I love weddings. And one of the best weddings I’ve ever attended took place last week in Brooklyn, N.Y. The whole evening was a perfect blend of elegance and casualness. Rose petals were strewn about a wooden deck, and a Juilliard-trained musician bowed her violin as 100 well-dressed guests sat underneath the setting sun, sipping wine and cocktails while the couple exchanged vows. This was a fun, intimate affair punctuated by the couple’s unmistakable bond. I was happy and proud to be part of something this special.
Oh, and one more detail about the wedding: There was no bride.
This was one of the most awesome and moving celebrations of love I’ve ever witnessed, and it just happened to be the wedding of two men, one of whom is a dear friend.
I had never been to a same-sex wedding, so I’m not sure exactly what I expected, though I was guilty of adolescent curiosity: Who walks down the aisle last? Will somebody escort a groom down the aisle? What will they wear? Will a Christian pastor officiate the wedding? The answer to each of those questions turned out to be a resounding, “Who gives a damn?!”
I’ve been covering the same-sex-marriage debate closely for 10 years. I was in San Francisco in 2004 as an anchor at the local NBC station when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom set off a national firestorm by ordering marriage licenses issued to gay couples. That was months before Massachusetts became the first state where legal same-sex marriages took place.
I was also on the story when the California Legislature became the first in the nation to approve same-sex marriage in 2005. The very first legal same-sex marriage in New York happened live during my newscast in 2011. I was also in the anchor chair last year when the Supreme Court issued decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. I’ve done countless interviews over the years with gay couples and activists, as well as with opponents of same-sex marriage.
So last week’s wedding was a rare instance for me in which same-sex marriage wasn’t an issue to be covered, discussed or debated. In fact, it wasn’t an issue at all, and not just because I was surrounded by a like-minded group of folks who obviously supported what was happening. Rather, there was no discernible difference that day between their marriage and any other, unless you fixated on the sex of the participants.
That was a central point before the Supreme Court in last year’s landmark Prop 8 case. As attorney Charles J. Cooper noted in his argument for the defendants: “That’s what this question really boils down here, whether or not it can be said that for every legitimate purpose of marriage, are opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples indistinguishable … indistinguishable.”
“Legitimate purposes” aren’t what they used to be. As noted marriage researcher Andrew Cherlin points out, marriage has gone through three distinct phases (pdf) in American history: First, from the country’s founding until the mid-1800s, it was a true institution that served practical needs and was strictly ruled by social and religious norms. Then marriage entered a companionate phase that lasted until the 1960s, when men and women played gender roles (breadwinner and homemaker) in the relationship. During this era, there was a greater emphasis on intimacy.
Finally, we entered an individualistic era of marriage, which is the phase where we are today. We look to it for our own self-fulfillment and growth. It’s not a necessary step for those wanting children. Cohabitation is now a legitimate alternative. Marriage today is a take-it-or-leave-it, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately proposition.
When same-sex-marriage opponents refer to traditional marriage, they generally mean marriage between a man and a woman. But Cherlin lays out a case that marriage tradition encompasses more than just the sex of the participants. And in that case, traditional marriage disappeared long before same-sex marriage ever became an issue.
I respect people on both sides of the same-sex-marriage debate. I don’t question anyone’s sincere religious objections. And I commend those fighting for what they see as the civil rights issue of the day. Good people can disagree, though they’re often drowned out by the harsh and hurtful rhetoric of a few.
I don’t suggest that attending a same-sex wedding will change anyone’s mind. But it offered me more perspective and an unfiltered lens of love through which to view same-sex marriage, instead of the usual potent mix of politics, morality, law and religion.
After all these years, I was finally able to attend a same-sex wedding, and it was the one place where same-sex marriage was the last thing on my mind.