Wednesday, April 29, 2009



Recent events have forced me to reconsider the way I have been talking about my relationship with the Goat, and it has occurred to me that you are the people I should talk to first. When I called N recently, she asked whether the Goat and I might consider getting married; I made some non-committal statement about caution and marriage, but basically avoided the issue. There are a couple of reasons for that.

The first reason:

As you have probably heard all too many times, the issue of gay marriage is a bit of a cleft stick for me. I don't doubt for a moment that society should provide gay people (that is, the Goat and me) all the rights and responsibilities of marriage if we want it. Though there are conflicting estimates of how many of us do in fact want it, rights are rights, whether you choose to take advantage of them or not.

However, I also don't doubt for a moment that, however it may have ended, what your mother and I had was a marriage, and a good one. You yourselves are the best evidence: not only that the Biblical words "they shall become one flesh" are literally true, but that what we had was of immeasurable value and creative power. Whatever the Goat and I do, we will not be creating a family in that sense. And until technology altered what had been the obvious result of married life, it would have been clear to anyone that we could not.

And then there is the fact that what is coming into being as “gay marriage” is something profoundly new; it has literally never been seen before. Ever. Anywhere. I greet its dawning with enthusiasm, but I still resonate to the idea that as a new thing it should also take a new name. But that’s probably a lost battle, and I’m not going to waste any energy waging it now.

Marriage in any case is a strange institution. Much of the legal battle around it now seems to be about state recognition, which while it is highly desirable, misses the point by appearing to leave the definition of marriage to the state rather than to the free choice of loving hearts. Many things operate under the name "marriage" which are in fact anything but, and many true marriages live out their existence without ever achieving the right to take the name.

That will surely also be true of gay marriages, and I doubt that it will ever change on either side of the street—that is the sad fact of our fallen nature.

Marriage is first and foremost a commitment between two people. The tradition of Christian marriage was built on the elevation of free will; it created our certainty that marriage should be the result of free choice, and not of family, property, or dynastic arrangements—all of which it certainly had been before. The presence of witnesses was required to ensure that the partners, and particularly the bride, were entiring a lifelong commitment of their own free will. But the Church also taught that a marriage performed in the sight of God alone was as valid as one performed in the sight of all one's friends and relations, just as repentance before God was as valid as repentance within what was then the confessional.

It is the inner truth of the relationship that determines its validity, not its outward appearance. I don’t know whether the Goat and I will ever make a public declaration of our commitment. But that does not mean that the commitment does not exist, or that it isn’t as deep and as heartfelt as that of any couple who profess their love to each other.

The second reason:

I have fallen deeply in love precisely twice in my life.

I entered my marriage to your mother as a sacrament; you have probably heard me say that although divorce had brought me most of the things I valued most in my life, from my early years living in intimacy with my grandparents to the reality of my adoption and everything that has come my way from having joined your grandfather’s parents’ family, it was simply not an option for me. It came as a bitter shock to have to accept that a commitment made for life might not in fact last that long; you would think that I might have noticed that growing up in a blended family.

Apparently I didn't. Or didn't want to think that it could be true for me.

About two years ago, I fell deeply in love again. As you probably know, I left home in the bitter certainty that there was little or no likelihood of ever finding someone to love who also loved me. And I didn’t see much in my observation of gay life in Nowheresville to persuade me otherwise, though everyone was good to me—they very carefully left me alone to find my own way, for which I will always be grateful. So I was unprepared for what hit me when it came. You would think that I might have noticed, growing up in a family with your grandfather's parents in it, that life has a way of unraveling our certainties; you would think I might have noticed, having grown up in the knowledge that your grandmother's parents might well have divorced if she hadn't shown up on their doorstep with two small boys, that life lets things turn out differently than you expected.

Apparently I didn't.

The point here is that I have been careful—in retrospect, probably far too careful—about stating that I had in fact fallen deeply in love again. I have not wanted to raise anyone's hopes, perhaps mostly because I was afraid of raising my own. This is not the first time that I have entered a relationship in the hope that it would last the rest of my life, though I am now all too keenly aware of the small likelihood of that happening: if conventional marriages succeed only 50% of the time, the likelihood of two men pulling it off together is, certainly statistically, pretty grim.

And I have already failed once.

But hearts are not ruled by statistics. And whatever form it may take, and however long it may last, my relationship with the Goat is all that I have. I must live in the absurd hope that it will last as long as I do, because I can only love with my whole being. And I do, in fact, love the Goat with my whole being.

I once made the mistake of pretending someone had no faults, and I will not do that again—it's not fair to anybody. I'm inclined to see the Goat's flaws all too clearly, perhaps more clearly than I see my own, and I know I have to work on that. I am convinced that he sees my flaws all too clearly, certainly more clearly than he sees his own, and I hope he can work on that. I can only hope that my shortcomings, first and foremost among them what turned out at the crucial moment and to my great surprise to be an inability to forgive, do not doom this love as it doomed my first one. But in all likelihood I will make different mistakes this time around.

Marriage, or any relationship, is not to be judged by its apparent merits or its name, but by the fruit it bears.

You yourselves are the obvious fruit of my love for your mother, but I have to believe that there were others; for one, we made and shared a home that drew other people in—all kinds of people. I still treasure not only the three of you, but the memory of everything that was; knowing that I have lost it forever is still terribly painful to me. And I will never cease loving your mother, or being profoundly grateful for her love and patience and humor.

Twenty-five years is a long time, and roots grow deep in the course of them. The Goat and I may manage to spend the rest of our lives together, may even, on the outside ragged edge of probability, spend twenty-five years together, but I now know that it is foolish to expect such things.

We can only live our lives one day at a time, and be grateful for the good things that come our way, what in former times was called “God’s grace.”

If I were to die tomorrow, I would be as grateful for the Goat’s love as I am for your mother’s. It was the Goat who told me that he loved me just the way I was when I was a complete mess; I hope he still feels that way, because I still am, much of the time. It was the Goat who told me, in spite of all the messages I was getting from other people, that no one but me could tell me what kind of gay man to be; I hope he still feels that way, because sometimes I wonder whether I will ever really fit in, with him or anyone else. In many ways, I seem to have landed in a no man’s lands between warring parties, unable to accept the pieties proclaimed on either side.

This is all a very long way of saying that I ask you to judge the Goat and me not on the appearance of our relationship, or on its merits as you see them, but on the fruits of our love. I have to believe that just as any marriage bears fruit beyond children, our relationship will bear fruit in time as well.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote that faith was not a Christian virtue unless it were faith in the unbelievable, that hope was not a Christian virtue unless the situation were hopeless, and that love was not a Christian virtue unless it were love of the unlovable. I cite him not to say that my love for the Goat is love of the unlovable (I have never claimed any of the Christian virtues, myself) but for one simple reason:

A similar degree of paradox is necessary to express almost any profound truth. And that means that even a love which is apparently by its very nature sterile can also produce fruit.

My current happiness is the most obvious proof.
God works in mysterious ways.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, have you come a long way! From considering the potential of divorce, to discussing gay marriage with your children -- and not just in the theoretical sense but about a real/potential situation. (How long have we known each other? In reality, not very long.)

    I wonder though, if your kids are mature enough to seriously understand many of the implications of marriage that you've expressed here. Or, if they might just be casually thinking about it because it topical.

    Marriage is a big deal. It shouldn't be taken lightly.

    As you and I both know, far too many people get married just because they think they're supposed to.

    - - -

    Any feedback from the other side yet?