I know that, for many folks, what I'm about to ask you seems counter-intuitive, but the better I've gotten to know those of you who are in so-called "mixed-orientation marriages," the more I've learned about the particular trials and challenges you face and the kinds of support you need, the more it seems to me you are in a unique position to understand some of the particular trials and challenges I face in my same-sex marriage.
One of the major reasons for marriage in the first place is because we recognize that no couple is an island. That's why marriage is a public institution. It's a way of proclaiming to the entire community, to all our friends and family, just what kind of commitment we've made to the one person in the world who is dearest to us. One reason marriage matters, is because we want and need others to sustain us in our commitment.
And nothing hurts more -- when we're really serious about that commitment -- than to have other people questioning it behind our backs. It hurts to have others judge our relationship, or undermine it by publicly criticizing it or announcing that they think we never should have made it. The time to express such doubts is not now, not after we've made such a commitment. That's not how marriage is supposed to work. The only people whose job it is to decide how much our relationship matters, and to figure out what we are willing to do in order to make it work is those of us who are in the relationship. If a relationship ultimately doesn't work out and it needs to end, that's our business, and if we need help in the process of dissolving a union, we'll ask for it. In the meantime, if we got married, if we figuratively and literally made our vows before the world, that means what we're asking of the world is support, unqualified, unconditional love and support. And that's what it's the world's responsibility to give.
The more I learn about so-called mixed-orientation marriages, the more I understand this, and the more I empathize with the discouragement and pain you must often feel about the type of criticism that often gets directed toward you, often in the form of unsolicited, supposedly "well-meaning" advice.
I also empathize with the added burden of feeling -- if you are open about the fact of having a mixed-orientation marriage -- like you are living your life "in a fishbowl," of having everybody watching you, scrutinizing every problem or every mistake you make, waiting for you to fail so they can then say, "I told you so." We are all human, and everyone makes mistakes. Marriage is all about making (and recovering from!) mistakes. Marriage is all about forgiveness and grace. But somehow people forget that this is true for you as it is for everybody else.
I empathize with the burden of having people constantly cite statistics supposedly proving that your marriage can't last, that it's destined to fail. Can't that attitude become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and shouldn't people be rooting for you to succeed?
My empathy for you and my desire for you to succeed, by the way, doesn't translate into judgment or lack of sympathy for those who have had to end their marriages because they just didn't work out. These choices are never made lightly; they are always painful. As your brother, I owe it to you to just be there for you; to give you the same freedom and love I ask for myself to discern your own path and to go where you see the greatest hope, light and love. I owe it to you to just be here for you, to help lighten your burdens along the way.
And I hope you consider it your duty to be there for me in just the same way.
I empathize with you because I, a gay man in a relationship with a man, face many similar challenges. I too face skepticism about whether my relationship is appropriate or moral. I too have to deal with the attitude that people like me aren't "capable" of sustaining a commitment. I too find myself as an openly gay man living in a relationship with a man, having to, in a way, live my life "in a fishbowl," with people watching our every move, our every mistake, so they can cite it as proof that my relationship is all wrong, and so that they can say, "I told you so."
I have to live with one added burden, however, that you don't. My relationship with my husband is not legally recognized. Here in Minnesota, I don't even have the minimal protections of legal "civil unions" or "domestic partnerships." In many states, my marriage is now legally banned. I love and want to care for my husband in poverty and wealth, in sickness and in health; but the laws of our land make that much more difficult. I am in essence told by our society and by the state that my love for my spouse is not "real," that it is not as valid as any other couple's love. People feel obligated to pass laws and constitutional amendments to make sure that my husband and I, loud and clear, get the message that what we have doesn't matter and doesn't deserve anybody's support.
I'm appealing to you because, as I understand it, many of those who want to deny me the opportunity to marry do so because they claim to be concerned about protecting your marriage. Somehow they think that if I'm allowed to marry, it takes something away from you, and makes your commitment harder to sustain.
Many people in the gay community also want to pit your happiness and welfare against mine. Many want to argue that mixed-orientation marriages delegitimize same-sex marriages and relationships, and that's one reason many gay rights supporters are so critical of folks in your situation. I disagree. My love for my partner is rich and multi-faceted, and it will succeed or fail based on the love and work I am willing to put into it. I don't begrudge your efforts to make your marriage succeed. I'm rooting for you and I want you to be happy, just as I hope to find happiness myself.
I honestly believe that if relationships like mine were legal, many fewer people in the gay community would see your relationships as a threat, precisely because relationships like yours are often used to justify legal opposition to relationships like mine.
It doesn't have to be that way. I believe that love is a commodity we never need to run out of. The more support folks in my situation have for our relationships, the more love and support there is to go around to folks in your situation.
I hope you can empathize with how painful it is for me and my loved ones to have to go through a public referendum in which people get to vote on whether they think our relationship is valid or not. It's probably not hard for you to imagine how painful it would be for you if some legislature decided to pass a law banning mixed-orientation marriages. You can probably imagine the unkind sorts of things that might be said in public debates about this. That's what I and my husband are being subjected to right now.
I've made it known in my personal conversations and on my blog that I unconditionally support your marriages, and believe they deserve every bit of respect any other marriage deserves. I believe these all-important decisions about who we choose as a life partner should be left to individual conscience, and I believe society benefits from supporting all stable, loving relationships of this nature. I will continue to stand up for you, because it seems to me like the right thing to do.
If you don't see how passing laws to ban me and my husband from being married makes your marriage stronger, I hope you'll speak out. I hope you'll have the decency to let people know that these laws don't help you, and that the legislators who pass them don't speak for you. I hope you'll consider extending a hand to those of us in my situation, offering us the love and support you hope for people to offer you.
Those of you who know, and love, and respect me, I am asking you now for help, to please stand up for me and my family too, in this particularly difficult time, when people in my state are getting ready to legally ban my marriage in our state constitution. I hope you too will see the rightness of standing up in this situation, on behalf of real people in real relationships, who need support no less than you. I will be eternally grateful if you do.