As long as I can remember, I've been sure of two things. First, though it took me more than 20 years to admit it, I am gay. And second, I want to live the American dream -- get married, raise children, live the good life. You know, have it all.
Of course, in my younger days, I had the hardest time reconciling these two truths. My East-side-of-Cincinnati upbringing imprinted in my mind a picture of the life everyone told me I wanted to lead. Back then it included a house in Hyde Park, a BMW and a Jeep Waggoner in the driveway, a son and a daughter -- who, of course attended the same private school from K-12 that I did -- summers in Michigan or perhaps on Nantucket, winters on the slopes out West, and an active social life centering around a tight-knit group of couples living their own charmed lives.
But my mental photo album, which of course would be leather-bound and monogrammed, had one major flaw. Mine included another guy.
But I didn't understand how I could have everything I ever wanted when I wasn't interested in having a wife. I had never met an openly gay person, let alone an openly gay couple.
Sure, I had plenty of friends who were girls. And some of those friends who were girls assumed they were my girlfriends. And life seemed to run much more smoothly when I just let those assumptions go uncorrected.
So I quietly lived the first two decades of my life trying to convince myself I would simply marry a woman who was a great friend and find a way to be happy. And, in fact, I came very close to doing just that. But thankfully, for both of us, I came to my senses, though I know I left some very confused and hurt feelings in my misguided trail.
Lucky for me, about 10 years ago, I finally made a very close gay friend. I also met my first openly gay couple. And everything fell into place for me. Suddenly my mental photo album was complete. It made sense. I could have everything I wanted, the way I wanted it. I could have it all.
These days, the person next to me in the pictures is a man. I sold the house and now live in a loft. I gave up Prospect Hill for New York City's Chelsea neighborhood. I got rid of the BMW and now take the subway. And I swapped Michigan and Nantucket for Upstate New York and Fire Island. There aren't any children -- yet. And since my partner and I are still fairly new in town, we're still working on the tight-knit group of friends.
While in my uniformed view, life looked confusing and empty to me 10 years ago, everything has worked out pretty well. But I still want to have it all. And I do mean all.
I'm tired of being content with tolerance and acceptance. I want equality.
As we turn the calendar on the new millennium, the debate about same-sex marriage peaked with the Dec. 20 unanimous ruling by the Vermont Supreme Court that the state's denial of marriage benefits to same-sex couples violates the Vermont Constitution. Now it's up to the Vermont legislature in the coming year to determine exactly how it will extend these benefits to same-sex couples. But make no mistake -- whatever the decision, the implications will be felt across the county.
Since this landmark ruling, critics of same-sex marriage have been weighing in on the issue. In a letter widely distributed online, Jerry Falwell said he sees the Vermont decision as "opening the door to the ultimate annihilation of the traditional view of marriage that has defined Western civilization."
Negative reactions to the verdict have not been limited to conservatives. Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, has acknowledged in a number of interviews that the idea of gay marriage "makes me uncomfortable, the same as anybody else."
But what these critics are overlooking is a fact that Boston Globe columnist Eileen McNamara put so well in a recent column.
"No significant social change in this nation's history has been accomplished without disrupting some deeply held beliefs ...," McNamara wrote. "Amending our laws in a continuing effort to equalize the status of all Americans has not diminished our nation; it has enhanced it. Americans have learned, with varying degrees of comfort, to live with blacks and women who vote, with couples who celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, with schools that teach students of different shades side by side."
We are entering a new era in gay and lesbian rights. And I look forward to the day when our families are legally recognized, giving gays and lesbians the equal protection that is our right because, I will always believe, we can have it all.
Eric Hunter's column appears here monthly. Write him at CityBeat, 23 E. Seventh St., Suite 617, Cincinnati OH 45202 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org