targeted throughout history. It provides hope to the young gay, lesbian and trans kids who are being bullied and threatened throughout the country. I hope it also provides the framework for more non-discrimination legislation throughout the United States.
But about that wedding I’m currently in a relationship that brings me great fulfillment and joy. Many of my friends are married and are shaping the institution in their own image. At some point, my partner and I may decide to take that leap as well and it will be a blessing indeed. But with this historic ruling, it feels a bit like people are waiting for it now. If that’s the price to pay for equality, I guess I can accept it. But while I never want to return to the days B.G.M., I’m still grateful and, yes, maybe a bit nostalgic, for that moment when exclusion was also a kind of freedom.