April 5, 2013

The country is in a swivet about gay marriage. It’s the next new thing, as Justice Samuel Alito posited at the Supreme Court last month, newer than the Internet or cell phones.

But Alito is wrong. There is nothing new here: Gays have always married in the United States. In fact, they’ve often been coerced or dragooned into marriage, if they wanted to get or keep a good job, buy a house or have a family.

With this difference, though: They have married straight people.

My father was gay, doubtless born that way. He was a lovely boy, tall and willowy with curly red-gold hair and fine-fingered hands that could span three octaves on the piano. In photographs he looks bemused and a little wary, quite possibly of his father, the photographer.

In 1930, when he was 12, my dad was caught in bed with another boy at his New England prep school and sent home. My enraged grandfather hired a psychologist to straighten him out. The psychologist proclaimed that my grandmother’s extravagant love of her eldest child, and my grandfather’s harsh discipline, were responsible for Dad’s sexual confusion. He pronounced the cure: that my father leave home.

So at the age of 12, he was exiled by his family to board at schools and summer camps and spent the rest of his life on the run. After my mother married my father, she and we four children trailed along after him, ever faster; by the time I left home for school at 17, we had lived in 20 cities, countless hotels and rented houses and on three continents. We might as well have been criminals.

Of course, my dad’s very nature was criminal in 1950s and 1960s America.

Our family life was filled with confusion, anger, years-long separations and intermittent unemployment and poverty, to say nothing of endless packing and unpacking, new schools and languages and dress codes.

Our father’s mouth got thin-lipped and mean. His artistic hands became weapons that struck seemingly out of nowhere. Our mother withdrew into a cult and spent her time praying for us all, leaving us four kids to raise ourselves and one another. Unsurprisingly, we’ve all suffered from upheaval in our lives.

Gays have always been able to marry. But I fail to see how society is strengthened when they are forced by convention to marry someone whose body is unattractive to them, whose voice isn’t what they want to hear in the morning or whose touch may be as grating as sand in the bed.

Doesn’t a child have the right to be loved and cared for, to see her parents loving and caring for one another wholeheartedly and without reservation?

Isn’t that what anyone would want for himself and his children?