Brave and free.

I was born in America, land of the free, home of the brave.

Fifteen years ago is when I realized I wasn’t free. I packed a few bags, boarded a plane, and moved across the globe to be with the woman I loved. It was bittersweet. I left behind my family, my friends, my career, my home. I stepped into the unknown – except it wasn’t unknown. It was my wife.

We both wanted to live in America, but there wasn’t a way for me to bring her there as my wife or partner. Even that long ago, the UK had just passed provision to allow me to apply for a same sex partner visa, after my initial two years living with Suzy while I completed a graduate degree. I couldn’t bring her to my home, and actually, the fact that she loved me could bar her entry from the very place I’d always thought was so progressive and powerful.

This is the face of who marriage equality protects:

family

You can barely see me. I’m the one with glasses, the one who came out as queer at nineteen to her mother. The one who was told she’d go to hell, was told how abnormal she was, who grew up with a legacy of fag jokes and classmates who played Smear the Queer. I’m not dangerous. I love reading, I’m quite gregarious, I laugh a lot, I love my family.

You see my wife? She’s the one with tears in her eyes, as she holds one of our newborn children almost six years ago. She’s smart and creative, she has a beautiful singing voice. She works hard to help young people with additional challenges blossom, believe in themselves, and achieve. She doesn’t earn much money, but she loves her job and she recognizes how important it is to fight for people who sometimes can’t fight for themselves.

One of those babies is now a small boy. He does martial arts with painted nails. He is rough and tumble, he is sensitive, kind hearted, and gifted with a talent for befriending people. He exudes an easy confidence and is joyful. He’s a storyteller and a comedian.

The other baby is now a small girl. She’s musical, she’s a perfectionist. She’s funny and dramatic and strong. She is very athletic, she has a fierce love for her friends, she is learning to ride her bike without stabilizers. She has a small Bunny she loves deeply.

This is our family. We try each day the best we can to love each other, to appreciate ordinary life. To my kids, this is their normal life. We are lucky enough to be blessed with friends, children and adult, from all walks of life – including various religions who may have traditionally been against same sex couples. My children have never experienced anything but respect and friendship from the wonderful community here in Bristol.

To live freely and safely, I’ve had to be brave and leave one life behind, rebuilding another.

Because of the ruling today in America, marriage equality becomes a federal fact. Now millions of children won’t have to grow up and be forced to become an immigrant if they happen to fall in love with someone from another country. Same sex parents will be able to jointly adopt their children. Spouses can visit their lifelong loves in hospital. Insurance companies will have to recognize and include families like mine.

I’ve been crying on and off all afternoon. When I told M about the ruling on marriage equality, he threw his arms into the air and shouted, ‘Woohoo!’ When I told S, she gave me a look of disdain and said, ‘They already had that in England.’

What a marvel to have children who see marriage equality both as a given, and as a joyful thing to celebrate. What a wonder for them to have all the opportunities in the future to live such an ordinary, happy life as the one I’ve fought for.

Marriage equality strengthens individuals, couples, families. It gives us all a chance to recognize how beautiful the ordinary is and will continue to be, to finally be free and happy without having to be quite so brave.

One love, and what a big love it is.

A few weeks ago I went ahead and clicked the link I was seeing again and again in my Facebook feed: Macklemore at the Grammys, where a good number of couples were married. Women and women, men and men, women and men. White and black, Asian and white, etc etc. Lots of combinations of beautiful people in love.

It made me cry.

It seems like change is cascading, rolling faster and faster down the hill. I see the easy words flowing out of other people’s mouths – it’s ‘no big deal’ to be gay. Equal rights are de facto. It doesn’t seem that way to me.

I remember being a child and hearing homophobic comments and abuse from family members. I remember my classmates playing a game called Smear the Queer. I remember crying so many nights in university about the hell of coming out to my own family, and the particularly cruel response I got. I remember a nurse during pregnancy refusing to recognize Suzy as my wife and referring to her as ‘your friend, or colleague, or whatever she is.’ These are not the distant past.

It feels like a BIG DEAL to me that straight people are stepping up to fight for equality. It’s not just a handful of marginalized minority people fighting, it’s becoming everyone’s fight. And I looked at my little girl and thought, ‘The world is different for you.’

It is. It is full of people who are accepting and loving. She is being raised with the opportunity to figure out who she is and be loved for that. She is less likely to face discrimination than the generation before her. She asked why I was crying.

I told her.

‘We know people can love whoever they love. But a long time ago, black people couldn’t marry white people. And not so long ago, a girl couldn’t marry a girl, and a boy couldn’t marry a boy. Some places are still like that. We know it’s wrong. People can love whoever they want to love and it is okay. White people can love black, girls can love girls, girls can love boys, people should just be with who they love.’

‘And lots of people, all the good, brave people, have fought for people to love and marry who they want to. They stood up, they said it wasn’t right or fair to not let people get married, and they changed the world.’

I looked her dead in the eye. ‘We can change the world. It is important to fight to change things, to make the world better.’

This has led to further and deeper discussions with both kids, who have been shocked to discover that some people didn’t/don’t think black and white people should get married. We’ve had lots of discussion about Suzy and me loving each other, about who they want to marry (M says me, bless him), about civil rights.

I hope our home is growing a culture where the kids learn that it is everyone’s responsibility to do what we can to make sure life is fair for all people, whether we share a skin colour, a religion, a love. That our children know we accept them from the get go – their gender, sexuality, career, or whatever else are things we celebrate. I want them to be fighters, to stand up to be counted – both in big battles and small. If another child is being picked on, if someone is hurt, we will endeavor to be their friends and champions.

Both kids have deep empathy for other people, questioning minds, critical thinking, open hearts. How my life has changed and been impacted when I think about family members one generation older than myself, and this new generation. Almost thirty one years separate me from my children, and what a thirty one years they have been. How far we still have to go, but how many people are willing to stand with us in love and pride.

I’d like to thank those people. I’d like to count my children among them.