Kathy and Jim were the neighbors in the flat above us when we lived in San Francisco. When she was in her 50s, Kathy decided to change careers. To pay for paralegal school, she worked at a well-known wedding shop on Van Ness. On the weekends she would regale us with stories of crazy brides, crazier mothers, and flustered grooms-to-be. To hear her tell it, getting married was hardly worth the effort.
But for years gay men and lesbian women worked hard for the right to get frazzled in some high-end wedding shop filled with silk, taffeta and tulle for miles. But why? What was it about the right to get married that caused us to fight so hard for it?
Kelly and I readily admit that we got married for the sake of the kids – just like a couple of teenagers who went a little far in the back of a Chevy. For us it was about the legal protections marriage afforded our kids. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the hooligans, I’m not sure today we’d be Mr. and Mr.
It doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. We do. Most days a lot. We didn’t need a piece of paper to tell us that. Nor did we ever really care what polite society thought about us shacking up. So beyond the myriad of benefits that come with marriage, or in our case the kids, why in the world do gay people get married?
I put the question to marriage experts. For the most part, they gave me shallow platitudes about being like everyone else and how love is just love. I even had one person suggest that gay people want to get married as a sacred commitment to God.
But Pasadena, California-based psychotherapist John Sovec offered up a different opinion.
“This message that being in a relationship is the expected path is a constant conversation in the world around us,” Sovec told me. “The construct that is supported by popular social media, movies, books and television is that everyone should be in a relationship and if they are not, there is something woefully wrong with them. This is the life-path story that we have witnessed since we were small children, and even as gay men it was sold to us. Finding a good job, buying a house and being in a relationship were injected into our brains as the pinnacle of success.”
But gay men in particular never really tried to emulate that social norm. Indeed, Kelly and I always stood out because of our longevity. It was that old joke: we’ve been together for 27 years, which is 140 in gay years. But Sovec explained, “Many gay men have spent a lifetime feeling like an outsider, especially when it comes to recognition of their relationships. Weddings used to be the bastion of the straight world and as a gay man, one’s duty was to dress well, be charming and dance with the single drunk aunt.”
But the Supreme Court changed all that by ushering in marriage equality. “Now that marriage is available, many people are looking at it as a way to legitimatize and normalize their relationship experience. It’s safer and more secure to be part of a norm than to feel like an outsider.”
So that’s it: we’re getting married to be part of the norm. It’s all conditioning. Who knows, maybe because we’ve been on the outside of those wedding shops so long, and now that we have the right to marry, we just have to go in.
You can reach John Sovec at www.JohnSovec.com