The Perpetual Bachelor Whose Fight for Marriage Equality is Now Over

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by Ryan Crawford | @YesISaidCabSauv

June 26, 2015

Marriage is a BIG deal to Italians. Like, the biggest deal. If you don’t get married, your family thinks there’s something deeply wrong with you. Your Nonna insists you’ll starve to death because you don’t have a wife to feed you. From the day you’re born into an Italian family as a boy, your parents fantasize with their friends that you’ll marry their 1-week-old daughter when you grow up, and you’ll carry on Italian culture in your blissful, fertile, heterosexual union.

So you get married. You spend way too much money on way too much wine (“Vinny, are you kidding? The Pellegrinis are coming. Order another case. ‘Samattawitchu?”) and you have to make sure the food is the best chicken cacciatore or beef parmesan anyone has ever tasted, because half of your family cooks 5-star meals without even trying. Southern Italians like my Calabrian family will also have wedding confetti: lacy wraps of candied Jordan almonds harkening back to the Greek myth of Phyllis and Demophon, representing health, fertility, happiness, wealth, and longevity. Grandpa Grab-Ass will flirt inappropriately with his own relatives, and for years thereafter, everyone will talk about how beautiful the bride was.

I grew up in an Italian-American home on my mother’s side and was taught in my earliest formative years that I would get married one day. And I would get married to a woman. And no, I could not marry my cousin Cydney for her Barbie collection.

When I realized I was gay, I accepted it of myself fairly quickly. There was no question I liked men—I just did. So I began coming out at 13 years old, and by the time I was 16 I was fully out to family and friends. I helped found my high school’s Gay/Straight Alliance, my dad and step-mom supportively brought me to PFLAG meetings, and I was starting to date actual guys instead of just daydreaming about Danny from MTV’s reality show The Real World. But this was also during the George W. Bush administration when states were rallying together to ban same-sex marriages. My home state of Oregon passed such a law, and all the excitement and self-assurance I felt by recognizing and establishing my own identity was marred by this idea that I would have a long, uphill battle with the right to marry.

When I moved to Seattle in 2004 for my undergraduate degree, it was easy to see the incredible possibilities the city offered. Lesbians holding hands on the streets, gay-owned businesses, drag performers at bars that I was so eager to get into upon turning 21: Seattle showed me that gay people can live out loud. We could live out normal lives and shake off the notion that we had to hide ourselves in shame or scurry like roaches at the first shout of the word “faggot” from assholes driving through the neighborhood. We could be a community.

In 2012, Washington State proposed Referendum 74 to grant legal marriage rights to same-sex couples. This was a particularly thrilling possibility in the wake of California’s Proposition 8, but a terrifying feat with the understanding that we had to get this passed by popular vote. This meant that even if every single gay Washingtonian voted for marriage equality, and only every single gay Washingtonian, we would still lose. We needed thousands and thousands of straight allies to take the effort to vote in our interest, and I had my doubts.

I had only ever truly thought of marriage as between opposite-sex couples—that only straight people could be good at it—and while I felt as a law-abiding taxpayer that I was entitled to marry a man I loved, I didn’t actually love any men at the time.

This was an electric time in Seattle. We were charged with this passion to climb this mountain and do everything we could to make this happen. I worked with community organizer Shaun Knittel and many other inspiring leaders to form Social Outreach Seattle, a grassroots organization committed to ensuring equal rights and safeties for the queer community. We made commercials to encourage people to vote, distributed these commercials on YouTube, and held community rallies to get the word out. And on election night in November of 2012 when we heard the Referendum would pass, we took to the streets of Capitol Hill in the happiest celebration I had ever experienced.

At the time, I was 27 years old, and was single. Chronically. I was filled with such pride for my city, my state, my community, and so grateful for Washington voters. But that unsettling anxiety I felt waiting for the ballots to be counted remained in my heart long after the last rainbow flags were swept away after our victory parties. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this general anxiety lingered because I still doubted my ability to get married. Sure, I could legally do it, but was I ready for it? Could I be the kind of guy who would make a good husband to someone? I had only ever truly thought of marriage as between opposite-sex couples—that only straight people could be good at it—and while I felt as a law-abiding taxpayer that I was entitled to marry a man I loved, I didn’t actually love any men at the time. Big points for The Movement and Our People, scary time for self-doubting Ryan who remembered sitting with the women of his family on the eve of his sisters’ weddings, cutting tulle, wrapping almonds in it, and tying it off with ribbon, thinking he’d really like this at his wedding one day.

Over these last few years the marriage equality movement and I have watched each other grow. Rapidly, fiercely, and with the help of incredible people, we have strengthened our cores and unfurled with tender slow-blooming blossoms. To say the marriage equality movement is one we should be proud of is an understatement. This is a movement has spread from state to state with a passion to be reckoned with; a movement to be replicated for the struggles that the LGBT community still faces in racism, transphobia, misogyny, and discrimination. We got America to care about us.

This fight went all the way to the top, and we continued to wait while the Supreme Court heard out our stories and the fear-mongering of people who wanted to withhold from us the simple right to equal protection under the law. And in a 5-4 decision (that’s right, the fate of same-sex marriage rested on the opinions and consciences of 5 PEOPLE), the US Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage bans, like the one I witnessed as a teenager in Oregon, are unconstitutional; that “unmarrying” a couple simply because they crossed a state border is unacceptable.

Seattle was electric again last night, as we were on that November election night of 2012, but this time it’s different. This time, the rest of the country joins us in the celebration. This time, folks in Canada and Ireland and New Zealand are welcoming all 50 United States to that oh-so-cool Marriage Equality Club. And this time, rather than an unsettling malaise of self-doubt I experienced 3 years ago, I relish this new anchoring feeling of fulfillment, gratitude, and pride. With this one decision today, I take solace knowing that gay American children born now don’t have to experience the same doubt and shame I grew up with waiting for my country to decide how it felt about my marital prospects.

30 is just a few short months away, and with it comes that skeptical seedling in my mind that I should be lawfully wed by now. I may not be ready to get married yet. But I accept that I am single, and that even if I’m single for the rest of my life, I can still be happy. Contrary to my grandmother’s worries, I will not starve to death, and lacking a husband does not make me a failure. I accept that I may get married, and it may not be on the timeline I originally imagined or to the type of man I previously dreamed of, and that’s okay.

Today, on this historic Pride weekend, I accept that I am worthy of marriage. And now Uncle Sam thinks so too.

 

Ryan Crawford is a social media maven, marketing content manager, avid recycler, and Pokémon master. You can find his fiction work in Gay City Anthologies: vols. 3-5, and his professional, including the Love and Lust in Queer Seattle series at www.seattlegayscene.com.