For the past two years I have been in love with a terrific guy named John. I’m pretty much the social butterfly, while John prefers quiet dinner parties or an evening of movies and take-out. Occasionally we go out together and invariably meet new people. I always introduce him as “John,” because that’s his name and because the terms “partner,” “lover,” or “boyfriend” make me uncomfortable. I like to think that our affection for one another is obvious when we’re together and need not be announced to acquaintances.
I’ve consumed so many facts and figures about the state of gay rights in America that upon writing this piece I had a meltdown. It seemed that no matter how thorough my research was, being gay and in a relationship made me neither an educator nor an expert. I was vexed by the notion that in reporting on same sex matrimony, many factions and various topics of import would be left out. Could I omit the San Francisco-based lesbian who sued her homophobic downstairs neighbors for allowing their vicious Presa Canario to maul her rich lover to death? What would I say about the southern queens who adopted each other in order to obtain “equal rights protection under the law,” or the common law trans-gendered housewife in the Midwest trying to collect her multi-million dollar settlement from her now-deceased husband’s estate? I decided to put a real face on all of this and thus interviewed two gay male couples (with whom I am marginally acquainted) and asked them tough questions about gay marriage, monogamy, financial assets, medical records, AIDS, and the subject of raising children.
The Mercers (not their real name(s)) and The Millers are HIV negative, Caucasian men in their early forties who live with one another. The Mercers list their occupations as a web entrepreneur and a consultant to an accounting firm. These two gentlemen recently purchased an immaculate pied-a-terre in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. Fir, attractive and soft-spoken, they have been together for over twelve years and are workaholics.
The Millers are sardonic baby boomers who reside in a large, well-appointed home they’ve owned for several years in Sacramento, California. Of this couple, one “partner” is a “househusband” (although by vocation, he trains and breeds champion dogs) and his “longtime companion” is a psychiatrist. This year, the Millers will celebrate with pride their sixteenth anniversary. I was amazed how much they have in common with each other and how little I have in common with them. I never learned to drive, can’t swim, and sport and Afro.
The Mercers, who have plants and no pets, aren’t interested in having children because they feel that children deserve the option of both male and female influences in their lives. They are “funny uncles” and do not believe that adult, same-sex parents are necessarily capable of raising competent, well-adjusted kids.
The Millers raised a relative’s kids for year and are happy to report that both are now college-bound. They’re not opposed to adoption but their dogs keep them both pretty busy.
Both families maintain joint accounts and stress the importance of separate funds to “maintain their sanity.” Each couple has living trusts and liens as well as understandably complicated life insurance policies that would provide handsomely for each of their clans in the event of any emergency. The Mercers and The Millers are both upper middle class, with many valuable assets and properties among them, so one can imagine the logical nightmares tax time creates for them. The Millers have power of attorney, a legal statement authorizing one “spouse” to act for the other-type documentation, which both couples worked out years before “domestic partnership” hit the books. The Mercers understand the legal importance of securing “equal protection under the law” and stress the need for the “separation of church and state.” Finally, both the Mercers and the Millers cite sensitivity and discretion as keys to their longevity and believe the crucial reason (aside from legislative recognition) for gays and lesbians to wed is to protect and provide for their “significant others” in the event of tragedy or financial ruin —just like heterosexual citizens living the New American Dream.
I’m not a proponent of gay marriage but I am a proponent of everyone’s right to choose, for reasons of basic human and civil rights. I think the Constitution needs to be revised to include those who are different for whatever reason. I believe in God but I am confused by evangelism. Although I am happy with strides myself and others are making in the fight against AIDS and HIV and fully recognize the hope and promise the future brings, I miss all of the people I’ve lost and will lose because of ignorance and despair. I believe that gay community is segregated and will continue to fragment unless everyone establishes a safe place for all of us to be whomever we choose to be. I am appalled by the recklessness and bickering of the gay neo-Conservative punditry, but nonetheless applaud the debate about who we truly are to the very end. I’d have to seriously think about what I think is sacred, but I’m glad that love, sex, work, and commitment are still up there for gays and straights alike. I’m old fashioned that way.
I’m sure John will disagree.