What marriage equality means to an 80-year-old in Maine

Frank Bruni writes in the New York Times about Chuck Bennett, an 80-year-old Mainer who was forced out of the Navy in the late 1950s for being gay.  Bruni gets Bennett’s take on this year’s ballot initiative to legalize marriage equality in the states.

It’s worth reading the whole piece for a bit of historical perspective – something that is important for those of us who grew up in a very different time than Bennett.

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If you live for 80 years, Chuck Bennett told me, you see things you never imagined. Crazy, fantastical stuff.A man on the moon. “Amazing,” he said.

The Soviet Union’s disintegration. “Also amazing.”

And on Nov. 6, if the polls are right and his hope is fulfilled, the people of Maine may pass a referendum for same-sex marriage, which no state has adopted by popular vote before.

“That’s equally amazing to me,” he said. Ten minutes later, he circled back to say it again. “I would like to reiterate how amazing it is.”

NOTE FROM JOHN: Another part of the article offers a fascinating perspective on marriage itself.

One of his housemates, David Newman, 71, who is also gay, still has trouble understanding the way “I do” and gold bands became such an ardent, defining quest. He spent a lifetime trying, out of painful necessity, not to be tormented by the straight world’s norms, which excluded him.

“How can somebody like me, who has made a significant investment in inventing an alternative world, come around to accept gay marriage?” he asked, clarifying that he supports the referendum. It’s just unsettling to him, this challenge to what he thought he was supposed to believe about such conventions.

It’s more than just not “believing” in marriage.  It’s tuning yourself out, turning yourself off, to the notion that you could ever get married.  When you grow up gay – at least when I grew up in the 70s and 80s – you “accepted” the “fact” that you’re never going to fall in love, certainly are never going to get married and have kids, and very likely everyone you love today will hate when they find out you’re gay.

Whether any of it was true or not, it’s what you believed.  So it’s somewhat shocking to find all of that turned on its head in your lifetime.

I support gay marriage.  I wantto get married (though that requires a date first). I always wanted to have kids.  But even for me, the notion of two men marrying is “new,” and it’s something that has even taken me a while to grow accustomed to – for example hearing men call their boyfriends their “husbands” – because I had always “known” in my head and in my heart that it would never be so.  And now it is.

Read the full column here.


Born and raised in Maine, Nick Seaver moved to DC to study political communication in 2003. He began writing extensively on LGBT rights during the first ballot initiative in Maine that overturned marriage equality. He writes about a variety of issues, ranging from marriage to issues facing LGBT youth. Follow him on Twitter at @NDSeaver.

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