Most married couples like to tell the story of how they met, and I’m no exception, so here goes.
One spring night a six-foot drag queen in high heels named Chantal led me across a crowded dance floor to a quiet, thoughtful-looking man standing on his own in a gay club in Connecticut.
Drag queens aren’t famous for their subtlety, so she put my hand in his and just said, “Baby, this is your destiny.”
There are a lot of things they don’t teach you when you’re studying in high school in Ireland. One useful nugget is that drag queens make terrific matchmakers.
That first star-crossed meeting between my partner and myself happened over 12 years ago.
A year later we moved to New York City in a big lumbering U-Haul to our new apartment where we’ve lived together very happily ever since.
In most every respect it’s your typical happy-ever-after tale, and I am as happy now as any man has a right to be.
But to this day, whenever anyone asks, I always call my significant other my “partner” because the term boyfriend, I feel, implies that we’re still dating (after 12 years, I think I’ve made up my mind.)
Of course the word “husband” still has a fairly loaded cultural significance. If I used it to describe my relationship to my partner it would suggest that we have rights and entitlements in law that we actually don’t (and it’s not for want of asking for them).
You’d be surprised how often this legal murkiness pops up. Whenever I fill out an application in a store or see a doctor for any kind of service I see boxes on forms marked married, separated or single.
I'm the invisible man
What this is telling me, over and over again, is that legally, my relationship doesn’t exist. I’m the invisible man. I’m so outside the mainstream that there isn’t language to describe me.
Because I love the wrong person, you see. There’s actually a wrong way to love other people, apparently.
And of course the Defense of Marriage Act which President Clinton signed, and now says he regrets, means that no state in the union needs to treat a relationship between two persons of the same sex as a marriage, even when it’s legal in another state.
The watchdogs of the federal government, who are not usually famous for the strength of their own marriages, have decided that only one man and one woman can get hitched. Everyone else is permanently out of luck.
If you’re heterosexual and married and you’re reading this, I am willing to bet you’d feel incensed if a state or federal government decided that your relationship was suddenly invalid.
Unprecedented legal limbo
But I bet you’d be apoplectic if your neighbors and your own state voted by a tiny margin to prevent you from getting married in the first place.
That’s what Proposition 8 did in California last November, that’s why it caused so much anger in the gay community. It was a tipping point that startled as many straight people as gay ones by its passing.
Overnight 18,000 previously legal same sex marriages entered an unprecedented legal limbo, and all future same sex marriages in the state were indefinitely postponed. That this was happening on the same night Barack Obama was elected president made it feel like living in two separate Americas simultaneously, with startlingly different outcomes, superimposed, one over the other.
Now I understand some people of faith have religious objections to unions they may see as unfortunate or even sinful. But I am not asking for their approval, and I’m certainly not insisting that they perform their religious ceremonies to mark my union.
I pay my taxes
Same-sex marriages aren’t compulsory. Muslims don’t sue to have Catholic priests or rabbis marry them; gays don’t go to parties where they’re not invited either.
In any case, I’m not religious. I simply want my relationship recognized as a legal union in law to avail of the same legal rights and entitlements enjoyed by other married couples.
It’s really that simple. I pay my taxes. I deserve the same rights.
But the reality is that for years I’ve been paying the same taxes (more actually) for far less rights.
If, for example, I had actually married my American partner in Massachusetts before I got my visa to live and work in this country, I would have been deported. You read that right.
But my marriage isn't good enough
Since the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, my Massachusetts wedding would have indicated an intention to stay here permanently, and that would have meant I would be forced to leave. Hilarious irony, isn’t it?
For heterosexual couples, of course, the opposite happens -- it’s a mandatory visa for the foreign born partner. Everyone I mention this to, even people who don’t support marriage equality, see the blatant discrimination at work here.
In 2009 same-sex couples who have been legally married in U.S. states or foreign countries are not able to immigrate here based on their marriage. It’s time that inequality ended.
Because it’s no small matter. It ends up costing a lot -- financially and in other ways.
Paying a fortune to adjust a visa
Heterosexual couples can go down to City Hall and pick up a marriage license for $50, then adjust their visa status, but gay couples have to pay their lawyers tens of thousands of dollars to secure the basic right just to stay together.
My partner likes to joke that it’s because we’re worth more, but there’s anger beneath his throwaway statement.
In my view the Defense of Marriage Act, Proposition 8 and other anti-gay marriage initiatives are a kind of theft, really. They’re profoundly un-American, too – because they’re a taking away of rights, not a granting of them.
Through Proposition 8, for example, a bare majority of California voters said we disapprove of gay people and their relationships, so we will vote away their marriages, and we will ensure that they won’t have the right to marry in the future.
In other words, we’ll make you all invisible. We’ll make you disappear. You have no “right” to exist anyway.
Fighting for my rights
The most disturbing silence of all on Proposition 8 emanated from the White House, where the self-described “fierce advocate” for gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual rights, President Obama, didn’t feel compelled to say one word about the raft of signature gay issues before him in his first 100 days.
But in saying all this, I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m discouraged or bitter, or that I’ll ever stop fighting for my rights.
On the contrary, I’m happier these days than I’ve ever been and to be honest my life amazes me. Back in Donegal in the 1990s I never even imagined the life I live now.
A good day back then was going out for a pint with my mates and not coming home in plaster casts. It’s amazing how travel, time and experience can change your whole perspective.
On TV, I’ve lost count of the number of wrenching Hollywood dramas I’ve watched over the years where some sensitive young man is tortured by the weighty question of whether he should tell people he’s gay or not.
Will Mom and Dad send him packing? What will the neighbors think? Oh, the drama.
My dad shrugged when I told him
But that wasn’t me. At all. My dad shrugged when I told him. My aunts rolled their eyes. My female friends fell about laughing, delighted to find a Donegal man who enjoyed listening to them talk about themselves.
So for me being gay was never a problem. It was mostly other people’s problem. I was actually fine with it.
I mean, I never felt an urge to stand on a soap-box and shout myself hoarse over the discovery. I just thought, well this is going to be interesting … and I was right.
And it’s a bit of trade secret, this, but gay couples can be every bit as boring and sedentary as their straight friends. I mean it’s unusual, but it happens.
In my own life I actually love staying in on a Friday night with my partner and watching Netflicks, same as anyone. I adore lazy Sundays with a good book.
I like to cook Italian and French. I’m partial to an Irish stew and a pint of Guinness. I have two insane cats and they make me laugh.
Don't gay people come from families too?
It’s the simple things, I’ve discovered, that I really love.
But to hear other people tell it you’d think I spend all my time plotting the downfall of civilization. To hear some people tell it, you’d expect my life to be a non-stop party of self-indulgence and irresponsibility -- in those quiet moments when I’m not undermining the family, that is.
But don’t gay people come from families too? I mean I do, and I like families a lot. So why would I want to undermine them? No one can ever answer that, I’ve found.
So things are very good here, on the whole, and there’s no question that New Yorkers are a tolerant lot.
Today I’ve finally made my home here and it’s a good one. But I’m not fooled.
There’s a definite path to power in this world, and the trail always seems to end at the desk of a (middle aged, white) heterosexual man who holds the power of life and death over you. He can sign your marriage certificate, authorize your visa, approve your mortgage, and employ you -- or not.
Wresting even a little power from the far-reaching hands of this man has taken feminists, progressives, civil rights activists and gays over 40 years, and frankly it still looks like he’s still holding all the aces.
The sky hasn't fallen
But despite all the political foot dragging, marriage equality is coming. Gay couples can already get legally married in six of the 50 states.
The sky hasn’t fallen, husbands haven’t abandoned their wives for their old fishing buddy, churches haven’t been forced to marry gay people, and your neighbors haven’t started marrying dolphins.
The scare tactics haven’t worked, because what we are talking about, at the end of the day, is love. That idea, that we’re talking about love, can get lost when anti-gay leaders unleash a torrent of scathing contempt over people they personally dislike.
But the thing is, no one can actually prevent you from liking someone else. It’s very foolish to try.
Some of my heterosexual friends are getting married soon and they look radiantly happy. Why wouldn’t they?
Lately their daily lives have become an intoxicating whirl of wedding planning, bookings, travel arrangements and bridal registries. It’s lovely to watch.
It also has me thinking. I could do with a new microwave. Oh, and if you’re so moved, I’m quite partial to Barneys. So you can send my partner and I a gift certificate any time now.
After 12 years, I think we’ve waited long enough.
Cillian Murphy in painful ‘Dunkirk’ interview with Stephen Colbert