Terrance Heath

In Praise of Long Engagements

Filed By Terrance Heath | August 21, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: California, long engagements, Prop 8, Prop 8 challenge, repeal Prop 8

I’ve always been a fan of long engagements. Even before I met the hubby, I had a strict rule that I imposed on myself while dating: No matter how much I liked the guy, how great he was, etc., we had to be dating for at least a year before there could be any talk of even thinking about moving in together. I guess I’d see too many friends end up “married by the second date,” only then to learn the things they didn’t have time to learn about their sweethearts before signing a lease or mortgage together.

Messy, complicated break-ups then followed, bookended by periods of depression, anger, frustration, etc. I figured I preferred being a lonely bachelor to having to extricate myself from something I wouldn’t have gotten into in the first place if I’d taken the time to check it out. I applied that rule in the two years of dating before I met my husband, and it probably saved me getting involved with guys that I wasn’t all that compatible with. So, when I met him, I was unattached, not on the “rebound,” and ready.

The way I see it, the more time you have to be sure of what you’re getting into before the better off you’ll be after you commit. I thought of that when I saw this story about California gay groups postponing a challenge to Prop 8.

The biggest California gay rights advocacy group on Wednesday said it needed three years to build a coalition to repeal a ban on same-sex marriage in the state, creating a rift in the movement with those who want to go back to the polls next year while anger is hot.

California, the most populous state and often a standard-bearer for social liberalism, is the biggest prize in U.S. culture wars. Its next fight over gay marriage is sure to draw in national organizations, cost $100 million or more, and may affect the next U.S. presidential campaign if it takes place in 2012.

California’s November 2008 vote to ban same-sex marriage, months after the state’s top court legalized it, bolstered the power of social conservatives and sparked nationwide protests among gays and their allies. It was followed by legalization of gay marriage in a handful of mostly Northeastern states and a court challenge aimed at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It takes time, commitment and lots of lots of volunteers to undo the untruths that our opponents have been telling,” said Marc Solomon, marriage director of Equality California, in a conference call. “We can have majority support by 2012.”

Frankly, I’m relieved.

Don’t get me wrong. I was as pissed off as anyone when Prop 8 passed, and again when the California Supreme Court “split the baby.” I don’t live in California, but I have friends who do, and I want to see it overturned and see them and their families get the equal rights and protections they should have had all along.

But if the numbers aren’t there, the numbers aren’t there. And as close as it seems we are to getting them them (and we are close), it will take more than a year to get those numbers there. It will take even more public education and outreach than I know people have already been doing. It will take a lot of “face-time,” a lot of talking, and a lot of listening in communities where we want to build support, and need to build support in order to win.

I understand wanting the equal rights and protections our families deserve now rather than later. The numbers in support of marriage in my own state don’t give us a majority either. Instead, we’ve gotten a kind of piecemeal equality. But we managed to avoid a constitutional amendment, so we won’t have that to fight down the line.

The inequality our families live with is very real. We pay for it in myriad ways, and we’re always aware of how vulnerable we are as a result of inequality. We look at our families, feel that vulnerability and want to protect them now. Not later.

But if the majority support isn’t there now, it probably won’t be there a year from now, and attempting to shift the majority in our favor will be made more difficult by an opposition campaign that will almost certainly pour truckloads of money into a campaign to uphold Prop 8. Like any other campaign, you spend nearly as much time countering the other sides misinformation as you do getting your own message out. Maybe more. They know it, and they’ll exploit in any dishonest way they think will get them an advantage and get you down in the mud with them.

Any campaign to overturn Prop 8 is going to be too important and too expensive to take on without knowing we have a real chance at winning. As much as I’d like to win

The time between now and 2012 is a great opportunity to build relationships, increase support and shore up existing coalition. It’s an opportunity to reach out to our communities and our families, without having to worry about fight at the ballot box.

It’s an opportunity to reach beyond our comfort zones, as we do in any relationship if it’s going to go anywhere. It’s an opportunity to question our own assumptions about who would support us and who wouldn’t. It’s an opportunity to ask ourselves who we haven’t reached out to, whose support we haven’t sought and why. It’s an opportunity to broaden our view of who is a part of our community, as well as to remind ourselves that we are part of many other communities. It’s an opportunity to strengthen ties. It’s an opportunity to build and strengthen support, so that it will be there when we really need it, down the line.

In other words, it’s an opportunity to really commit to one another, our families, and our communities — with commitment itself as the goal. Look, we know time is on our side. We know the day will come when Prop 8 falls and marriage equality is a reality. In the meantime, we’ve got relationships to forge, nurture, and strengthen.

So, I tend to think of the time between now and 2012 or whenever the time is right to take on Prop 8 as a long engagement. We’ll get to the altar, and we’ll be stronger for the time it took us to get there.

Just remember, with any luck, the time beyond that moment will be much longer than the time it took to get there. And what we’ll have then may be stronger and more lasting that if we rushed it.


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Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | August 21, 2009 12:14 PM

Too bad people didn't take that approach before voting for Clinton and Obama.

I liked your view on waiting to tie the knot however I have a story that shows Love at first site is possible. My hubby and I will be celebrating our 24th year together on 11 Otober. We met on a Saturday night and have never been apart since (if you don't count my military deployments). He is the love in my heart.

Congratulations on your long engagement. Maybe if you're really, really, REALLY lucky, the "California gay groups" will get their act together in time for you to have a wedding on your 85th birthday.

Until then, I guess you'll have to be.... well, as pissed off as anyone.