A Dream Fulfilled

At the National Equality March, Washington, DC, 2009. Photo by Callen Harty.

At the start of Election Day, 2012 there were six states and the District of Columbia that allowed same-sex marriage, and all of those were the result of legislative action or a court decision.  Now there appear to be nine states that allow same-sex marriage and all three of the new ones—Maine, Maryland, and Washington—were the result of voters approving it at the polls.

This is monumental, historic, and moving steadily toward the fulfillment of an impossible dream.

I came out in 1979, a mere ten years after the Stonewall Rebellion, the moment when patrons of a bar in Greenwich Village fought back against constant police arrests and harassment, rioted for several days, and let the world know that we refused to be trampled upon as the doormats of society any longer and that we did not deserve to be harassed and discriminated against any more.  They fought back for the first time in our queer history and gave birth to the symbolic beginning of the modern gay rights movement.

Ten years after Stonewall I sat as part of a panel in front of a classroom at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville as one of the members of the campus gay and lesbian group.  We were there to talk about our lives as gay men and lesbians, to bring a little more understanding to those who thought they knew no one who might be gay or lesbian.  I talked about how I was no different than the other students in that classroom.  I talked about wanting nothing more than to be happy in my life and career, and to find someone I could love and with whom I could spend my days.  It didn’t even occur to me at that time to say that I wanted to get married.  That wasn’t a part of the discussion.  It wasn’t considered.  It wasn’t a possibility and it wasn’t even realistic to consider, let alone believe, that some day it might be.

A little more than a decade later I found that someone special to love and spend my days with and we have now been happily together for more than two decades.  Our love is full and rich and if we were straight we probably would have been married years ago. In my state we still cannot marry and the prohibition against it was passed as an amendment to our state constitution, the first time a restriction on rights rather than an expansion of rights was enshrined into the document that delineates the rights that citizens of this great state can enjoy.  Am I not a citizen?  My family has lived in this state since 1827, more than twenty years before statehood.  I contribute taxes and time and energy to my community.  Yes, I am a citizen and as a citizen I expect to be treated equally with everyone else.

Fortunately I know that this, too, shall pass.  As we move into the future and more people are out and more people realize we are their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends, co-workers and club members we will be accepted more and more.  One day my neighbors will decide that it was bigoted to be so afraid of my love that a declaration of it was outlawed.  One day they will decide that we should have the same rights and benefits as other couples who commit to that one person whose soul is so intertwined that there can be no doubt that the love is lifelong and beyond.  One day they will wonder how those before them could have passed laws preventing someone from joining hands in love, just as we wonder now how discrimination against other groups was so easily accepted as part of the reality of life in the days before us.

It is not only marriage that I want, but the right to marry—or not to marry.  As a free and first-class citizen that should be my choice.  As a second class citizen it is not.

It is not special rights I desire, but the simple right to be a full citizen of this great state and nation and the right to pursue happiness like others.

We are slowly edging toward that day.  The patriots of Stonewall took the first steps on the path toward equality.  The activists of the next few decades marched for those rights.  And now, because of all the hard work that has been done, because of the thousands of people who bravely came out when it wasn’t easy to do so, because of our allies, because we really have the same dreams and hopes as our straight brothers and sisters, now we walk toward a dream, a horizon where everyone stands on the edge of the universe together, looking out at a future where all of us are not only created equal, but treated as equals.  The love that dared not dream is now almost a dream fulfilled.

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 Amazon.com (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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