At 53, I am preparing to surrender my status as a bystander of marriage. This is an act so improbable that I believed it virtually impossible in my lifetime. Long ago, as I became aware of my interest in the same sex, I unconsciously abandoned many cultural ideals. My life would not be built around traditional marriage and family, and any loving relationship I might enjoy would likely be unorthodox, covert, and stigmatized.
To be accurate, I am not getting married. Our state has passed civil union legislation allowing my companion of 24 years and me to enjoy the very same rights and privileges as a marriage. We will legalize our “domestic partnership” in a small ecumenical ceremony with friends and family around us, a prospect that causes me to reexamine the nature of our commitment.
Why, after all these years, enter into a civil union? Our friends have acknowledged us as a couple for decades, and their perception validates our commitment. So why take “the vows?” Some reasons are obvious – legal rights, medical responsibilities, social security benefits. The simplest reason is that we love each other and it pleases us to have our longstanding relationship recognized in a formal way. Despite all these, civil union does recast the nature of our relationship.
For many years, I’ve awakened every day with a choice. I can be in this relationship, or I can opt out. As in most marriages, there have been mornings when the latter option seemed appealing. We’ve worked through those, and though there was always an open door, each of us has chosen to stay. We’ve taken great pride that we didn’t need a marriage to bind us. We have a living commitment, made without benefit of legal or religious sanction. We’ve never taken for granted that we would always be together; that we have been for so long comes as a satisfying surprise on each anniversary. It’s almost as if a civil union diminishes the bond we’ve hammered out the hard way.
But the very fact that a commitment between two people of the same gender has gained legal recognition reconfirms my belief in Possibility: the idea that things I deem highly unlikely sometimes just show up. Thinking that something will or won’t happen is sadly self-limiting.
I also strongly believe in the wisdom of not-knowing-ness. Wise people are not bothered by ambiguity. Life offers few guarantees and frequent serendipity. I continue to take nothing for granted, and I resolve to appreciate every moment we share as never before.
Most of all, I believe in the awesome power of choice. Our will to have a civil union is not because we need it. It is simply because we choose it. I honor the life we share by pledging the rest of my days to him; no other motive is required and none could be as powerful. In this exhilarating exercise of free will, I understand the selfless gift that married couples of every stripe share.
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