I recently went up to the Upper West Side to talk with Steve and Bill, who were married in California in September, 2008, sneaking in just under the wire before Proposition 8 was passed and same sex marriage was made illegal there.
Bill: We met on March 2, 1996. I was living in St. Louis at the time, and was taking a vacation up here, and wanted to meet somebody to just hang out with, and so a couple of months before the trip, I went online and put an ad on a New York gay bulletin board and we started corresponding and we finally talked on the phone.
It was a snowy afternoon on the day we met and we went to what used to be a Burmese restaurant on Amsterdam, had a really, really nice time, and then a couple of months later Steve invited me up for the Fourth of July weekend and we had another great time; I spent maybe four days here and the weather was great. I tried a bunch of new cuisines that I had never had before.
Steve: Perogies and popovers.
Bill: He just made me laugh so much. He seemed emotionally stable and still does. We had a lot in common. We both like theater a lot, and adventure and we love to travel.
Steve: I was in the process of ending a long-term relationship when I met Bill. We had been together almost 10 years. And I knew it was over and we were definitely getting ready to break and then I met Bill and it was like night and day; we just we instantly clicked. With Bill, everything seemed very uncomplicated and natural and I managed to get him to New York in about a year. He lived in St. Louis his whole life, so I think he was ready, it didn’t take much to get him here.
Bill: It’s much easier to be an openly gay person in New York than probably almost anywhere. In most parts of Manhattan, Steve and I can walk in most neighborhoods holding hands and nobody even cares or stares or anything.
Steve: There are occasional comments. Like walking on the Upper West Side there was a clearly angry person, I forget what he said, do you remember? It was near Apple Bank, he just made some comment like - faggots or something, it was just – it was 7 or 8 years ago, I guess. He was really just an angry guy and seeing us holding hands pushed him over the edge. But that’s very rare.
Things have changed over the years. We’re much more in the public face now; years ago the gay center was the West Village. I lived in Chelsea when it was mostly Spanish, and that became gay and then the East Village became gay and now we’re sort of all over the place. I hear we’re taking over Washington Heights now!
And we see more young people who are openly gay, whereas before it was harder to tell. In the past, the older gay guys, you could usually tell with them, they fit in more of a stereotype, but younger gays weren’t as comfortable appearing gay.
Steve: We decided to get married during the brief period that marriages were being performed in California. We were watching CNN and they said that there was a pretty good chance the marriages wouldn’t be invalidated, no matter what happened with Proposition 8 [the proposed amendment to make same-sex marriage illegal in California]. So Bill and I were sitting here and it was a pretty casual decision: Should we get married? Yeah, why don’t we? We love San Francisco, we have good friends out there, and we’d been wanting to go out for a visit, so let’s get married while we’re there. There was no big political decision that I felt we were making.
Bill: I felt the political part of it, definitely. I felt the more gay people that got married in a small window, the bigger the statement we were making. And the better chance that people would not have overturned the decision, which of course, they did anyway.
Steve: But the vote was close, almost 48 percent voted in favor of gay marriage. There had never been polling data like that, with that much support for gay marriage, even in a state like California.
Bill: When these anti-gay marriage referendums started going on the ballots back in 2004, my home state of Missouri was the first one to try it, and 71 percent voted against gay marriage. But I think even in a state like Missouri, nowadays that percentage would be smaller.
Steve: Something like two-thirds of people from ages 18 to 28 support gay marriage. That tells you where it’s at. It’s only a matter of time before we win the war. And even the most recent Gallup Poll showed that 41 percent support gay marriage, 48 opposed, but that’s an improvement of about 10 percent over five years.
But I think there are a lot of people who are against gay marriage who need to get used to the idea before they’ll change their mind.
Bill: It would help to change people’s minds about gay marriage if we could get marriage out of the church, but frankly, I’m not optimistic that’s going to happen; most people see marriage and church as inextricably linked. And most churches are adamantly opposed to gay marriage.
My mother’s a traditional Catholic, and she’s not for gay marriage, but...
Steve: She’s very Catholic. She goes to Mass every day.
Bill: When Steve and I had decided to go to San Francisco to get married, I was really struggling with what I was going to say to my mother, and anyway, I was in St. Louis and I said to her, Well, did you hear that California has legalized gay marriage? And she said, Yes I did hear that. And I said, You know, if Steve and I decided to get married out there, would you want to know about that? And her response was, Oh I don’t know, Bill, I don’t believe in it. And I just dropped it at that.
Steve: She has always been really lovely to me. I’m not sure how much she acknowledges to herself what our relationship really is, though: she called just last week and I picked up the phone and she said, Oh hi, Steve, is your roommate there? I think she was sort of joking around. I hope she knows we’re not roommates!