“I guess I’m a bad homosexual”

By Paul Fromberg

My husband and I drove home from our regular Monday night dinner talking about the upcoming Supreme Court ruling we expected to uphold Proposition 8. “I guess I’m a bad homosexual,” he said. “But gay marriage hasn’t been the most important thing on my mind this month.” I agreed.

It had been a beautiful Memorial Day. We drove out of San Francisco into the Republican suburbs to explore Mount Diablo. As we stood in line at a deli, Grant turned to me with a question about potato chips and addressed me as he always does. “Honey?” he said. We both looked at each other. Could my husband call me honey in the middle of a suburban lunch line? Would we be turned away from ordering our sandwiches? Would we be ridiculed? Did we care? Well, yes, a little. Nobody likes to get the hateful stare. But nobody was dialing 911 making a complaint of eating while gay. We weren’t going to be interrogated. There were no officers stuffing us into unmarked vans. We were just going to be two middle-aged married men waiting to order our sandwiches outside the safe zone of San Francisco.

In the ongoing work of converting a culture ––bending it toward justice, toward the restoration of human dignity and ordinary goodness––you have to recognize what the big struggles are, and which ones are small.

It’s hard for me to see gay marriage as the biggest struggle we’ve got to deal with in California.

I can still walk publicly with my husband, legal or not, without fear of the arrest or deportation our undocumented neighbors face every day. Being a gay couple doesn’t put us at risk in one of our state’s hellishly overcrowded prisons, where so many of the young Black men in our neighborhood wind up. Our marriage gives us rights about health care decision-making, but it doesn’t change the way our elderly friends lie for days in gurneys in the dingy hallways of the country hospital, waiting for over-stretched nurses to bring them something for the pain. Our legal right to marry or adopt children doesn’t fix the dysfunctional school system where twelve-year olds have given up on learning to read.

While it’s true that the No on 8 campaign message was mealy-mouthed and its strategy poor, the lessons to be learned from that battle are not all technical. Organizing is not, at the end, a technical task. It means actually finding common interest among people, and building on that. In terms of political organizing, the fight for gay marriage can’t be separated from California’s budget crisis: from our struggles for immigrant rights, education reform, and tax reform that will allow us to provide humane health care and educate all our children. The fight for gay marriage can’t simply involve gays throwing a bit of money at a campaign so we can all have fabulous weddings. It means, as we say in my business, doing the hard work of becoming a community.

My business, which is being a priest in a church, is after all not very different from the business of most of the people in our state. We love each other, we bless each other, we feed and heal and teach and care for each other—not always because we like one another, but because we recognize that we’re bound together in a common life.

When we got married last July, standing in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office in City Hall, Grant and I promised that we would stand by each other. Even then, not knowing if our marriage would be legal in the future, what we most yearned for was to love, support and keep faith— not just with each other, but with the whole community in which we live. Nothing could change that promise for us; not Prop 8, not anything.

It’s ironic that my marriage to my husband— which now is one of the 18,000 declared legal by California—has not brought me any closer to common life with the people of my state. I find myself set apart from my unmarried sisters and brothers. I now have one more privilege that others don’t. It’s a situation that makes me feel, for lack of a better word, queer.

Paul Fromberg is the rector of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

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