The night Barack Obama won the presidency, my heart broke open. People, I thought, are essentially open-minded. Given the right opportunity, they will naturally move in the direction of positive change and human connection.
However, as my friends and I gathered at a pizzeria to watch the results together, a headline scroll at the bottom of the big screen told another, smaller story: voters had passed Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in the state of California. People, I thought, are essentially closed off. Given the chance, they will stay stuck in mistrust, and division, and fear. That same night, in that same moment, my heart just plain broke.
Last week my spouse Joy and I celebrated our four year wedding anniversary. Around the time of our one year anniversary, we received the best gift ever – the Supreme Court of California legalized gay marriage based on an equal protection argument. Two months later, we sat in a county clerk’s office with our hands raised. You could tell the employees there were so psyched for us they wanted to high five those hands. All the members of our original wedding party gathered to watch us repeat our vows under an arbor of plastic flowers. How lucky was I? Not just married now, but double married.
How my spirit crumbled when Prop 8 passed. Not just what it meant for the human heart, but what it meant practically for me – how would the ruling affect my marriage?
I still don’t know the answer to that question. And, according to my CPA, neither does the federal government. Joy and I, along with 18,000 other couples, occupy a sort of legal and cultural limbo. We are living at the twilight of one era of marriage, and right at the dawn of another.
Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun and author, writes that we have a choice when something breaks our heart: we can harden, or we can let it soften us. Here’s the thing about a heart breaking open and just plain breaking: they feel mostly the same. They are both the experience of opening to how humans are, bad and good, and letting ourselves be tenderized by the knowledge. Even if sometimes it feels more like pulverized.
She goes on to say: “…when we don’t close off, and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.” *** Before this experience, I would have intellectually understood that I fundamentally disagree with a ruling like Arizona’s draconian immigration act SB 1070. But now, my heart vibrates with it. I recognize with a more piercing clarity when one person looks straight through another at their own doubt and misunderstanding, and lets their fear cloud their ability to see every person’s essential right to dignity. The experience of having a civil right, and then losing it, ripened my heart. The struggle for rights is universal, human, and tears the veil off of any perceived division between us.
I truly believe this event is just a blip on the radar in terms of the story of marriage equality. It just happens to be a blip at the center of my life. Even so, I would not trade living in this place, in this limbo, for anything. I am reminded daily that nothing is certain. I will never take that piece of paper with the state’s seal on it for granted, although I cherish the belief that future generations will do exactly that.
***When Things Fall Apart, P. Chodron, p 88