How have things been different for loving couples since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, one year ago?
As a therapist who works with a range of individuals and couples, both gay and straight, I’ve noticed that more of us can now imagine having a wedding without shame or inhibition. It’s not just that we can get married, but that we feel free enough to ask for recognition for who we are and whom we love, openly, authentically, and in front of lots of other people, with less self-hatred and less self-censorship than ever before.
On some level, we all have doubts about having a wedding, regardless of our gender or sexual orientation. We wonder, Is it ok for me to ask for this attention? Am I allowed? Will I be judged for being indulgent or provocative, or for ‘making a scene,’ or for shoving something in everyone’s faces? This is what I call “Spotlight Ambivalence,”a hesitation to share ourselves out of fear that we’ll seem like we’re “showing off.” “Spotlight Ambivalence” is rooted in shame, and there’s no greater way to debilitate a person with shame than by making it illegal for them to be who they are or love who they love.
Marriage equality: Lets us celebrate our love
When the law says, “You belong. You have the same rights as everyone else,” that has a profound impact on how we view ourselves and each other. And so, marriage equality has lifted some of the shame that has historically blocked all of us from fully celebrating our love. Laws are not just words and rules. They are powerful cultural messages about who we consider to be full human beings and who we don’t.
For example, when U. S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, announced that the Department of Justice would sue North Carolina for discriminating against transgender people, she emphasized the lawsuit’s main purpose by speaking directly to transgender Americans and saying, “we see you, we hear you, and we stand with you.”
So, though I’m sure lots of changes have trickled down as a result of marriage equality, the most significant changes I observe have taken place deep within individuals who have wanted to get married but were always told– for most of their lives!–that they were not allowed. Until now.
In my book, Modern Brides & Modern Grooms: A Guide to Planning Straight, Gay, and Other Nontraditional Twenty First Century Weddings, I remind the reader, no matter who they are, that their unique wish to share their love with their communities is righteous and wonderful, and something to be revealed as opposed to concealed. I guide men and women alike, to tell their unique stories their way, and to not hide in the name of modesty, or conformity, or fear of being deviant or indulgent or some kind of freak show. If you are aware of your specific intentions in any performance, you will capture the attention of any crowd. And make no mistake, a wedding is a performance. You’re inviting people to witness your life and your love. If you take ownership of that, your wedding can be a wonderful exchange of genuine, loving attention, as opposed to an awkward, slogging, through the tired steps of conformity.
Since down-with-DOMA, several of my queer clients have shared with me pictures and memories of the beautiful ceremonies they created in their own ways, including table settings–some of which had pictures from LGBT history–or ceremonies that featured readings from Plato and other historical sources–even religious ones–that celebrate same sex love, or just poems or songs or speeches that their friends have written and performed for them. They have enjoyed taking the wedding spotlight and described feeling that they deserved to be there, sharing themselves with their friends and families. And what’s more, they felt permitted to present themselves in their own individual and fully expressed ways.
But LGBT people are not the sole beneficiaries of marriage equality, it has inspired freedom of expression in all of us. Many of my straight clients have been inspired by the same sex weddings they’ve attended over the years because they have observed that these celebrations don’t have to be about sleepwalking through traditions. You can be awake, and alive, and creative, and really tell your guests who you are, and do it on your terms. Not your parents’ terms or tradition’s terms or anyone else’s.
This is actually the genesis of my book. Straight women friends of mine shared how they hadn’t wanted to have a wedding until they saw mine, and realized they could make it personal, as opposed to simply submitting to the tradition of a woman being given away.
Also, DOMA getting struck down has opened discussions about how wedding planning isn’t just for straight women. Straight men have now become more interested in wedding planning when they consider the purpose of the event. It’s not “the bride’s day.” It’s their day, to be creative and to tell a meaningful story about who they are.
In short, no matter their gender or gender identity or sexual orientation, people are now making the choice to get married, as a way to express their authenticity, rather than to hide behind conformity. With this freedom of creative choice as the foundation of modern marriage, all couples are more capable than ever before to negotiate their needs and desires throughout their lives together.