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Why Gay Marriage Is Good for Straight America

As same-sex couples march down the aisle in New York, the author reflects on his own life, love, and pursuit of happiness.

andrew sullivanCourtesy of Andrew Sullivan                       The author (left) with his husband

As a child, when I thought of the future, all I could see was black. I wasn’t miserable or depressed. I was a cheerful boy, as happy playing with my posse of male friends in elementary school as I was when I would occasionally take a day by myself in the woodlands that surrounded the small town I grew up in. But when I thought of the distant future, of what I would do and be as a grown-up, there was a blank. I simply didn’t know how I would live, where I would live, who I could live with. I knew one thing only: I couldn’t be like my dad. For some reason, I knew somewhere deep down that I couldn’t have a marriage like my parents.

It’s hard to convey what that feeling does to a child. In retrospect, it was a sharp, displacing wound to the psyche. At the very moment you become aware of sex and emotion, you simultaneously know that for you, there is no future coupling, no future family, no future home. In the future, I would be suddenly exiled from what I knew: my family, my friends, every household on television, every end to every romantic movie I’d ever seen. My grandmother crystallized it in classic and slightly cruel English fashion: “You’re not the marrying kind,” she said. It was one of those things that struck a chord of such pain, my pride forced me to embrace it. “No, I’m not,” I replied. “I like my freedom.”

This wasn’t a lie. But it was a dodge, and I knew it. And when puberty struck and I realized I might be “one of them,” I turned inward. It was a strange feeling—both the exhilaration of sexual desire and the simultaneous, soul-splintering panic that I was going to have to live alone my whole life, lying or euphemizing, concocting some public veneer to hide a private shame. It was like getting into an elevator you were expecting to go up, the doors closing, and then suddenly realizing you were headed down a few stories. And this was when the future went black for me, when suicide very occasionally entered my mind, when my only legitimate passion was getting A grades, because at that point it was all I knew how to do. I stayed away from parties; I didn’t learn to drive; I lost contact with those friends whose interest suddenly became girls; and somewhere in me, something began to die.

They call it the happiest day of your life for a reason. Getting married is often the hinge on which every family generation swings open. In my small-town life, it was far more important than money or a career or fame. And I could see my grandmother’s point: the very lack of any dating or interest in it, the absence of any intimate relationships, or of any normal teenage behavior, did indeed make me seem just a classic loner. But I wasn’t. Because nobody is. “In everyone there sleeps/A sense of life lived according to love,” as the poet Philip Larkin put it, as well as the fear of never being loved. That, as Larkin added, nothing cures. And I felt, for a time, incurable.

You can have as many debates about gay marriage as you want, and over the last 22 years of campaigning for it, I’ve had my share. You can debate theology, and the divide between church and state, the issue of procreation, the red herring of polygamy, and on and on. But what it all really comes down to is the primary institution of love. The small percentage of people who are gay or lesbian were born, as all humans are, with the capacity to love and the need to be loved. These things, above everything, are what make life worth living. And unlike every other minority, almost all of us grew up among and part of the majority, in families where the highest form of that love was between our parents in marriage. To feel you will never know that, never feel that, is to experience a deep psychic wound that takes years to recover from. It is to become psychologically homeless. Which is why, I think, the concept of “coming out” is not quite right. It should really be called “coming home.”

In the end, I had to abandon my home in order to find it again and know the place for the first time. I left England just after my 21st birthday for America and its simple foundational promise: the pursuit of happiness. And I gave myself permission to pursue it. I will never forget the moment I first kissed another man; it was as if a black-and-white movie suddenly turned into color. I will never forget the first time I slept next to another man—or rather tried to sleep. Never for a moment did I actually feel or truly believe any of this was wrong, let alone an “intrinsic evil,” as my strict Catholicism told me that it was. It was so natural, so spontaneous, so joyous, it could no more be wrong than breathing. And as I experienced intimacy and love for the first time as an adult, all that brittleness of the gay adolescent, all that white-knuckled embarrassment, all those ruses and excuses and dark, deep depressions lifted. Yes, this was happiness. And America for me will always represent it.

And that is why marriage equality is, to my mind, the distillation of America. If you’re a heterosexual reading this, have you ever considered for a millisecond that your right to pursue happiness did not include your right to marry the person you love? And that is why, over the centuries, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right to marry for everyone, citizen or even traveler, as a core, inalienable right, bestowed by the Declaration of Independence itself. The court has ruled that the right to marry precedes the Bill of Rights; it has decided that prisoners on death row have a right to marry, even if they can never consummate it. It has ruled that no limitations may be put on it for anyone—deadbeat dads, multiple divorcées, felons, noncitizens. Hannah Arendt wrote in 1959 that “the right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right … Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.” And, of course, after a long struggle, interracial marriage was finally declared a constitutional right, in perhaps the most sweeping ruling ever, with the court declaring that civil marriage was one of the “basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival.” Barack Obama is a historic American figure not because he is black, but because he is the son of a black father and a white mother. He is the living embodiment of the pursuit of happiness that marriage represented.

I still didn’t think it would ever happen to me. I thought I was too emotionally damaged, my emotions and sexuality severed by all those years of loneliness and arrested emotional development. I thought my heart had too much scar tissue, and I could live my life well enough with just friendship and occasional sexual encounters or dates. But when I first set eyes on my husband, I knew I had lucked out. Some things you simply know. And when we finally got married, a few years later, and our mothers walked us down the makeshift garden aisle, and my sister gave the reading through tears, and one of our beagles howled through the vows, and my father put his arms around me and hugged, I did not hear civilization crumble. I felt a wound being healed. It is a rare privilege to spend your adult life fighting for a right that was first dismissed as a joke, only finally to achieve it in six states and Washington, D.C. But how much rarer to actually stumble upon someone who could make it a reality. And to have it happen to me in my own lifetime! This joy is compounded, deepened, solidified by the knowledge that somewhere, someone just like I was as a kid will be able to look to the future now and not see darkness—but the possibility of love and home. That, I realized, was really what I had been fighting for for two decades: to heal the child I had once been—and the countless children in the present and future whose future deserved, needed, begged for a model of commitment and responsibility and love.

And that is why it has been such a tragedy that conservatives decided this was a battle they were determined to fight against, an advance they were dedicated to reversing. It made no sense to me. Here was a minority asking for responsibility and commitment and integration. And conservatives were determined to keep them in isolation, stigmatized and kept on an embarrassing, unmentionable margin, where gays could be used to buttress the primacy of heterosexuality. We were for them merely a drop shadow for heterosexuality. What they could not see was that the conservative tradition of reform and inclusion, of social change through existing institutions, of the family and personal responsibility, all led inexorably toward civil marriage for gays.

Yes, the main stumbling block was religion. But we were not talking of religious marriage and were more than eager to insist, as in New York state, on the inviolable religious freedom of churches, mosques, and synagogues to retain their bans on gay marriage. We were talking about civil marriage—and in that respect, religious tradition had long since ceased to apply. Civil divorce changed marriage far more drastically for far more people than allowing the small percentage who were excluded to be included. And no one doubted an atheist’s right to marry, outside of any church or any religion, just as no one doubted the marriages of childless couples, or infertile ones. In fact, every single argument against marriage equality for gays collapsed upon inspection. And when the data showed that in the era of gay marriage, straight marriage had actually strengthened somewhat, divorce rates had declined, and marriages lasted longer, even those who worried about unintended consequences conceded that the argument was essentially over. And that is why it remains so appropriate that George W. Bush’s solicitor general, Ted Olson, would lead the legal fight against Proposition 8 in California; that a Reagan-appointed judge, Anthony Kennedy, would be the foremost Supreme Court justice affirming gay and lesbian equality; and that in Albany, in the end, the winning votes came from Republicans who voted their conscience.

Of course this is new and not so new. For a long time, gays and lesbians braver than I was were effectively married and lived together, risking violence and opprobrium and isolation. For decades these bonds existed, and we knew of them even if we never spoke of them. I saw them up close as a young man in the darkest years of the AIDS plague. I saw spouses holding their dying husbands, cradling them at the hour of their death, inserting catheters, cleaning broken bodies, tending to terrified souls. This proved beyond any doubt for me that gay couples were as capable of as much love and tenacity and tenderness and fidelity as heterosexual couples. And when I heard their bonds denigrated or demonized, dismissed or belittled, the sadness became a kind of spur. For so long, so much pain. For so many, so much grief compounded by stigma. But we did not just survive the plague. We used it to forge a new future. And in the years of struggle, as more and more heterosexuals joined us, we all began finally to see that this was not really about being gay. It was about being human.

Just like being gay is no longer necessarily about being an outsider. It is about being an American.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for this inspiring sharing of his journey and for his continued voice!

The Sky Is Falling

a Bulrovian fairy tale

adapted by Rick Walton

Once upon a time there was a tiny, tiny chicken named Chicken Little. One day Chicken Little was scratching in the garden when something fell on her head.

“Oh,” cried Chicken Little, “the sky is falling. I must go tell the king.”

So Chicken Little ran and ran, and she met Henny Penny.

“Where do you travel so fast, Chicken Little?” asked Henny Penny.

“Ah, Henny Penny,” said Chicken Little, “the sky is falling, and I must go and tell the king.”

“How do you know that the sky is falling, Chicken Little?” asked Henny Penny.

“I saw it with my eyes, I heard it with my ears, and a bit of it fell on my head,” said Chicken Little.

“I will go with you to the king,” said Henny Penny.

So they ran along together, and they met Ducky Daddles.

“Where do you travel so fast?” asked Ducky Daddles.

“Ah, Ducky Daddles,” said Chicken Little, “the sky is falling, and Henny Penny and I go to tell the king.”

“How do you know that the sky is falling, Chicken Little?” asked Ducky Daddles.

“I saw it with my eyes, I heard it with my ears, and a bit of it fell on my head,” said Chicken Little.

“I will go with you to the king,” said Ducky Daddles.

So they ran along together, and they met Goosey Loosey.

“Where do you travel so fast, Chicken Little?” asked Goosey Loosey.

“Ah, Goosey Loosey,” said Chicken Little, “the sky is falling. Henny Penny and Ducky Daddles and I go to tell the king.”

“How do you know that the sky is falling, Chicken Little?” asked Goosey Loosey.

“I saw it with my eyes, I heard it with my ears, and a bit of it fell on my head,” said Chicken Little.

“I will go with you,” said Goosey Loosey.

So they ran along together, and they met Turkey Lurkey.

“Where do you travel so fast, Chicken Little?” asked Turkey Lurkey.

“Ah, Turkey Lurkey,” said Chicken Little, “the sky is falling, and Henny Penny and Ducky Daddles and Goosey Loosey and I go to tell the king.”

“How do you know that the sky is falling?” asked Turkey Lurkey.

“I saw it with my eyes, I heard it with my ears, and a bit of it fell on my head,” said Chicken Little.

“I will go with you to the king,” said Turkey Lurkey.

So they ran along together, and they met Foxy Loxy.

“Where do you travel so fast, Chicken Little?” asked Foxy Loxy.

“Ah, Foxy Loxy,” said Chicken Little, “the sky is falling, and we go to tell the king.”

“Do you know the way to the king’s house?” asked Foxy Loxy.

“No,” said Chicken Little.

“No,” said Henny Penny.

“No,” said Ducky Daddles.

“No,” said Goosey Loosey.

“No,” said Turkey Lurkey.

“Then come with me and I will show you,” said Foxy Loxy.

And just as he was about to lead them into his den to eat them…

…the sky fell on him.

“Oh dear,” said Chicken Little.

“We’re too late,” said Henny Penny.

“Poor Foxy Loxy,” said Ducky Daddles.

“No sense in going to the king,” said Goosey Loosey.

“Nothing to do now but go home,” said Turkey Lurkey.

And they did.

Sometimes you find a pearl and you lose it.  So it has been with Blue Eyed Ennis.  Fortunately, I found him again…and here is a terrific posting I am grabbing.  Thanks to BEE!

Homing in on West Cornwall 

I often post still photos of various places where I mooch about in Cornwall and some people have asked me to show more so this time a relatively short video for my lovely readers from far afield will give a larger view of the Western part of this beautiful county.

This photo below gives an aerial view of the county of Cornwall right down on the most South Westerly part of the UK. Warmed by the Gulf Stream it has warmer than average UK weather , although it doesn’t always feel like that !

I have skimmed through the video below and tried to identify below the key places shown to help people unfamiliar with the area.

The first minute pans over the lighthouse and the long beach at Gwithian Sands, Hayle and then to St Ives where I go most weekends when the weather is fine.

The second to third minute pans over the rugged coastline of South West Cornwall on the North coast showing the various tin mines and then Land’s End, the most South Westerly tip of the UK- last point before the USA !

Ar about 3 mins 30 secs one of the most beautiful open – air theatres, The Minack theatre with its curved ampitheatre gouged out of the cliff granite.

On hot summer evenings with the sea as a backdrop it is a wonderful setting for productions: this summer has offerings as varied as opera from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Shakespearian plays, adaptations of books e.g. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, musicals like Fiddler On The Roof, plays like Our Town by Thornton Wilder and of course Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Then onto the ancient ring circles of Celtic standing stones towards Penzance and the island off Penzance called St Michael’s Mount with the magnificent house sitting on its crest.

From 6 mins 24 thereabouts we see the port of Falmouth, the third largest natural harbour in the world, with it’s castle and then up through the wide river Fal of the Carrick roads with large container ships that leads to the final shots of Truro with its magnificent Anglican cathedral.

Hope you enjoy it !!



Photo re-blogged from Crashingly Beautiful

A few pickings today that arise from the ground of thinking about the church , the wider world in turmoil in so many ways and the need to not shy away from the pain of what is going on nor to defend the indefensible but also to try and gain some perspective.


“I have got, over the years, a sense of the immense sweep of creation, of the evolutionary process in everything, of how incomprehensible God must necessarily be to be the God of heaven and earth. You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories…. What kept me a skeptic of secularism in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read. If you want your faith, you have to work for it….

Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It’s there, even when he can’t see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there. You realize, I think, that it is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide in college. Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian skepticism.”
Flannery O’ Connor

“You know what the fellow said: In Italy for thirty years, under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.

In Switzerland, they had brotherly love – they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

That last quote is quite challenging and shocking in its awfulness because part of me knows well which option I probably value more and yet it revolts me that we humans have the ability and potential to create sublime beauty whilst simultaneously and wilfully stoking the fires of destruction and banal brutality.

Our souls teeter on the brink of destruction and we have not yet found ways of resolving conflict peacefully and sustainably.

~ Lime, as portrayed by Orson Wells in The Third Man

There are many messages I can take a way from this powerful and moving video below:

Firstly it is simply a beautiful meditation on the day in – day out faith and hard labour of monastic living and the Rule of St Benedict but when combined with the song playing in the background by Emmy Lou Harris it seems as if the lyrics are pointing to something else much deeper about the darkness and shadow of the human condition.

The text on the screen acts as an optimistic counterpoint to the song in some ways and I found myself playing it several times over to understand and reflect on its message of hope despite the underlying darkness of the theme. The quotes towards the end are full of meaning for reflection.

Reflecting on the meaning of the first verse :

I am forced to recognise my own culpability and responsibility for evil in the world and my sins of omission in letting evil things happen : scapegoating others is far too often an easy default place from where I can offload indiscriminately all my own failings onto any number of others, but the song reminds me that many of the “shadows filling up this land are the ones I built with my own hand.”

but the song also tells me that we cannot change the past and it is about the role of trusting in taking one step at a time and to tirelessly try and persist , to foster faith in the ultimate goodness of life in the midst of the immense suffering and pain going on in the church and the whole wide world.

This may sometimes have to be a solitary undertaking but it gives me comfort that there are many silent witnesses out there in community pursuing the same goal.

The last verse of the song ends with a sense of the wide sweep in vision we need to keep clinging to and the vital importance of expanding our hearts, not contracting them as it is so easy to do.

The belief that Christ will bring us home, eventually is mirrored in the text on screen too.

Lyrics to Prayer in Open D

There’s a valley of sorrow in my soul
Where every night I hear the thunder roll
Like the sound of a distant gun
Over all the damage I have done
And the shadows filling up this land
Are the ones I built with my own hand
There is no comfort from the cold
Of this valley of sorrow in my soul

There’s a river of darkness in my blood
And through every vein I feel the flood
I can find no bridge for me to cross
No way to bring back what is lost
Into the night it soon will sweep
Down where all my grievances I keep
But it won’t wash away the years
Or one single hard and bitter tear

And the rock of ages I have known
Is a weariness down in the bone
I use to ride it like a rolling stone
Now just carry it alone

There’s a highway risin’ from my dreams
Deep in the heart I know it gleams
For I have seen it stretching wide
Clear across to the other side
Beyond the river and the flood
And the valley where for so long I’ve stood
With the rock of ages in my bones
Someday I know it will lead me home

The second song was found by accident but seems to have a similar message to keep holding on to the baptismal faith despite fear of the future and also carries a prayer for renewal .

Oh, oh deep water, black and cold like the night
I stand with arms wide open
I’ve run a twisted line
I’m a stranger in the eyes of the Maker
I could not see for the fog in my eyes
I could not feel for the fear in my life

From across the great divide, In the distance I saw a light
Of Jean Baptiste’s he’s walking to me with the Maker
My body my body is bent and broken by long and dangerous sleep
I can’t work the fields of Abraham and turn my head away
I’m not a stranger in the hands of the Maker

Brother John, have you seen the homeless daughters
Standing there with broken wings
I have seen the flaming swords
There over east of eden
Burning in the eyes of the Maker
Burning in the eyes of the Maker
Burning in the eyes of the Maker

Oh, river rise from your sleep
Oh, river rise from your sleep
Oh, river rise from your sleep

* * * *
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

Lao Tzu (via mariposadesueno)

* * * *

I have to see that there is a space between thoughts.  A void that is reality, and I need to remain as long as possible in this space.  Then another kind of thinking appears, clear and intelligent, a thought of another level, another dimension.

– Jeanne de Salzmann “The Reality of Being“ (via Luke Storms)

* * * *

Marigold and Muse: FOR LONGING →

Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.

May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.

May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.

May the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity and friendship
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.

May the one you long for long for you.
May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling
May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.

May your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.

May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.

-From To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings by John O’Donohue

(c) John O’Donohue. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

thanks to beth, whose blog material I am reposting….

monthly archives


Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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July 2011



On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory