Perhaps it was akin to the first time I ever heard Beethoven's 7th Symphony. A moment in time where simple sounds would forever etch themselves into my memory in a jubulant crishendo and desire to repeat this auditory and sensory experience again and again.
My new friend was very much in love with his husband and very proud of their recently acquired marital status, formally celebrated in the USA the previous year.
That very first utterance of "my husband, coming from a man, jarred a little.
I could not understand why?
I supported and advocated for same sex marriage for years.
I celebrated the union, love and newly legal marital status of these two wonderful men.
Was I shocked at hearing a man utter "my husband"?
No, it came from deeper within my perceptions. The jarring came from the place where the very meaning conveyed by language is cataloged and embellished with degrees of gender bias and assumptions, as opposed to gender neutral terms in earliest childhood. Husband and wife are culturally loaded words. Their traditional meanings are immediately implicit. Suddenly the new explicit context for "husband" was clearly and passionately being delivered before me. Its new value no less. or better still enriched by this new context. Love is said to deepen over time and the term husband is one that has long conveyed ideals of love!
For a man, to refer to "his husband" challenged those foundations of my hitherto use of marital terms and asked I take them to a higher context. The reality of same sex marriage I, like millions of others had supported for so long, finally had come into being that day. My language usage, expectations and knowledge would just have to catch up!
One of the things that thrills me about language is that it changes over time. It encodes cultural identity and perceptions. If it were otherwise we would not as humans have moved beyond the caves and travelled to the remote corners of the world, finding ways to communicate meaning along the way. The vast number of human languages celebrates our cultural diversity and progress. They inevitably contain monumental shifts in values and meaning over time. Take for example the Bible, first documented in Greek, then translated into Latin, finally, after much resistance from Rome and thanks largely to Martin Luther and Henry the Eighth, it was eventually made available in the local languages of the people and even in print in a language the people understood, that is unless you remained part of the Papal dynasty until as late as the 1960s, lagging several centuries behind other Christian denominations in terms of popular inclusion and discourse. Then of course is the myriad of interpretations, dogma and mythology that arises as those words get reinterpreted according to the culture and the context. The best and worst aspects of language and power and their interplay;cultural transmission and even spiritual discourse at work!
I was challenged that day I met Dean and his absent, but adored husband. It was a change in language usage and terminology that I wanted and knew was coming and here it was, laid out across the table, where we engaged in almost ridiculously fine dining, and the intense conversation of strangers, in a remote corner of the world, on the bank of a tributary of the Amazon, .There was no heated discussion, just common bonds of humanity being discovered and explored.
Naturally, our conversation turned to the pursuit of legally recognised same sex marriage in our respective home nations.
I congratulated my newfound American friend. By some coincidence, his husband actually came from my home town in Ballarat, Australia, yet another poignant reminder of how closely connected human experience is on this fragile planet of ours. We continue to to email each other and I hope next year, I will have the privilege of meeting my friend's husband, when they visit my home town.
Some weeks later, I was in a circle sitting aboard the Nemo 1 and introductions were in progress. This time I met two recently married same sex wives. This time the term wife did not jar, my brain had rewired and updated itself already. I immediately clapped as I heard the joy with which they spoke of both their marriage and love and our fellow passengers and crew spontaneously joined in the celebration of our newfound, newly wedded honeymooning lesbian friends. Beside them sat a delightful but more traditional newly engaged young Belgian and his bride to be, as well as young Swiss newly weds. All in all, things were very equal that day. Love was celebrated,openly in equal measure and all present shared in the simple joy of these couples love and commitment to their lives together.
Personally I am no great fan of marriage. I have never particularly wanted it for myself. I have always been more than a little suspicious that as some man's wife he might likely see me, in historically traditional terms as "his property", rather than the proudly independent woman I have always been. I have seen so many failed marriages and accompanying fractured lives of both the adults and children involved. However just because I have these misgivings about marriage as an institution and vehicle very often conveying traditional patriarchal values at the expense of women's position and status in the world, I have never been locked out and barred from exclusive access to its religious, spiritual and romantic implications. As far as I am concerned anyone who really wants to get married has the right to do so. Who am I to put my suspicion of marriage as an institution on others, less cynical than myself, let alone bar them from that institution, or deny their love?
The right to love between two consenting adults is as much a fundamental human right as the right to marry a person of your choice, be they of the opposite or indeed, same sex as far as I am concerned.
To me it's a no brainer; love is love and culturally, historically times and values change. What was once closetted and deemed socially shameful is now healthily, out in the open. Equality is a very beautiful and worthy ideal. A person should be valued on the basis of who they are and what they contribute to the world, not on either their sexual orientation, nor marital status.
I only hope and trust that the next time I meet fabulous, proud lesbian or gay newly weds abroad, I will also come from a country who has finally acknowledged that all people, regardless of sexual orientation have the right to marry the person they love.
To all those same sex couples now enjoying legally recognised marital bliss, I sincerely wish you every happiness and fulfilment and a life time of joy together.
As for those recalcitrant, religously dogmatic narrow minded politicians that thwart the human rights of same sex couples to marry in Australia, and other such prejudiced, discriminatory backwaters, I urge you to cast off those chains of fear. Be open to new traditions. Offer the freedom to celebrate love. It's time all those of the same sex who seek to unite in love and legally "tie the knot", be granted the freedom, social respect and honour other citizens take for granted.