Gay Girl, Straight World

Gay Girl, Straight World

When Marriage Is a Four-Letter Word

Marriage. Despite its eight letters, I’m convinced it’s a four-letter word.

My parents have been happily married for almost 27 years, and my two sets of grandparents logged a combined 92 years, a number that would have been higher had my paternal grandmother not died in the late ‘80s. So I’m not jaded by multiple divorces, adulterous affairs, or parents whose decision to “stay together for the kids” has only served to warp what it really means to be part of a loving family.

I’m also not commitment phobic. My girlfriend, Jackie, and I have been together for three years, and before that, each of us had relationÂ-ships lasting no less than a year. I know how to commit, I’ve seen long-lasting relationships modeled for me, and I’m definitely not a play-the-field type person-I enjoy being with one person and the emotional intimacy that affords.

So why is the word “marriage” still so scary? Because commitment is nerve-wracking-whether it’s buying a house, living with a significant other, or signing a contract with an employer-in that it means sticking with something for an extended period of time. And when it’s marriage, it means sticking with one person. Forever.

For gays and lesbians, though, the word “marriage” carries extra weight because it is a civil right kept from us. Loving, committed same-sex couples are excluded from 1,138 federal protections, rights, and responsibilities when we are denied a marriage license. And lest anyone feel the need to bring up civil unions and domestic partnerships, I must remind you that the rights conferred through them are not as extensive as with marriage. But that shouldn’t be surprising-ever since Brown v. Board of Education, we’ve all known that separate is decidedly not equal.

But despite my fears of forever, marriage is still something I want to experience someday, partly because of the legal benefits and responsibilities. Even more than that, I want to get married for the same reasons that anyone does-I want to celebrate my shared love with another person and our commitment to each other.

I think it’s pretty fair to say that everyone has the same desires to love and to be loved. The fact that I am a woman in love with a woman has no bearing on that desire. We want the same things that any heterosexual couple wants-we hope to be loved and accepted by our friends and family as individuals and as a unit. And having the freedom to marry each other is a very tangible, public expression of that acceptance.

Jackie and I live very simple lives. We hit the snooze button multiple times, go to work, argue about what to eat for dinner, and talk about our respective days. On the weekends, we go to the grocery store, watch movies, read the newspaper from cover to cover, hang out with friends, and go out to dinner. Like I said, it’s simple-probably just like you. So why should we not be able to marry whomever we want, a freedom allowed to all of our heterosexual simple-living counterparts?

It isn’t fair to deny a group a specific right simply because of the characteristics of the persons who comprise the group; that’s inequality, plain and simple. In a world riddled with commitment phobes, it seems counterintuitive to prevent people who want to get married from doing so. Shouldn’t we, as a society, be encouraging long-term relationships rather than prohibiting the expression of them?

TELL YOUR STORY: Every year, The Independent publishes a Wedding Guide, complete with listings, resources, and stories about all things matrimonial. This year, we are including a section about same-sex weddings, and we want to hear from you! If you’ve celebrated your commitment and would like your wedding story to be included in The Indy, write a first-person account of the events and email it to Please keep submissions to 400 words or fewer; you may also include a photo for publication. The deadline is Thursday, February 14, so get writing!

Penny Patterson writes an online column about gay life in Santa Barbara called Gay Girl/Straight World. See for more

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