WASHINGTON -- President Obama has jumped off the fence where he has been sitting so long and approved same-sex marriage. Telling ABC News that "same-sex couples should be able to get married" because all Americans should be treated equally, Obama's surprising words came only days after Joe Biden's jolting ones, with everybody thinking he was undercutting his president.
This change marks perhaps the most difficult and sobering change in American thinking and law in decades. There is no question that, as Mitt Romney contends, marriage has historically and biblically been between a man and a woman, a male and a female, two people who could create a family and re-create the human race. But what does this mean in our time?
I would like to suggest that perhaps we ought to look beyond the public nature of same-sex marriage, to seek in our own family structures other truths about same-sex coupling behind those Midwest stoops and Southwestern verandas. I know, because my own beloved family lived it all.
I have never been able to say this publicly before, but the fact is that my wonderful only brother, Glen, who died in 2004 at 78, was gay. He was tall, handsome and immensely creative from the time he was a child and, thanks mostly to him, our household was one of the happiest you could imagine. All the kids gravitated there simply because it was so much fun (plus my dairy-owning dad loved to fix them milkshakes!).
Then the war fell over us. Glen joined the Army in 1943 and was a hero in the Battle of the Bulge, Lightning Division, and survived only because he was wounded and sent to England, and then to the occupation of Berlin. It was after he came home that, year by year as he excelled in designing clothes for big manufacturers, we began to notice his fancy for men.
No one told you, in those days, what to do. Being homosexual was definitely and prominently shameful. My beautiful mother and my hard-working dad just said nothing -- which was about the right thing to do at that time. A young reporter on the Chicago Daily News, I, of course, saw plenty of "different" things, but had no idea how to deal with the brother I so adored. So I, too, said nothing.
Perhaps sometime, when all of this has become less difficult, someone will write about what the gay man or woman in a family does to influence them. Had Glen gotten married, would I have? I rather think so. Does homosexuality hurt the mother and father, not to speak of denying them grandchildren? I rather think that, too. Glen often spoke of having children; that part was very sad.
I think now that the secrecy of it all was the most deleterious. Until the day he died, nary a word was spoken about it. He lived all his life with a man our whole family loved, and they had a group of gay friends who were dear to all of us and more fun than the circus. I felt myself very lucky to have them around.
For the first time, after Glen's death, two of them spoke to me about being gay in general terms, but I wondered. Had he been happy with the secret he kept even from those of us who knew all about it? Had he wanted to share it? Had that secret changed his love for us?
These things I will never know, but I do know that there must be some officially sanctioned basis for the love that Glen and his partner shared. And theirs was a real love, lasting 50 years. When Glen was ill at the end, we had a wonderful Filipino man with him every day in the home. The man, Jose, said to me once, "I've looked over all the world, and I find a real family in your brother's friends."
So marriage doesn't bother me at all for same-sex partners. Or civil unions, as in France. I wouldn't have been so bewildered by what I didn't and couldn't know if Glen had been able to be more open. Our family would have been so much freer. And as for those who love in different ways, well, perhaps we might even learn something from them.