Dear Thriving Bride,
I will be married in 23 days, and the most crucial part about my wedding journey is this: I got the right to choose who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. It’s that simple, but it’s made all the difference.
I have yet to write in detail about gay marriage and the debate that is always a hot button topic for every politician as he or she decides to run for office. For these people and for many human beings in the world, this is (and should be) a hot button issue because in my opinion it is not about marriage equality, but what we are really talking about here is marriage autonomy.
When I was 10 years old, my dad sat me and my sister down in the kitchen and told us that we needed to learn how to cook. He loved to discipline us by telling us some really frightening stories about people who did not do certain things the “right” way, and what happened to them as a result. So, there we were at age 10 sitting on 7 pound bags of rice from the African market and wondering when we could just forget about stirring the pot and go out to play with our friends. He wanted us to learn how to cook because if we did not, we not only would lose any Nigerian suitor out there (basically, he made it clear that no man would pay a dowry on our behalf if we could not cook), but he also followed this up with a parable.
The girl who was always sleeping while her mother was cooking
There was this girl who slept while her mother spent her backbreaking days in the kitchen. Was she awake when her mother stirred the onions into the pot? Nope! Was she awake when her mother added the Nigerian spices? Nope! Was she awake when her mother ground the melon seeds and poured them into the onion broth and then added the red palm oil? Nope. She was only awake at the end, when her mother was pouring in the salt. Can you guess what happened to this girl when she became a woman and had her own kitchen? If you think she only knew how to boil water and then add salt, you guessed right.
So, in an effort not to become the girl who only knew how to cook salt stew, I sat in that kitchen and dreamed that I would one day be able to choose the man I loved. At this age, my biggest nightmare was that I would wake up next to a man that I did not know and who I did not choose and be forced to pretend to love him for the sake of tradition.
It is a human need to be loved. It is a human right to choose that form of love. I am marrying a man, and I am not claiming to know what it is like for those men and women out there who want to marry someone of the same sex or of a different gender identity than the one the state acknowledges.
So, I want to stand behind everyone who knows what it is like to be 10 years old, 15 years old, 20 years old, 30 years old and even 60 years old without feeling the freedom to make that choice on his or her own. Whether it is tradition or state sanctioned choosing, it is still someone else choosing for you. And who the hell wants that?
I think back to being a little girl. I wonder about little girls who wanted to love other little girls. In many ways, we both wanted the same thing: To find safe places where we could be ourselves, and be loved for who we were. And when each of us finds that, no law or government should be able to tell us to let that go. I hope each of you who finds this companionship and capacity of another human being to take you as you are and to do the work of loving you, never lets it go.
I would like to propose a toast to all the people I know who just want the right to choose. We are first generations Americans whose immigrant parents are afraid to let go of traditions from the old country, we span the whole LGBTQ spectrum, we sometimes fall in love with people of the opposite sex but simply don’t want to get married, we want recognition for the fact that we have done one of the most awesome and difficult things in this world: found someone who is anything but perfect and chosen to take that person “as is” right off the “rack” of human beings that we have the profound luck of stumbling upon every day when we leave our homes.
Let’s give everybody the chance to choose his or her love and to choose how he or she wants to live it. I think back to Mildred and Richard Loving, the interracial couple whose marriage and court case broke the anti-miscegenation laws in the United States in 1967. When Mildred wrote a letter to Robert Kennedy’s office in order to appeal her case she said, “we didn’t hurt nobody, and we just want to live in peace.” Without Mildred and Richard, I probably would not have the freedom to marry PJ more than 40 years later.
I think about a picture a friend of mine recently posted on Facebook. She was dancing with her partner and she made it very clear what she wanted for her birthday: to be able to marry her partner and raise her son with the same rights that all human beings yearn for and deserve. I can’t grant her that for her birthday, but I can give her a belated birthday present by letting her know that the beauty of the two of them dancing made you know that there was love there. If there is love, there is possibility, and if there is possibility there is community and if there is community there is accountability and if there is accountability there is an investment in who each and every one of us becomes. And when there is that communal investment, I do believe God is there: That presence of grace that gives all of us permission to come forward as we are without shame or ridicule. I truly believe that an ashamed society can never be an accountable or fully loving one.
So, I stand in support of Marriage Autonomy. I don’t want my parents, my elders, my village, my fellow Nigerians, other Africans or my government in my bedroom. It’s that simple for me. When we lose our right to vote, we lose our voice and when we lose our right to choose who to love, we lose our understanding of what is possible in our lives, and when we lose this understanding, we lose our sense of self. I don’t want this to be my future or ours. Vote for Marriage Autonomy! The worst thing that can happen is that you find a whole lot more people walking taller and feeling stronger and better about themselves. One might just catch your eye too, and then anything is possible.