The first time I encountered Shakespeare, I was an eighth grader desperate to read the part of Juliet. By the time I was a junior in high school, I was a full-fledged Shakespeare Groupie.
I spent hours pouring over his poetry. Sonnet 116 was my favorite.
As a 16-year old self-proclaimed hopeless romantic, this poem had one meaning to me, and one meaning alone. Love, in the romantic sense, in it’s truest form, was unbreakable. And love, in my 16-year-old mind, was the heterosexual, boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl get married in a big church sort of way.
It wasn’t until college that I began to think of love in the broader sense. Love for family. Love for friends. Love for land and country and nature. And suddenly, my favorite Shakespearean sonnet took on a whole new meaning for me.
As a teenager, I read the poem and thought to myself, “Someday my prince will come. Someday I will find a love that is bigger than myself. And someday I will walk down the aisle with that prince and become his wife.”
There was never any doubt that marriage would be my future. I never had to wonder if I’d be allowed to celebrate that big love with friends and family. I never had to alter my course or dream my dream in a different way in order to appease society’s idea of “Love.”
Marriage, to me, isn’t about religion. It is for some people though, and that’s ok with me. Marriage is, and should be about two people, two families, two bloodlines coming together in celebration and Love. It is a commitment, a binding agreement, and yes, in it’s rawest form, a contract. The United States allows people of all races, cultures, and backgrounds take part in that ritual.
There are Jewish ceremonies with their chuppahs and their glass stomping and their obligatory “Mazel Tov!”
There are Chinese ceremonies with their colorful robes, processionals, and ample feasts.
There are traditional African ceremonies, where the bride and groom jump over the broom.
There are Christian ceremonies with prayer and Bible verses and priests who bless the nuptials.
There are civil ceremonies where God’s name isn’t mentioned at all.
There are weddings where people dress up like Pirates. Halloween-themed weddings. Star Wars weddings with costumes and plastic light sabers and stuffed Yoda’s presiding.
All of these weddings have two things in common: 1) a marriage license and 2) a heterosexual couple.
I’m not saying that there’s no place for God or religion in marriage. In fact, if that is your belief system, I am 100% in support of it. I support your right to marry the one you love in the manner you choose.
Can you do the same?
Equality. Rights. That’s all we want.
Last year, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. As we went through the mountains of paperwork that comes with a major surgery, I was never asked what my role in his recovery would be. I am his wife. I have his last name. We are married, with a valid marriage license. Therefore, I am the person who will be by his side. I am the one who will ask questions of the doctors and expect them to be answered. I am his partner, emotionally and legally. I never had to worry that I would be sent from the room with my questions unanswered. It never occurred to me to worry that a decision regarding Brian’s healthcare would be made by someone who didn’t live every waking moment with his best interests at heart. Never, in that week of worry and dread and illness, was I made to feel that I didn’t belong in that chair right beside his bed. It is my right. As a wife.
When I let myself imagine, even for a second, that this had all happened before we were legally married, it absolutely terrifies me. As “just his girlfriend,” would I have been granted the same respect? Would decisions regarding his recovery have been asked of his mother–someone neither of us trust? Would those decisions be made by his father–whom we adore but who lives on the other side of the country? Would I be allowed to stay overnight? Would I be allowed to ask questions? Would they be answered?
Now imagine what it would have been like if we were both men. Gay men who had been in a relationship for 7 years, who were undoubtedly committed to one another, but who, under South Carolina State Law, were not allowed to marry due to their sexual orientation.
Imagine the feeling of a door closing in your face with your loved one on the other side. And you are not allowed to enter because someone else deems you unworthy of the same rights as the straight couple in the room next door.
I can’t imagine anything more heart-wrenching, or more unfair, than that.
So when I woke up this morning and saw this photo circulating on Twitter, I was overcome.
Kudos to you, New York. You’ve set the bar yet again. The fight isn’t over–in fact it’s only just begun. I only hope the rest of the nation catches up soon.
And I have a feeling that, wherever he is now, ol’ Willie Shakespeare is smiling because we FINALLY figured it out.