Is it surprising that more and more conservatives are coming out in favor of marriage equality? Hardly. I’m not the first to note that this is not a triumph of liberal ideology, but rather of conservative, traditional values. I live in New York, and for me—a gay man who has never quite fit in with the progressive democratic crowd—having the opportunity to get married means having the chance to live, finally, according to the precepts of my Christian faith.
Twelve years ago, I was in my early 20s and living in D.C., and, for the first time in my life, dating men. I had recently come out, and though I was never a party boy, I felt liberated. I was raised Roman Catholic, and had been very close to the church as a teenager, but I rejected religion in college because there didn’t seem to be a way of reconciling Christianity—or at least what I heard Christians saying—with my sexuality.
The limitations on gay relationships affected my approach to dating. It was hard to take it seriously, and I had trouble imagining that I would ever have what I wanted: a life-long committed relationship and a family. I was listening to the people who shared my religion say that marriage was only between a man and a woman—that I could never have what they had. So I didn’t even try.
The problem was, pretending I didn’t want something I really wanted was inauthentic. Marriage has always been important to me. My paternal grandparents were married for 62 years. My maternal grandfather died in his 50s, and my grandmother never remarried. My parents will celebrate their golden anniversary next year. Growing up, I remember watching mom and dad dance cheek-to-cheek after dinner, and hearing them call each other “cielo” (Spanish for “heaven”), even when they argued.
Raised with those examples, I knew even as a young adult that what I wanted was a loving marriage rooted in traditional values. I wanted to make a promise to someone and stick to it. I didn’t want a wedding, or a commitment ceremony. I longed for a marriage—for what comes after the guests have gone home and the gifts have been unwrapped.
The future I wanted seemed totally out of reach, but I still went on dates, and eventually met a good man. We never tied the proverbial knot (we couldn’t have even if we’d wanted to), but we slowly tied a bunch of little knots. We spent nine years as a couple, seven of them cohabiting.
Our relationship fell apart gradually. The little knots came loose in a way that was almost unforeseen. And that’s the problem with dating in a world where there is no big knot to be tied—you just sort of coast through, forever-single-but-coupled, living by well-meant, but unenforceable promises. The level of commitment and accountability is just not the same as when you’re legally bound, and your covenant is respected, dignified, and taken as seriously by your peers and society.
I have nothing but respect for older gay couples who stuck it out despite the lack of societal recognition, but it’s fair to say that most of us don’t have the self-discipline to make it work without that extra binding tie. Most of us need the accountability, and the public expectation of marriage being long-lasting, to work through problems and stay together.
I ended my relationship shortly after marriage equality passed in New York State—the irony does not escape me, but by then it was too late for us. Now in my 30s, and single for the first time in almost a decade, I found myself in a dating world I barely recognized. Marriage—fully sanctioned and dignified marriage—was now on the table. If you met someone and became his boyfriend, your relationship didn’t have to stagnate. Gay relationships could now follow the same linear progression as straight relationships.
Being able to picture myself as a Married Man transformed the way I approached dating. For the first time, I could reconcile my faith with my sexuality. I’ve become an Episcopalian (as of last fall, the Episcopal Diocese of New York had granted equal blessing to same-sex marriages) for theological reasons that go beyond the Roman Church’s stance on homosexuality. In the process, I’ve found a Christian community that recognizes marriage equality.
As a Christian, I believe there’s a proper way to lay a solid foundation for a life-long covenant. I believe promiscuity and premarital sex devalue love and water down the sanctity of what I understand as marriage. This was one of the values of my youth that I cast aside when I came out. I believe God calls us to be chaste until marriage, not because sex is wrong or dirty, but rather because it is beautiful—a gift from Him. Sex brings a couple closer together, keeps them strong, and reminds us that God wants us to be happy in this life. Sex is, to use a word some might dislike, holy. It belongs in the context of Holy Matrimony.
Now that I’m comfortable with my faith and my sexuality, I see that while I did not choose to be gay, I can choose to at least try and live as a Christian. I am dating a Christian man I met online. We were first drawn to each other’s pictures (what can I say: he’s hot), but it’s our faith and shared interests that really brought us together. We have prayed together, and we believe God wants us to behave as a Christian couple.
And so, and even though neither one of us is a virgin, my boyfriend and I have decided to abstain from premarital sex—including oral sex, masturbation, and even sexting. Our relationship is young (it’s been less than two months since we made it official, though we’ve known each other for a year) and we don’t know where it will go. What we do know is that living by our values will only make us stronger.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. It’s very hard for two healthy, athletic men with high sex drives to remain celibate. But the task is made easier by the knowledge that it’s not forever. For now, we’re directing all that energy into the gym. We believe our choices now will only make sex—if we do decide to get married—even better.
Today’s world is unlike anything I ever imagined when I came out. I will someday be able to get married in a church, and the vows I make to my husband will be taken as seriously as those of any other man. This raises the bar. This gives me hope. This has brought me back to the fold and allowed me to be at peace with my Lord and my sexuality. This is what marriage equality is ultimately about: the recognition that gay people not only have the same dreams and yearnings as straight people, but that we must also hold ourselves to the same standards and obligations. This is why the option (perhaps even the expectation) of getting married can and will change the way gay people approach dating. It certainly has for me.
Constantino Diaz-Duran is a freelance journalist based in New York. He is writing a book about the year he recently spent traveling across the USA, asking people what it means to be an American. He walked from New York to Alabama, where he spent five months working construction, and later rode Greyhound buses out to California and back home to New York. More at www.cddny.com.