Last week voters in my home state of Maryland voted for a referendum that was known on the ballot as Question 6, which called for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Over the years I have gone through a total evolution from thinking that the idea was a totally silly one to thinking that it should be a legitimate right. I went through that evolution despite being raised in a religious faith (Roman Catholicism) that still preaches that homosexuality is a major sin. In addition I attended public school in a district where many parents were opposed to having sex education taught in the public school because not only would it encourage kids to have sex at very young ages but—eek!—they may even discover homosexuality. The boys in my school routinely insulted each other by using epithets like”faggot” and “homo”.

When I was in the 7th grade, my social studies teacher showed this documentary in class called Future Shock. It was based on the bestselling book of the same name by Alvin Toffler. The thesis was that all kinds of new innovations and trends were happening faster than people’s abilities to get used to the changes so people’s minds would be so saturated with constant change that it would cause information overload and they would enter a psychological state known as “Future Shock.” (Even though the movie was made back in 1972, it was prophetic in that, thanks to the rise of computers and the Internet, technological innovations are now happening at a much faster rate than when the movie was originally made. One example: Five years ago I didn’t even know what a computer tablet was and now I own an iPad.)

There was one memorable scene in that movie that showed a brief clip of two men getting married in a church that was officiated by a minister. The whole class started laughing hysterically at that scene. I have to admit that I laughed too. I had grown up with the idea of a wedding couple consisting of a bride and groom and seeing two grooms exchanging wedding rings then kissing each other just seemed totally weird and ridiculous to me. When the class was over and the kids were going into the hallway on the way to their next class, my classmates were talking and giggling about that scene.

A few years later I was in another social studies class in high school and the teacher showed Future Shock again. I remember her saying that a year or two earlier the film had been restricted to only high school students and there had even been a recent discussion at the County School Board about removing that film entirely from the Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Public School System’s list of approved films for the classroom. Apparently the younger kids who had seen the film told their parents about that gay wedding scene and some of the parents were so outraged that their child was exposed to that short scene of two men getting married in a church that they complained to the School Board about it. So my high school teacher said that we may be among the last students who have had the privilege of seeing that film in a school classroom. (I don’t know if the film was ultimately banned or not. I graduated a few months after seeing the film for the second time and I didn’t keep up with the Anne Arundel County Public School news once I started college.) When that same-sex marriage scene came up, I heard a few snickers but they were a far cry from a whole classroom of 7th graders erupting in laughter just a few years earlier.

Today, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can now see this documentary online for yourself. The gay wedding scene in question is at the 27 minute mark.

During that same era there was a gay rights movement but it was more concerned about things like ending job discrimination and stopping police harassment of raiding gay bars. I don’t recall any gay activists from the 1970’s calling for the legalization of gay marriage.

When I attended the University of Maryland at College Park, there was the Gay Student Union but they were more focused on being treated with respect by the student body and not getting harassed by homophobic bullies. Gay marriage was simply not an issue back then.

The year after I graduated from college my husband and I were planning to get married and we were checking out various houses of worship to decide whether we should do a religious ceremony or a civil ceremony presided over by a judge. We started attending a Unitarian Universalist congregation mainly because months earlier we were impressed by a series of ads that ran in The Washington Post and it began with the headline “Instead of fitting into a church, I found a church that fit me.” We were so impressed by the open friendliness by the congregation members that we not only had the then-minister officiate at our wedding (he’s now our minister emeritus) but we even signed the Membership Book.

About two years after our wedding, my husband and I became involved in the church’s Social Action Committee. We even became co-chairs of the committee even though we were only 25 and 29 years old at the time and there were other members who were older and had been members longer than us. One day a member named Ed Kobee approached us about doing a lay service on AIDS, which was starting to become a major scourge. He was a man who was 10 years older than my own parents and he was long an active member of our congregation who was long a fixture in the choir and he served stints on various volunteer work as Sunday school teacher, Board of Trustees member, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He worked for the Naval Ordnance Laboratory and he was a divorced parent of a son and a daughter. On top of that, he was still trying to deal with emotional aftermath of the recent sudden death of his daughter (who died in a car accident when she was in her early 20’s just a few months after my husband and I joined the congregation and got married). He was also a rabid football fan who followed the Washington Redskins during football season.

Ed felt that it was important that we do a lay service because AIDS is a topic that’s important to him. We didn’t ask why at the time. I figured that since he’s divorced, he’s probably dating and he didn’t want to contact the disease from a woman who may have previously have had sex with a bisexual man who has the disease. Ed, my husband, and I went out to dinner one night while we discussed the topic of the lay service, where an AIDS worker actively involved in caring for those with the disease, would speak about his struggles caring for people with the disease. That night Ed dropped a bombshell to my husband and I. He mentioned that he came out as gay to very few people inside or outside of our church congregation.

I was totally startled by what Ed said and my husband later confessed to me that he felt the same. We tried to look as normal as possible while we were both personally reeling from that revelation. All of my assumptions about gay people were suddenly blown away. (My mother used to say that you could tell if someone is gay because he would act effeminate. If you met Ed in person, you would know that he is definitely NOT effeminate. I used to believe that there was no way that gays and lesbians could have children—while totally discounting the possibility the fact that there was a time when gays, lesbians, and bisexuals married people of the opposite sex in an effort to get rid of their attraction to people of the same sex. Many of those marriages were unsuccessful.)

After that dinner we went on to put on that AIDS lay service and it got positive notice from congregation members. Ed didn’t talk about his personal life during that service and my husband and I weren’t about to divulge his secret without his consent.

A few months later gay rights activists were gearing up for a major march on the Mall in Washington, DC. Ed told us that he was going. I didn’t even give that march another thought mainly because, as a woman in a heterosexual marriage, I didn’t feel that gay rights was my fight. I didn’t have any openly gay relatives and Ed was the only gay person I personally knew.

But then Ed had a discussion with the minister and he inspired the minister to give a Sunday sermon from the pulpit called “Gay Rights are Human Rights.” (I still remember that sermon title after all these years. LOL!) I remember the minister talking about how the Civil Rights movement for African Americans got as far as it did because of whites sympathetic to the idea of equal rights for all became involved in the movement. The minister said that as heterosexuals we could give a boost to the gay rights movement by getting involved in it and the perfect way to start getting involved is by considering taking part in that march.

The minister instituted a section of the sermon called a “Polylogue” (he called it by that term because, unlike a dialogue, which is talk between two people, a polylogue involves a talk between more than two people) where people could stand up and respond to the sermon. At that point Ed stood up and announced that he was gay and he’s currently seeing a man.

The longtime members of the church who had known Ed for many years were shocked by that revelation since they knew that he was previously married to a woman and had children by her. But then something amazing happened. The members began to remember Ed as a longtime active member of the congregation and how much time and money he gave to the congregation and they decided to support him. It was a good thing that Ed came out to a Unitarian Universalist congregation because I know that had he been a Mormon, a Southern Baptist, or a Roman Catholic, he would’ve been denounced as a “sinner” and hounded out of church for making such a revelation.

When I was growing up my mother used to tell me that it’s useless to try to convince elderly people of a certain age about such new ideas as African-Americans having the same civil rights as whites because elderly people tend to be set in their ways. Well, at the time, half of the congregation were elderly people and many of them had accepted Ed’s revelation with open arms. I was amazed by that and it definitely shot down what my mother used to tell me about elderly people being rigid in their thinking and too set in their ways to ever change their attitudes.

Ed’s coming out to the congregation have had an effect. My husband and I were among contingent of church members, nearly all of them heterosexual and many of them were older than 50, who went down to Washington, DC and took part in the march. We caught up with Ed Kobee and we met the man he was currently seeing, Al Usack.

A few weeks after that march, Ed decided to raise awareness about gay rights among the congregation. He formed a chapter of the UU gay rights groups known as Interweave and he encouraged my husband and I to take part in Interweave because he said that the movement needs straight support. The good news was that there were members in our congregation who did take part in Interweave and the group did programs like show films on gay-related topics. During that same time, his lover, Al (who, like Ed, was also previously married to a woman and had children—including one daughter who came out as a lesbian at the same time that Al came out as gay), moved in with Ed and he became an active member of our congregation as well. Ed and Al became the first openly same-sex couple in our congregation.

The Unitarian Universalist Association was among the first religious faiths to formally adopt full supprt for gay rights back in 1970 (just months after the Stonewall Riots in New York City). Despite the UUA’s position on gay rights, Ed didn’t feel that the congregations were open and welcoming enough to gays/lesbians/bisexuals/transgendered persons. He introduced a new UUA ciriculum known as The Welcoming Congregation and my husband and I were in a group who were previewing and testing the workshop lessons. Within months we understood how our congregation were inadvertantly being less than welcoming to non-straights. One example was that the then-Director of Religious Education, who was also among the people testing The Welcoming Congregation ciriculum, realized that for years she was using a Sunday school registration form for children that had spaces specifying “Father’s Name” and “Mother’s Name.” The problem was that this form slighted children who had same-sex parents. She subsequently changed the spaces on the form to the more gender-neutral “Parent’s Name.”

If that wasn’t enough, Ed had chafed for years at his job at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory because he had to hide his real sexual orientation out of a genuine fear that he would lose his job. Al, who worked for the CIA, also had to also hide his sexual orientation because he would’ve been thrown out otherwise and he quietly retired without ever letting on that he was gay. (This was back in the days when men and women were drummed out of the military and Department of Defese-related jobs for even suggesting that they were gay or lesbian.) When Ed decided to retire, he made a speech at his retirement dinner where he divulged the fact that he is gay to everyone present and he even introduced Al as his partner. (My husband and I were invited to Ed’s retirement dinner where we would’ve heard him come out to his longtime coworkers but we couldn’t make it due to a scheduling conflict.)

With Ed and Al both retired, they began their second career as fulltime gay rights activists both in our congregation and in the general public. They were among the first activists to push for legalizing same-sex marriage and they were also involved in the fight against AIDS.

Ed and Al decided to get married in our UU congregation and they invited nearly the entire congregation along with their families. As my husband and I watched the ceremony my mind flashed back to that scene in the Future Shock movie and I realized that I was watching a real-life version of that scene. It was a nice wedding that included a reception at the church with a wedding cake. If Ed and Al had been a heterosexual bride and groom, you would’ve concluded that it was a typical lovely wedding. The only difference between Ed and Al’s wedding and the wedding of a heterosexual couple was that it was a religious wedding only that wouldn’t be recognized by the local, state, and federal government simply because they were a same-sex couple.

In time Ed and Al became a fixture in our congregation. They attended Sunday service alongside heterosexuals and they frequently attended all-ages church events. They blended in among other families and I began to realize that they had a marriage that was just as stable and valid as the other legally-married heterosexual couples in our congregation. Thanks to their efforts, our congregation managed to attract other gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered. Some were single while others were same-sex couples. Some of them went on to become active members for many years while others were members for only a few years until they moved elsewhere.

As for Ed and Al, they remained active in our congregation and in the local gay rights movement until they learned about a gay retirement community that was being established in Florida near Tampa. They visited the Palms of Manasota community, fell in love with it, and decided to move there. While the congregation were sad to see Ed and Al go, their efforts to make our church more accepting of non-straights have left a legacy. Since Ed and Al moved our congregation has continued to attract members of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered community, including same-sex couples with children. In recent years we’ve attracted people who have come out to our congregation as polyamory. (With the increase of acceptance of same-sex marriage, I predict that the right to marry more than one spouse will be the next major civil rights movement. Right now the polyamory people are at the same point where same-sex marriage was back in the 1980’s—they are accepted and tolerated in our UU congregation but still perceived by the general public as being weird and strange.) In time I was even inspired by the public debate for the legalization of same-sex marriage to create this piece of jewelry from Shrinky Dinks which one can wear as either a pin or a necklace.

My Gay Marriage Threatens Your Straight Marriage HOW?

Ed and Al have continued to be active Unitarian Universalists and gay rights activists in Florida. Recently they wrote a chapter about their experiences as a same-sex Unitarian Universalist couple for a book called Coming Out in Faith: Voices of LGBTQ Unitarian Universalists. Last year, about a month before my hip surgery, Ed and Al traveled north and visited our congregation. The main reason for the trip was that they were taking advantage of the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington, DC and they finally had the chance to make their longtime relationship legal. (My husband joked to them that they had been “living in sin” all those years.) Florida refuses to recognize same-sex marriage so if the issue continues to be decided on a state-by-state basis, Ed and Al could continue to be trailblazers if one of them becomes seriously ill and the other can use their DC marriage to claim that he has the legal right to such things that married heterosexual couples take for granted like visiting the spouse in the hospital.

Last year I came to Annapolis with other members from my Unitarian Universalist congregation to lobby our elected representatives to legalize same-sex marriage. For the past several years it had been an annual occurence where a coalition of political and religious groups in favor of same-sex marriage would spend one day lobbying the elected legislators—known as Lobby Day—and the bill would either fail to get out of committee or it would go to the entire floor only be voted down in the legislature. Yet every year the opposition to the bill became less and less as more and more of the legislators began to personally know same-sex couples and realized that they were in long-term relationships that were just as stable and loving as married heterosexual couples. In previous years my husband, who was (and still is) one of the advisors of our congregation’s Youth Group, helped with organizing the teens to carpool to Annapolis so they could advocate for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland. (Many of those teens either had a g/l/b/t relative, knew a g/l/b/t youth, or were g/l/b/t themselves.) My husband would talk about how wonderful and empowering it was to advocate for such a cause and he urged me to do it.

In January, 2011 I finally did it when members of my church’s Social Action Group were organizing carpools to Annapolis for the annual Lobby Day and I volunteered to go along. That event started with a late afternoon rally in the Lawyers Mall that’s outside the State House. I took my camera out and shot the rally.

After the rally ended we went off to lobby our elected officials. I was very heartened when all of our own officials said that they would support the same-sex marriage bill. However, despite that effort, the same-sex marriage bill failed once again. What was encouraging was that the vote was extremely close so we knew that sometime within the next year or two or three, passage of this bill would become a reality. I really felt great because I felt that I was trying to make a difference. I was thrilled when the bill made its way out of the committee. But then I was disappointed when the bill failed in the legislature by just a few votes. The only encouraging thing was that, given the close vote, it would only be a matter of time before same-sex marriage would be legal in Maryland.

A month after that rally I made two falls a week apart where I landed on my butt both times and I later found that the falls had knocked my hip replacement (which I got in 2008) out of alignment so I had trouble walking. I underwent a hip revision surgery last September that snapped my hip replacement back into alignment. Then, three days after Christmas, my husband came home from work, announced that he was moving out, and ran out of the home before I had the chance to respond. I suddenly found myself as a separated woman who was still recovering from surgery.

For years opponents have said that same-sex marriage is a direct threat to the institution of marriage. All I can say is that this is totally false in my case. In that “Dear John” letter my husband left behind the night he walked out on me, he did not mention same-sex marriage at all and I never felt my marriage was under any kind of pressure by the presence of same-sex couples in my UU congregation.

A few months later Lobby Day came around again. My congregation’s Social Action Committee were organizing volunteers who would lobby elected officials to pass the bill once again. Unlike last year, my heart just wasn’t into making same-sex marriage equality legal. I was emotionally reeling from the sudden collapse of my own marriage and I began to feel that marriage shouldn’t be legal for anyone. I knew that I would be a poor advocate for legalizing same-sex marriage because I was so depressed about how my marriage got suddenly plunged into limbo. I could imagine some same-sex marriage opponent taking one look at my situation and ask sarcastically “Well if marriage didn’t work for you, what makes you think that marriage for same-sex couples would work for them?”

So I sat on the sidelines while fellow members took part in Lobby Day. I was happy when I learned that marriage equality had finally passed the legislature and Governor Martin O’Malley signed the bill.

But that victory was short-lived. The same-sex marriage opponents immediately put together petitions demanding that the same-sex marriage would be put up to a referendum for this fall’s election. I totally cringed because I knew that in recent years similar measures were put on the ballot for referendum in other states and they were all rejected by voters. I feel that such things as providing equal rights to minorities should never be put to a popular vote because the majority tends to vote against such rights. If certain things like repealing the Jim Crow laws were put to a popular vote, those Jim Crow laws would probably still be legal today and there would still be racial segregation that would affect everything like choosing whom to marry, where to live, where to shop, where to vacation, etc.

My church began an all congregation effort to call voters to convince them to vote in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples. I had people try to urge me to get involved but I couldn’t. I was still reeling emotionally from my husband’s walkout last December and I’m still feeling down about the entire institution of marriage.

Intellectually I still feel that adults should be free to legally marry whoever they want as long as the marriage ceremony isn’t a coerced shotgun wedding. I still support same-sex marriage out of that principle. I even feel that polyamorous adults should be free to legally marry as many spouses as they can handle. But emotionally I’m starting to reconsider marriage as an institution. Right now I’m learning the hard way that you can have a lot in common with your spouse, treat your spouse with respect, avoid abusing your spouse, remain monogamous with your spouse and your marriage can still fall apart. I made a good-faith effort on my part to make my marriage work but I found that, without my husband’s effort on his part, it wasn’t good enough.

So I sat on the sidelines while my fellow congregation members made the phone calls, knocked on doors, and marched with other gay rights activists in the Greenbelt Labor Day Parade. All I did was sit on the side, took photos of the marchers, and uploaded them online.

2012 Greenbelt Labor Day Festival
2012 Greenbelt Labor Day Festival
2012 Greenbelt Labor Day Festival
2012 Greenbelt Labor Day Festival
2012 Greenbelt Labor Day Festival
2012 Greenbelt Labor Day Festival
2012 Greenbelt Labor Day Festival

I also took photos of the same-sex marriage opponents who marched in the parade. The opponents were far smaller than the pro-marriage crowd.

2012 Greenbelt Labor Day Festival

I was totally shocked and surprised when I found that the referendum passed and Maryland (along with Maine and Washington State) were the first states to make same-sex marriage equality legal by voter referendum. Last Sunday my congregation celebrated by putting up multicolored balloons and erecting the “Vote for Question 6” lawn signs in front of the Meeting House. Our minister even spoke about the victory and introduced those who were at the forefront in getting voters to vote in favor of the referendum.

Post Question 6 Victory at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church
Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church after Election Day 2012
Celebrating the Legalization of Marriage Equality at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church
Celebrating the Legalization of Marriage Equality in Maryland at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

I am really pleased that same-sex marriage is becoming as accepted in the general public as it was in my Unitarian Universalist faith. As of this writing, the U.S. Supreme Court is going to announce its decision on November 30 whether to take on the challenges to gay marriage. If the U.S. Supreme Court does this and rules in favor of gay marriage, then same-sex couples will be able to have the right to get married in any state in the United States. I’m going to cross my fingers on this and hope for the best.

It’s just so amazing that something I once saw in a film and laughed at is now a reality that I totally support. The Future Shock film was correct in its prediction of the coming of same-sex marriage but it was incorrect in its implication that it’s one of the factors that will have the general public suffer from Future Shock. The vast majority of same-sex couples I know are into living a humdrum ordinary suburban life as their heterosexual counterparts. They don’t indulge in wild drug-fueled parties and they aren’t the kind of people you would ever see on a reality show. If you’ve ever met an average same-sex couple, you would conclude that there’s no real reason why they should be legally deprived of the right to marry.