Why Gay Marriage Is Good for Straight America

By Sullivan, Andrew | Newsweek, July 25, 2011 | Go to article overview

Why Gay Marriage Is Good for Straight America


Sullivan, Andrew, Newsweek


Byline: Andrew Sullivan

As same-sex couples march down the aisle in New York, the author reflects on his own life, love, and pursuit of happiness.

As a child, when I thought of the future, all I could see was black. I wasn't miserable or depressed. I was a cheerful boy, as happy playing with my posse of male friends in elementary school as I was when I would occasionally take a day by myself in the woodlands that surrounded the small town I grew up in. But when I thought of the distant future, of what I would do and be as a grown-up, there was a blank. I simply didn't know how I would live, where I would live, who I could live with. I knew one thing only: I couldn't be like my dad. For some reason, I knew somewhere deep down that I couldn't have a marriage like my parents.

It's hard to convey what that feeling does to a child. In retrospect, it was a sharp, displacing wound to the psyche. At the very moment you become aware of sex and emotion, you simultaneously know that for you, there is no future coupling, no future family, no future home. In the future, I would be suddenly exiled from what I knew: my family, my friends, every household on television, every end to every romantic movie I'd ever seen. My grandmother crystallized it in classic and slightly cruel English fashion: "You're not the marrying kind," she said. It was one of those things that struck a chord of such pain, my pride forced me to embrace it. "No, I'm not," I replied. "I like my freedom."

This wasn't a lie. But it was a dodge, and I knew it. And when puberty struck and I realized I might be "one of them," I turned inward. It was a strange feeling--both the exhilaration of sexual desire and the simultaneous, soul-splintering panic that I was going to have to live alone my whole life, lying or euphemizing, concocting some public veneer to hide a private shame. It was like getting into an elevator you were expecting to go up, the doors closing, and then suddenly realizing you were headed down a few stories. And this was when the future went black for me, when suicide very occasionally entered my mind, when my only legitimate passion was getting A grades, because at that point it was all I knew how to do. I stayed away from parties; I didn't learn to drive; I lost contact with those friends whose interest suddenly became girls; and somewhere in me, something began to die.

They call it the happiest day of your life for a reason. Getting married is often the hinge on which every family generation swings open. In my small-town life, it was far more important than money or a career or fame. And I could see my grandmother's point: the very lack of any dating or interest in it, the absence of any intimate relationships, or of any normal teenage behavior, did indeed make me seem just a classic loner. But I wasn't. Because nobody is. "In everyone there sleeps/A sense of life lived according to love," as the poet Philip Larkin put it, as well as the fear of never being loved. That, as Larkin added, nothing cures. And I felt, for a time, incurable.

You can have as many debates about gay marriage as you want, and over the last 22 years of campaigning for it, I've had my share. You can debate theology, and the divide between church and state, the issue of procreation, the red herring of polygamy, and on and on. But what it all really comes down to is the primary institution of love. The small percentage of people who are gay or lesbian were born, as all humans are, with the capacity to love and the need to be loved. These things, above everything, are what make life worth living. And unlike every other minority, almost all of us grew up among and part of the majority, in families where the highest form of that love was between our parents in marriage. To feel you will never know that, never feel that, is to experience a deep psychic wound that takes years to recover from. It is to become psychologically homeless.

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