I'd Leave the Country, but My Wife Won't Let Me

Bush Takes Aim at My American Family

I've fantasized about leaving this country since I was 12 years old, but never more desperately than last Tuesday, when the president announced that my gay family should be banned by the U.S. Constitution. Suddenly, expatriation stopped being about wool berets and red wine at lunch. My loved ones and I were standing at the wrong end of a government's gun—not literally, of course, but in a way that threatens our deepest understanding of our lives. Our hopes for a happy, loving, ordinary marriage had become a national threat. George Bush had called for an amendment against same-sex marriage.

"Can we just go to Canada now?" I asked my wife, knowing the answer. We argue remarkably little for people who have a toddler and spend every possible moment together. Except we do have this one running debate at the breakfast table, which starts with me saying we could get legally married, right now, north of the border. Sarah holds up the weather page and says, "Hey, that cold air out there? It came from Canada, and it got warmer on the way."

It's warm in Vancouver, I say.

illustration: Mirko Ilic


More coverage of Bush's Gay Marriage Ban:
  • I'd Leave America, but My Wife Won't Let Me by Laura Conaway
  • Inside City Hall: Politics and Protest by Richard Goldstein
  • A Radical Fix: Civil Unions for All by Alisa Solomon
  • Mad on the Street: New Yorkers Weigh In by Coco McPherson
  • Constitutional Amendments: The Winners and Losers by L.A. Scot Powe Jr.

  • Demonstrate!
    Participate in NEW YORK MARRIAGE NOW!, a demonstration at City Hall on Thursday, March 4, 2004 from 8:00 AM until 9:30 AM. Visit NYMarriageNow.org for more information.

    And we could be freer there. But she's not going, for reasons beyond the mercury. She wants to live as an American—more specifically, as a New Yorker—regardless of whether this America wants her. She wants our son to grow up an American, even if it means he'll lack the protections of the kid next door. Being American matters to her, and that means it matters to me. Four years ago this fall, we stood before an Episcopal priest and were pronounced married for life, for better, for worse. "Those whom God has joined together," the priest warned, "let no one put asunder." I won't leave her, Mr. Bush, not even on account of you.

    But, oh, the siren call of liberty. Blame my parents for making me rootless by moving too often. Blame me for believing any place with equal rights and a bookstore is good enough. I can accept exile, but I cannot accept less than fair. I want to be a full citizen, with this woman, today. I want to do whatever it takes, sacrifice whatever is necessary, go wherever I have to, for that to be so.

    I want to be taxed equally. I want my Social Security benefits to go somewhere besides down the drain. I want the Fifth Amendment right not to testify against Sarah, and to protect our private correspondence from subpoena, the same as other spouses. Couples like us don't have that right. Surprised? Rosie O'Donnell and her wife were, when the lawyers came after them.

    I want our politicians and religious leaders to stop going on television and suggesting that legalizing marriage for us would be like legalizing sex with dogs. My wife, in my arms? They are talking about my wife, in my arms. Do they know, do they care, how much that hurts? Where must we run to be safe from them?

    I want my wife not to feel such pressure and fear that she curls up in bed at night and cries. On the night of Wednesday, February 25, a woman in Brooklyn lay crying because she can't understand why people would hate her so, why they'd have to denigrate a beautiful and private part of her life with the most heinous rhetoric. Think about that. My wife lay in tears because strangers are clamoring for the power to decide whether she belongs, whether the American promise should hold true for her—as if there were any question which way they'd vote.

    What stands between us and them? A couple dozen senators, and some of those are on the fence. Where is our right to a meaningful marriage, to the honest pursuit of happiness? We want our justice and "domestic tranquility." Whose country is this, anymore? Someone tell me. I get the feeling it's no longer mine.

    Enemies of the State: On their summer vacation, Laura Conaway, Nathaniel Goodyear, and Sarah Goodyear wait for the circus to start.
    For me, one of parenting's most profound lessons is that I am supposed to take care of Sarah and the baby, collectively, as a unit. It's not like she's a helpless damsel and I'm a butch knight—if anyone's the tough guy around here, it's her. Rather, I believe all mothers need protecting so they can get on with the open-hearted business of mothering. What works for me is to have Sarah come first, and with Sarah comes the baby. If there are two seats on the life raft, I'm drowning. House fire, I'm first in for the kid. Not enough food, I'm hungry, not her and not him.

    Now comes an enemy who outweighs me, outnumbers me, corners me at will. And you know how I can really tell I'm overmatched? I wish it away. I say to Sarah, they'll never get this marriage amendment out of the Senate. They may get it out of the House, but never the Senate. This blustering of mine is worth only so much. We each know the amendment would likely pass in the states—it would need approval from 38, and that many already have statutes against gay marriage. Would Sarah leave then? She says maybe.

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