Family: a Five Act Play and the Case for Gay Marriage

I grew up in a small, primarily white town in middle America. I got a sub-par education at a school more focused on the Football season than the Ivy League. I was raised secular by a Catholic woman who never finished high school and an man who never went to college who never really loved each other, but produced me and entered in to a loveless and destructive marriage that lasted roughly one year.

I spent the first few years of my life wondering where my Dad was. I spent the first 10 years of my life moving from apartment to apartment, my aunt's trailer, or my Mom's next boyfriend's couch. When that boyfriend got my Mom pregnant, and then proceeded to abuse her, we moved in to a one bedroom apartment where we shared a bed. The night my Mom went in to labor with my brother M, my friend's Mom came to pick me up, and proceeded to try and explain to my 7 year old self and my 6 year old friend that babies came from the cabbage patch. The next morning, I was taken to visit my Mom, and my new brother, and that night my Mom and I shared the "couples dinner" that is a gift to the parents of each new baby born at that hospital. During our dinner, my brother's Dad burst in to the hospital room, demanding and cursing my mother. He broke in to our house and blamed me. Custody battles ensued, and I testified, at age 7. A year later, he threw my Mother off his porch, breaking her arm. They were awarded joint custody, and my brother lived with us one week, and his Father the next. These two individuals, these two parents, who never married but produced a child together, raised that child for 16 years without ever speaking in person, without once making a joint decision until the day that his father left him at my Mom's house, at age 16, and told her "you can have him. I don't want anything to do with him anymore. I'm done."

My sister J was born when I was 10, to my Mother's new boyfriend who moved in with us a year before. My brother M was three. This boyfriend started like all the others - nice and interested - but by the time I was finishing middle school I feared for my mother's life - and mine. He worked long hours and came home late only to begin rousing, violent fights with my mother over money and infidelity. I stepped in many times, once to remove his hands from around her neck. When I was 14, he threw me into a large framed print, breaking the glass against my head, and later, to the ground with my arms twisted behind my body. My Mother denied it. I moved in with my Dad. This boyfriend later blamed his continued emotional abuse on me and my place in the family on my choice to leave the house. When I was 17, and my mother was 40, my brother K was born. When I was 18 and my mother was 41, my Brother J was born. I drove her to the hospital, because this boyfriend was at work. I could describe to you these two years, how this went, but I can imagine by reading this far, you already know. Following the birth of my brother J, the relationship began to crumble. Three children was too much for this boyfriend, who never wanted kids, like he'd told my sister - he wanted my Mom to have abortions. He wanted my Mom to abort her, and the boys. It was right around the time that K was born when he had "the affair" - the one he secretly rented his own apartment for, in the city he worked in, the one he lied about until she finally kicked him out when I was 21. My brother M was 14. My brothers J and K weren't out of diapers. He skips his child support, sees his children once a month or less, and has not, since leaving, spoken to my brother M - the 18 year old he helped to raise from the age of two.

For the past 5 years of my life, I have watched my mother and her children live off her salary as a waitress. I have paid bills for her. I attended court with her, when he said he couldn't pay child support. I've cried for my sister, for my brothers, and paid for new shoes, field trips and instrument rentals. I've cried for myself, when I felt the stress of my place as their big sister, the one who isn't there, who can show them that life doesn't have to be like this. I have watched the cycle - my mother, her sisters, my cousins, my siblings - continue.

Thankfully, my Dad's re-entry in to my life also brought my Stepmother, who has been a driving force in my life. She and her family - who took me in as their own - became my family, though we weren't related through blood. I am estranged from my maternal family, and thankful for the ones I acquired through marriage.

When I was 22, I married the Drummer in a secular ceremony. Most people said we were too young. He brought me in to his family, one that scared the daylights out of me when I first met them. Married parents, who seemed happy to be married. A full sister who married and produced planned, absolutely loved and beautiful children who know me as their Aunt. Aunts and Uncles and cousins who celebrated together, in the SAME HOUSE! These people have become some of the most important people in my life, who have taken the time to know me, understand me, and support me in ways that still come as a pleasant surprise. They individually will probably never quite know how much the small things they've done for and with me, that might seem normal, have been extraordinary to me and my life. The Drummer taught me to trust, and loved me harder when I was scared. He taught me that cycles don't have to continue - that love can exist, that family is something I can have, even if it is just the one I create. He gave me somewhere to go - someone to depend on, who will always be there even when things are bad. We've had hard times, difficult spots in our marriage, but when I think about this family we have made together, I want every person on earth to have it. I want every person, if they want to, of course, to be able to be loved and give love, to create and be a part of a family regardless of what life has dealt them.

Family, to me, is relative. I say this because my family is 1/3 blood and 2/3 marriage.

My story is only one of of which illustrates the fact that one man and one woman does not a happy family make. One man and one woman created me, an unwanted, unplanned child who changed the path of that one man and one woman's life. The gender of my parents could not change their emotional unpreparedness to raise a child, or make their marriage successful. Furthermore, my Mother's subsequent relationships, all that were between a man and a woman and produced children - were failures for the same reason.

If this one story is only one of so many, why should we believe that marriage is only for couples that consist of a man and a woman? Why should we believe that two men, or two women, who ARE prepared for parenthood, who ARE prepared for the emotional contract that is lifelong companionship and family creation, are an abomination and destructive to the institution of marriage? Doesn't it seem, in fact, that marriage and family are more about the individuals, rather than their gender or their religion or how they are related by blood?

When I began writing this post, I wanted to discuss statistics. In a country where the overall divorce rate is near 50%, a recent study found that in states where same-sex marriage is legal, the rates are lower - therefore showing stronger marriage retention in those places. Another recent study concluded that fewer Atheist marriages end in divorce. I wanted to bring up the fact that out of my close-knit group of middle-high school friends, only two had married parents, making broken heterosexual families the norm. These are just numbers, just case studies, and I know that no mind will be changed by statistics alone. Yet, considering these quick facts - doesn't it seem like "traditional marriage" means "likely to fail"?

With the voter's rejection of Maine's Marriage Equality Law last night, 31 states have now banned same-sex marriage. I could rant now for thousands of words on why this is a rampant and embarrassing blow to human rights, but I've already done that. I cried in 2006, when my home state of Wisconsin passed legislation to ban marriage equality, and have protested and fought and cried again here in California with the legalization and following passing of Proposition 8. This IS a violation of human rights and Constitutional rights, and there's no room for debate.

I've left religion out of this post until now because as an Atheist, my opinion is formed on my humanist ideals rather than any religious teaching. I do not know what the bible says about homosexuality. I do not know what the Koran says about homosexuality. I do not know the logistics of any religion's stance on homosexuality, because it doesn't matter. The United States of America was created on the separation of Church and State. As an Atheist, I am horrified when I read news stories of other Atheists or citizens taking away free worship rights from religious people. I think freedom of religion means exactly that - freedom of religion. You practice how you want, I practice how I want. It also means that if your religious belief factors in to your political opinion, it will infringe on someone else's freedom of religion. Banning Gay Marriage because it is religiously wrong to you is the same as banning marriage between two people of another religion. This is not a Christian nation. It's not a Muslim nation. It's not a Jewish nation. It is America, and all are free to practice and live without discrimination.

But now, for me, this battle has become personal. Personal because I'm sick and tired of "Save Marriage: Protect Families" movement telling me that traditional marriage and family should be saved from the infiltration of same sex couples. Traditional marriage - with it's 50% failure rate and this generation of children like me - should not be praised or called an institution. It's an embarrassment and a failure, one that needs to be saved from itself. The American Family is dying, and these people crying "Save Marriage, Save Families" are taking away the chance for GBLT people to create families, support their partners, and adopt and provide financially, physically and emotionally for children. Why would you ever think that was right? Why are we so busy being self-righteous when what we really need is to make marriage and family the norm, for all people?

2 people's thoughts:

Anonymous,  November 4, 2009 at 1:38 PM  

I'm not even going to get started on how ridiculous banning gay marriage is. In all these years I have not heard ONE convincing argument against it.
But I do have my opinions on why this is such an issue in the US.
Americans have never been good with change. I always say that somehow America seems to have gotten stuck in the 50s because back then things were simple and America the biggest power on the globe and life seemed good. Maybe that's the reason behind not wanting to develop.
For a country founded on the separation of church and government the US are a prime example of how strongly connected those two can be.
I believe there are many reasons why the US has such an issue with so many things that seem to be so easy to solve (adding health insurance to this equation). Lobbyists are just one one them. Because people don't know what the bible says. People don't know what the constitution says. They know what they are told by people who have taken it upon themselves to manufacture opinions. It's sad, but a sad truth.
And I don't say this to be confrontational. I feel as American as I feel German.

David November 6, 2009 at 8:51 AM  

Nicola's pretty much right, and you're awesome.

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