Wednesday, 02 July 2014 10:12

A different kind of Independence Day

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Summer in the city. That means excessive heat warnings, pork steaks, PrideFest, and the joyful madness that is Fair St. Louis. Today is blissfully cool and tonight will be a downright chilly 57 degrees - in July. Suh-weet! The heat has been here for sure; last week or so was pretty darn hot. I've enjoyed pork steaks more than a few times. The massive and impressive 2014 PrideFest was incredibly moving in its second year downtown. A shout out as well to the vastly smaller, but awfully cool, Tower Grove Pride event. There is certainly room for both of them in the Lou. I volunteered on Saturday at downtown PrideFest and actually marched in the massive and impressive parade on Sunday. I do look forward to attending Fair St. Louis on Saturday, but I have a very important affair to attend on Friday the 4th. I am going to a big, gay wedding.

Although it was in the works for months, I was stunned to hear and read about City of St. Louis Mayor Slay's sanctioning of gay marriage by hosting four wedding ceremonies in his office last week. With state after state making it legal these past few years, I always thought MO would be one of the last. Slay's actions during Pride week threw down the gauntlet with the state and will force a reexamination of Constitutional Amendment 2, which passed on August 3, 2004. It is an amendment to the Missouri Constitution that prohibits same-sex marriages from being legally performed or recognized in Missouri. The Amendment passed via public referendum  with 71% of voters supporting and 29% opposing. Every county voted in favor of the amendment, with only the independent city of St. Louis voting against it. The text of the adopted amendment, which is found at Article I, section 33 of the Missouri Constitution, states: "That to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman."

I never thought this would happen in my relatively short lifetime, but legal gay marriage in Missouri may be a reality far sooner than I thought. Gay people have been committing to one another, technically illegally I suppose, since the dawn of time. Whether you agree with it or not, it is a fact. Many people I know have gotten hitched in other states, biding their time until they can do it in the Show Me State. The most important aspect of marriage - whether in a church or not, legal or not - is exchanging vows in front of friends and family. To love and be loved by another person is a very human thing. Gay people are arguably human too. Eh, I'll just stop there.

Bob, one of my oldest friends, is getting gay married to Donnie, the love of his life, this Friday, the 4th of July, on the anniversary of their first date. I don't even remember how many years they have been together, but at least 10, maybe 15. Bob was the captain of my swim team and water polo team at SLUH and we were thick as thieves, often getting into some shenanigans involving Michelob Light on the weekends. Neither of us was even remotely out of the closet or aware of each other's secret identity during those years, nor was there some hidden crush or smoldering unrequited love. We were simply great friends who shared a lot of time playing sports together, which coincidentally required all participants to wear nothing but Speedos. Dear lordy, if we knew then what we know now. Wowza.

We were both loud, obnoxious, teenagers with a pretty big secret. I came blazing out of my own closet shortly after high school, while his own path took him much longer. He did not reveal that part of himself to the world until he was in his 30's. I get it. The world, and conservative St. Louis, was a different place and time back in our respective youths. Being a fag was bad and guilt by association was something to be avoided if you wanted a "normal" life.

Bob always thought I was so very brave for coming out as a teenager. I was actually impulsive, reckless and sort of screwed up. I didn't think things all the way through at the time and did a lot of things wrong, but made my way in a world I knew nothing about and wound up where I am today. So no harm, no foul there. Today I am very assured of myself and mostly happy. Bob on the other hand took a wheezing family business and worked his ass off for many years to build it into a multi-million dollar operation that he and his older brother run together. When he came out as an adult it required a different set of balls and he arguably risked losing a lot more than I did. Things turned out for both of us exactly as it should.

Without peeking behind the curtain too much, Donnie was not initially all that interested in Bob. However my friend was determined and smitten and driven by that "oh yes I can" SLUH attitude we grew up with and chased him for almost a year before that fateful Independence Day when their own sparks ignited and the magic happened. For full disclosure there is a lot of history between them, and between Bob and me, that need not be repeated in this forum. Today it is all about focusing on the love they feel for each other and the joy that they will share this weekend at their big, gay wedding. 

It is touching and beautiful to me that their big, gay reception will be held in at the Chase Park Plaza. So much of my gay origin story revolves around the Central West End, the Chase, Forest Park, and my high school days at SLUH on Oakland. After all this time and so many years, it will be an honor and privelege to witness their blessed union while overlooking the park during Fair St. Louis. 

Once as drunken teenagers during one my epic parties when the 'rents were out of town, Bob and I shot bottle rockets out my bedroom window at the neighbor's house across the street, who happened to be a seargent in the 1st District Police Station. We laughed our asses off, much to the horror of my then girlfriend, until the cops came. I do promise not to explode anything at your reception old friend. I will however raise my glass in tribute, maybe shed a tear or two, and thoroughly enjoy your wedding reception. Bob and Donnie, I love you guys and sincerely wish you all the best.

Bob, I've technically been engaged for the past three years and won't be able to avoid it much longer. Maybe you can offer me some advice. You are my elder after all. Bazinga!