Keith Olbermann had a fine commentary the other night, on the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which denied gay couples to right to marry.
I had hoped to link today to a piece I wrote in 2004, as a columnist for the Denver Post, sharing my own thoughts on gay marriage. I wrote it after President Bush announced his support for a constitutional amendment, advanced by members of the Colorado delegation in Congress, limiting marriage to a man and a woman.
But the column seems to have vanished from the Web. (Sic transit gloria mundi.) So, I'll do things the old-fashioned way and quote from it.
The first time I got married, I let everyone down on the `til-death-do-us-part clause. I was 20 when we were engaged, 21 when we wed. My bride was a year younger. We weren't quite as innocent as Juliet and her Romeo, but we had their naïve faith in the transcendent power of romance.
And then there I was standing in a county courthouse, asking a judge to discharge me from my vows. I was 22. I'm not sure her parents weren't still paying for the wedding.
I wandered some, and learned the truly awful taste of loneliness and loss. I know to be careful in what I ask, but Lord, give me death before you make me lonely.
And then, on another summer's day, as I made my way through the reception line at a friend's wedding, I met a young woman. She was a bridesmaid, intrigued no doubt by the nerve I displayed in wearing, with my seersucker suit, a truly hideous denim tie. Maybe she just felt, as mercifully women sometimes do, that somebody had to take this puppy home.
We married. This time it took. I'll stipulate, and she'll tell you, it wasn't easy. There were rows and tears and worst of all, cold silences. She'll never forgive me, and rightly so, for some of my selfishness. And there was a time, after our first child was born, when we lived apart for several months, ostensibly as part of a work-related separation, each wondering if we would reunite.
We stuck. Together, in tests of sacrifice and sharing, we learned the relentless insistence of love and earned its gifts. And if you ask me about my wife, I will tell you she saved my life.
Last week the president asked us to defend the sanctity of marriage.
I was raised in a church and taught in Christian schoolrooms that homosexual behavior is sinful. I have kin who still worship in that congregation, in my old hometown, where my parents' names are carved on the church wall and they rest in the nearby cemetery.
And I savor the unparalleled memories of my bride at the altar, lips red, glowing skin, lovely in white; the way her dress twirled around her legs as we danced at the reception, the terrifyingly wonderful thrill of holding her in my arms.
In a time when so many good and lasting things are lost to a soulless modernity, can't we preserve this last tradition? Can't we keep it the way it has always been: husband and wife, bride and groom? `Til death do us part?
And that's where I stumble: `Til death do us part. It's the vow that makes marriage so singular—when we stand before God, our friends and families and make that unyielding commitment to the grave. I've uttered those words twice, and I remember the shame of failing as much as I cherish the wisdom I gained, and the blessings I've received, in succeeding.
Last week I spoke with Ed Gillespie, the Republican National Committee chairman, who shares my religious tradition. He seems like a good man; so do George Bush and John Kerry, all of whom say that marriage should be just for man and woman. Gillespie has dear friends who are gay, but he believes we need to stop the "activists" who would force change upon us, insult our faiths and defame ceremony.
I asked him: If his gay friends cannot marry each other, whom can they marry?
He stammered a bit and said they are free to join in lasting "relationships." But the real answer, the bottom line he could not bring himself to utter, is: "no one."
Gay Americans can marry no one.
So that is the price of preserving our traditions, our dreams of lace and cakes and bells and silly songs of romance: excluding a class of our fellow human beings from the ultimate test of love and its rewards.
It was easier when gays were afraid, when they lived in shadows, closeted. Those days, thankfully, are gone. They now stand with us as friends and family. And they've asked us to sacrifice, to alter one of our most precious somethings, so that they too can share in its grace.
What they are asking us to do is love.
The politicians are not going to lead us on this one. From Barack Obama on down, they run from this issue like no other.
We need to find it in our hearts to do the right thing. To love.