As I sat in a doctor’s waiting room for hours this week while my partner of 25 years was being treated for an emergency detached retina – surrounded as I was by numerous, very old married couples with walkers and canes tending to each other and being called Mr. and Mrs. this and that by staff while CNN blared an ongoing loop of the Supreme Court hearings on marriage equality in the background – it became quite clear to me that if things got really bad and the doctor or any of those working for him decided to be assholes and think of me as no more than “the ride,” that I could be quite screwed – really screwed – and not in the good way I have enjoyed for the last quarter century. That, in itself, is THE reason for gay marriage – a state of being that my partner and I to this day don’t have much of an overwhelming desire to enter into but will probably nevertheless take advantage of as living and breathing human beings in a societal reality ruled by laws and a medical reality where walkers, wheelchairs and various other physical maladies seem as guaranteed as our eventual legal right to one day tie the knot so as not to be screwed in that no so good way.
Things to note before we go further:
1- My partner is recovering nicely and will have full sight again.
2- Aside from the four plus hour wait, the doc and his staff were great
3- I have overwhelming support from both our family and friends and enough backup to ensure I will have some, but not all legal rights to his present and future medical illnesses and the fallout/aftermath from them. This is the best that can be done right now, a lot better than many others and yet, shamefully not nearly enough of what it should be for two people who have chosen to love each other and spend their lives together for a really, really long time.
But back to the waiting room.
At one point an older but not ancient couple (They were in their 70s – which might seem ancient to some of you but to me now just seems “older”) from Palm Springs started talking to me. She was reading one of my favorite books, Angela’s Ashes, so I couldn’t help chatting her up, especially after I heard her dishing to her husband about the bizarre outfit one of her friends back in Rancho Mirage was wearing the previous night in an attempt to look young (That big pink scarf tied on her head, she thinks it looks good?)
In any event, this woman and her husband, a dead ringer for James Cromwell, talked to me about the news report of the new Pope giving up his luxury apartment in Rome (Can I live there?, she asked), the book she was holding in her lap (I’m only on page 2 but so many people keep telling me how good it is) and their grandson, who is a writer.
On the latter, she related:
“He just sold a script. But it’s his first thing and he’s young, so he’s really excited.”
“Oh, trust me,” I answered, well aware that everyone but the gal at the receptionist desk in this office had long passed the point of being considered fresh-faced, “ it’s always exciting no matter what age you are. In fact, after a while you live for that excitement.”
Her husband guffawed at that one in particular and, this being L.A., I began to wonder if this indeed was James Cromwell. Sadly, it wasn’t.
Still, despite the laughs, this same couple quickly grew silent when suddenly CNN began playing arguments made by the lawyer defending California’s Prop 8 anti-gay marriage stance, and the questions being asked of him by several Supreme Court judges clearly in support of that position.
“You know,” said the woman as she turned back to me after the report was over. “We have these two very nice guys who live across the street from us in a gated community. Now why does anyone care if they want to be together? Do you think that’s right?”
I paused for more than a few moments. This was because a. she didn’t know I was a gay man (uh, no she wasn’t blind) waiting for his partner to emerge from the secure medical sanctum inside and b. it meant she, a woman who was statistically assumed to be more than likely against gay marriage, would be asking this question of anyone of any sex or sexual persuasion with whom she was having a particularly friendly conversation with in a doctor’s office. So I said:
“Well, I’m really happy to hear you say that because I’m here waiting for my partner of many years and it’s good to know others feel that way.”
Granted, it wasn’t the most original response but, then again, I was a little taken aback by her boldness and more than a little stressed that I was here at all enduring an unexpected and quite serious medical emergency of the person I share my life with. Perhaps sensing this, she didn’t miss a beat and responded:
“Well, I don’t like when the government tells me what to do about anything, And that includes what I can eat. (Since we weren’t in New York I took that as a general statement and not one directed at Mayor Bloomberg for his desire to limit the size of Big Gulp sodas one can buy on the street). I just don’t think that’s right at all.”
This couple didn’t seem to have any family members or any gay friends other than acquaintances, so they then asked me a few questions about what rights I did have as a gay person. They were particularly incredulous that my partner and I couldn’t joint file our federal taxes (“Really, we thought you could,” he said), didn’t understand why we were taxed on health insurance premiums when one partner was covered on another’s policy, were angered when they turned to the television and heard 83 year old Edie Windsor on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington DC, talking about paying more than $350,000 in inheritance tax when her lesbian partner of 40 years died, and just shook their heads when they watched a fundamentalist type on camera talk about the dangers that gays tying the knot posed to the sanctity of marriage. (I don’t know what he’s talking about, the woman commented, her and her husband turning disgustedly away from the set and averting their eyes in disbelief).
Though I know all good things, even waiting room chats in a doctor’s office, must come to an end, I was still naturally disappointed when a moment later this couple’s names were suddenly called and they began to slowly get up. I thought our conversation was over. But in some ways, I realized by their parting words, this conversation had only just begun.
As Mr. Cromwell pulled his extremely tall frame (no, it was NOT him!) out of that fairly uncomfortable waiting room chair, he squarely looked me in the eyes.
“I want you to know, it was really a pleasure speaking with you, ” he told me as he helped his wife get past him. An unusually large smile formed across his face. Then he nodded. As did I.
“I so enjoyed meeting and talking to you,” she said, straightening out her blouse and moving through the inner sanctum door that her husband waited by as she deliberately passed through first. Then, she looked back to me and smiled one last time. And then they were off.
I sat there for a while thinking about this couple, about my life up to this point as a member of a minority group that has struggled for equal protection under the law for many years (well, who hasn’t?), about how much I’ve seen in my relatively short time alive of this struggle, of how many people of my kind have not lived to see our accomplishments up to this point, and about how much more this country and this world has seen and how much more it’s changed through the centuries on so many political, social and moral issues. And then, I thought about this couple once again.
It is easy, given all the vitriol being tossed about equal rights, messing with tradition, the intent of the framers of the Constitution and God’s Will, to ignore that on the whole we live in a country where the REAL average American (regardless of age) believes in fairness, equal opportunity, and the expansion, rather than the retraction, of human rights. A country where the Constitution is a living and breathing document that allows for the abolition of slavery, the guarantee of women to the vote, and the integration of the races so that anyone of any color skin can live, go to school or work in any place in the U.S. that they choose (well, theoretically, anyway). Never matter that at one point it was not this way. In time and with social change, we live in a place that can, in its laws and rules, also change based on obvious (or as they say, self-evident) truths predicated on the will and evolution of the majority of its population.
That time, change, evolution, whatever you want to call it, has come on the question of gay marriage. Just as I, as a person who never wanted to be married (the living in sin part still really appeals to me), now realize that as the decades go on it is important to make my love relationship legal if for no other reason than that I can’t be legally screwed, the majority of people in this country have decided that to prohibit their gay sons, daughters, friends, co-workers, neighbors, or any other LGBT person they happen to meet in a doctor’s office and strike up a nice conversation with from the same equal rights that they enjoy, is essentially, and in every other way, wrong.
Marriage is not a perfect institution and no marriage is perfect. Neither is love or any particular love relationship, or any one of us. But legally allowing gay people to participate, enjoy and be exasperated by any and all of the above is, in 2013, part of a new social contact – one that consistently changes through the centuries – and one that ensures that this place where we live continues to evolve, grow stronger and survive over time. Mostly, it shows that as a people we’re fair, and we’re in the equality fight for the long haul. Not just for ourselves but for everyone.