Gay people in Massachusetts won marriage equality. Five years later, the sun still rises and and sets, the mountains haven’t crumbled, the oceans haven’t boiled, and — most shocking of all — heterosexual marriage appears to be doing just fine.
Over 11,000 same-sex marriages later, neither has happened.
Massachusetts has yet to become, as former governor Mitt Romney predicted, the “Las Vegas of same-sex marriage.” Gay marriage rates leveled off at about 1,500 a year – about 4 percent of all state marriages – in 2006 and 2007. The divorce rate in Massachusetts has remained the same – and the lowest in the country.
…What’s really changed is more subtle than cosmic, more about the everyday lives of gay couples in Massachusetts than about a national transformation. Gay and lesbian couples here said they are attracting fewer startled looks when they rent cars, less consternation when they hold hands, fewer awkward questions when they visit spouses in hospital rooms.
“When we’re out together as a couple, it really doesn’t come up; we’re never challenged anymore,” said David Wilson, one of the plaintiffs in the 2003 SJC case and the current chairman of MassEquality, a gay-rights advocacy group. “It’s now considered normal.”
And that’s what the other side is afraid of. That people might see us as human beings who laugh, love, and live our lives pretty much the same way they do.
If you lived on our street, we’d look about as boring as any other family. You’d see the hubby leaving for work in the morning and taking Dylan to daycare. You’d see me walk to the corner with Parker, give him a hug and a kiss, and put him on the school bus before running off to catch my own bus.
You’d see us come home, and you’d see the lights come on as inside we caught up on each other’s day, played with Dylan, heard what Parker learned in school that day, and played with Dylan and Parker until bedtime. You’d notice the house get quiet. Maybe you’d see one of us run out to the grocery store or the drug store.
On weekends, you’d see us leaving to take Parker and Dylan to their swimming lessons, and later to take Parker to his soccer game. If it’s a nice day, you might see one of us outside with Dylan, or taking Parker bike riding (a trip that usually involves a stop for ice cream before cycling home), or taking the family out for a walk.
You might see us out on the deck, watching Parker and Dylan play outside. If your kid came outside and saw Parker and Dylan, they’d probably want to come over and play just like our neighbors kids do. If you were a neighbor and Parker saw your kid outside, he’d probably ask us if he could go out and play, and one of us would go out with him.
As you were coming and going in the course of your family’s life, as we were coming and going in the course of ours, you’d probably wave across the street, and we’d wave back. Once in a while, we might stop to chat. If you have kids too, we’d probably inevitably end up talking about our children, while also keeping one eye on them if they’re playing near by, and occasionally stopping our conversation to call out to them to get out of the street, or put down that stick, or let the other kid have a turn with whatever toy was the focus of the moment. We might come to one another’s parties or invite one another over for dinner or a play date once in a while.
Because we’d just be people, not “the gay couple” next door, but the family next door who don’t seem all that different from yours.
And not just to you, but to your kids too.
That’s why we chose to live in a community progressive enough where that’s not likely to happen. So far, so good. We haven’t had any problems being recognized as a family in our community. The parents and kids at Parker’s day care all know he has a Daddy and a Papa, and on Father’s day he makes two cards. The families in our new neighborhood are just as accepting. When we lived in D.C., nobody in our babysitting co-op batted an eye at us or the three other sets of same-sex parents. None of the kids appeared to think anything of it. One little girl did ask me about it when I was babysitting her, and it was a pretty easy conversation.
“He’s at home with his Papa?”
“His other daddy??
“How come Parker has two Daddies?”
“Well, there are lots of different kinds of families. Some have a mommy and a daddy. But some have two mommies or two daddies, or even just one mommy or just one daddy. It’s kind of like ice cream. There’s lots of flavors, like vanilla or chocolate, but it’s all still ice cream.”
“You forgot strawberry ice cream.”
“Well, then, there’s strawberry ice cream too.”
“My birthday is coming up, and I’m going to have strawberry ice cream and vanilla cake.”
And that was it. If kids learn homophobia as early as three, my experience suggests they learn it from their parents. If the parents are cool with it, so will the kids be.
More than that, your kid would grow up living on the same street with our kids and going to the same schools as our kid, and all the time see us just being a family.
If David Parker’s kid was in Parker’s pre-school class, I wonder how he would have reacted to the hubby and I coming to the performance on Friday, sitting together and beaming at Parker. How would he have reacted when Parker sat in my lap and even planted a kiss on my cheek? How would he have reacted to our family walking down the hall on our way to the car afterwards, and being stopped by parents and teachers who congratulated us and took a minute to admire Dylan and compliment Parker?
How would David Parker have reacted over the years, if his child was in Parker’s class, to us being introduced to his child as Parker’s Daddy and Papa? How would he react to the school and the teachers recognizing us as a family and treating us like any other family? How would he react to seeing our family at the birthday parties of the kids in Parker’s class? How would he react to us taking turns going along on class field trips?
On Mondays, during circle time, the kids in Parker’s class share their “weekend news,” in which they say what they did during the weekend. Their stories inevitably involve some activities with their families, and Parker is no different. His weekend news might be “I helped Papa make a blueberry pie,” or “Daddy took me out to ride my budget road bike,” or “I went to IHOP with Daddy, Papa, and Dylan.”
How would David Parker react to that? Would it, in his opinion count as “affirmation and normalization” of what he considers our “lifestyle”? What would he have the teachers do? Stop circle time and call him to make sure it was OK for my son to talk about his family? Tell my son not to talk about his family, or what terms he can use to talk about his family? Would he require advance warning that the hubby and I are coming to the class performance together, or that we’re both picking Parker up from school? What would he have the school do?
…When the hubby and I are introduced to the class or a classmate as Parker’s Daddy and Papa, is this having “same-sex partners discussed” or “affirming and normalizing” our family? When Parker talks about his family, during “weekend news” or every day banter and play with his classmates, does that count as having “same-sex partners discussed” or “affirming and normalizing” our family?
Inevitably, by our family’s presence and Parker’s attendance at his pre-school, his classmates have learned something about same-sex parents, if only that we exist. In the five years they’ve grown up with Parker, they’ve seen our family again and again. They’ve seen their parents welcome us into their homes. They’ve seen parents and teachers treat us as they do all the other parents and every other family. They know their parents and teachers trust us to keep an eye on the kids on class field trips. They’ve seen us both relate to Parker as parents, and they relate to us as Parker’s parents and Parker’s family.
Is that “affirmation and normalization”?
Only if recognizing someone else’s equal humanity is “affirmation and normalizing.” Chances are they will witness all that and think that our family should be treated just like theirs. And when the grow up to learn all the ways our families are treated differently than theirs, they won’t want to see their neighbors treated like that. They won’t want to see their friend’s family treated like that. And one day they’ll be old enough to do something about it.
Voters ages 18 to 29 — who cast nearly one in five ballots — favored Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain by 66 percent to 32 percent.
In contrast, voters ages 65 and older — about 16 percent of the 2008 vote — favored McCain 53 percent to 45 percent, exit polls show.
…While establishment Republicans are soul-searching, they’d be wise to realize that, simultaneously, young voters are watching TV, where they see openly gay Rep. Barney Frank trying to save U.S. capitalism and openly gay Suze Orman explaining how early investing in 401ks will make them rich.
TiVo-generation voters, while fast-forwarding through commercials, could suggest what an appealing, youthful elephant would look like. That cuddly — yes, cuddly — party animal would appeal to young people’s desire to enrich their hearts as well as their wallets, offering a combo deal of fiscal policies that raise all boats and “values” policies that address the needs of all families as well as single Americans.
To become that attractive elephant, Republicans will have to embrace gay people — even if, in the short term, that costs them some social conservative votes.
That’s what the Conservative Party did in Great Britain, turning itself from a big-time loser in 1997 to an ultramodern brand that’s fast becoming a political head-turner.
When we are able to live our lives as openly and honestly as any other family, without fear of harassment, discrimination or worse — something we do every day, despite the threat of harassment, discrimination, or worse — we push our communities and pull our country closer to the day when, “Gay and lesbian couples … are attracting fewer startled looks when they rent cars, less consternation when they hold hands, fewer awkward questions when they visit spouses in hospital rooms.”
Because we’re neighbors, friends, just people, and just citizens. Equal citizens. Every time we and anyone else stands for equality, we’re taking a step towards that unknown also known as “the world as it should be.”
That’s what the other side is afraid of.
But now there’s at least one example that we — as neighbors, friends, people and citizens, equal citizens — can walk into that unknown “world as it should be” without fear. And there will be more; more examples, and as those examples show the obsolescence fear, more people walking into that future, together.