A family’s marriage aisle widens

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It’s sometimes tough to measure progress, personal or political. Our lives are lived slowly, day by day, and so change can seem incremental. Or impossible.

But a lot of difference can be made in a decade.

About 10 years ago, I went to my dad’s second wedding and wrote about it in a column. It was the first time since high school that I had seen many of the family friends and neighbors I grew up with, and so it was an evening of perpetual coming out.

Gray-haired friends of my dad would ask, “Are you married?”

And I’d say, “I’m partnered with a woman. I’m a lesbian.”

There would be a short pause. They’d start to say something. Then a longer pause.

Then they’d say something like, “Excuse me, I need to say hello to Mrs. Smith, I just spotted her”; or, “Would you like something from the bar?”; or, in one memorable case, a woman who I like very much said — with the best of intentions — “I work in a school with developmentally disabled kids, so I know what’s it’s like to be special and different.”

I looked at her and paused. Started to say something. Paused again.

“Can I get you something from the bar?” I said.

Things are so different now.

Recently, I went to my sister’s very elegant wedding. It was attended by many of the same people, most of whom I hadn’t seen since my dad’s shindig.

This time, my current partner was invited.  And this time, things were very different.

“It’s wonderful to meet you!” these even-more-graying friends of my dad said. They kissed her on the cheek. They made party small talk. They took me aside to tell me how great Jenny is, how funny, how much they like her, how perfect we are together.

When they left, they made a point of saying goodbye to Jenny, too; of asking us both to dinner; of hoping they saw us both again soon.

Jenny and I slow danced together. We held hands. A year into our relationship, we are obviously in love and we didn’t try to hide that or mute it.

We were out lesbians at my sister’s wedding and no one cared.

And that is exactly how it should be.

Marriage in Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire and Connecticut has legitimated gay and lesbian couples in a way nothing else could. It even affects couples like Jenny and me, who can’t get married in our home state of New York (though our governor tried in the final month of 2009).

People are getting accustomed to the idea that gays and lesbians get married, that we call each other husbands and wives. And with social change, familiarity breeds acceptance, not contempt.

That is why the marriage debate itself has been useful — even when it fails in places like California. Because it has meant that hundreds of ordinary gay and lesbian couples have been showcased in the media and on the streets. We are no longer a mysterious minority with strange and secret rituals. We are couples. We are families.

Yes, my dad’s friends had 10 years to get used to the idea that I was a lesbian. But they wouldn’t have changed their minds if society hadn’t rapidly changed.

Jenny and I are planning to get married when our marriage can be legally performed in New York.

We’re planning on a small wedding, so we don’t know if we’ll invite any of my dad’s friends.

But the difference now, is that we feel like we could.

And if we invited them, we think they’d come.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning columnist based in New York City.

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