Promises to Keep

Brian watching a sunset at Brockway Mountain, Michigan. Photo by Callen Harty.

(published by, 5/12/12)

I do not need marriage to prove my love.  It is, already, life-lasting.  It is, already, eternal.

For almost 21 years now my life partner, Brian, and I have shared our love without the sanctity of marriage.  We promised each other years ago that we would wait until the promise of equality was realized in our home state of Wisconsin.  We would like to be able to make a public declaration of our love and share that with our friends and family as others do every day without having to think about it.  We would like to no longer be considered second class citizens in the land we love.  We have waited patiently for that to happen.  Instead our neighbors enshrined a ban on recognizing our love into the Constitution.

We have waited patiently for the nation to mature into an understanding that our love is no less than that of a man and woman.  We have waited for political leaders to lead, to be courageous in taking a moral stand.  We have waited, and we have continued to grow in love while we waited.

Meanwhile, we have seen friends and relatives marry and divorce.  We have watched movie and television stars meet and marry within weeks and divorce in weeks more.  We have heard conservative radio commentators who have been married multiple times preach about the sanctity of marriage.  We have seen the divorce rate in this country rise well over 50%.  My patience with the hypocrisy is wearing thin.  My love for Brian is growing stronger.

I do not need marriage to validate my love.  But I do need the opportunity of marriage to know that I am a full member of a society where we are all supposed to be created equal.  Just as I never had a desire to join the military, but felt it important that I be afforded the opportunity, so too do I need marriage equality (and full equality in every way) to know that I am a fully accepted member of this society.

Like President Obama my position on marriage equality has evolved.  Years ago, when I was newly out and when as a gay man I had virtually no rights at all–before Wisconsin passed the nation’s first gay rights law in 1982–I would tell people that all I wanted was to find someone to love and with whom I could spend my life.  The thought of marriage was not even a possibility back then, and I honestly wasn’t sure that finding someone to love was all that possible either.  But I was willing to settle.  I was willing to take less.  No more.  I no longer hope for marriage equality in this country–I demand it!

I demand full participation in the daily life of this country.  I demand acceptance–not tolerance–acceptance.  I demand the opportunity to join hands in love in a way that is not similar to marriage, but is marriage.  Anything less is no longer acceptable.

I am thankful that the President finally spoke out on the issue, but words are useless without action.  Now the action needs to follow.  And while we wait for that action, while we continue to wait as we have for years, our love will continue to grow as it has for years.  It is a deep river overflowing its banks and it will not be contained any longer.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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1 Response to Promises to Keep

  1. holliswt says:

    Exceptionally well-written. Remarkably universal in application as could be easily extended to those of us with mental and emotional difficulties and others challenged in so many different ways. The genetic diversity in our race that makes possible evolution also makes likely radical differences in individuals. In comparing myself to the worlds’ leaders, I found likely virtue in myself and other footdraggers. Thank you very, very much.

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