To Be Gay and In Love

What images coursed through your mind when you first heard the term “gay marriage”?

I have to confess it made me squeamish at first, and a bit puzzled. Over time and through the acquaintances of our daughters, I had come to terms with what it means to be gay; that some of us are attracted to the opposite sex and others to the same sex. To be gay is not to “choose” a way of life. We are born with our sexual inclinations, which come to the fore as we reach sexual maturity in our adolescent years.

And last night my appreciation for gay marriage moved forward light years, as I attended a wedding that bonded two wonderful young Arlington women, one of whom I have known through our daughters since childhood. The occasion was one of joy, celebration and verification of the love and commitment two young women hold for one another.

We prayed, we smiled, we danced and we toasted a relationship every bit as real and solemn as that which my wife and I initiated nearly 40 years ago. We joined men and women we’ve known for decades and some friends anew of all ages, colors and sexual orientations, to be testament to the marriage of these two young lovers.

Records of sexual differences extend back thousands of years. According to historical texts, “Homosexuality has been acknowledged in China since ancient times.”

In our part of the world, we know homosexuality existed “among many American Indian indigenous groups.” Again, according to online historical documents, a lesbian named We’wha “of the Native American Zuni tribe … made a trip to Washington in 1886, and later shook President Roosevelt’s Hand. … Revered by her tribe, We’wha’s life was originally documented by anthropologist Matilda Coxe Stevenson in the late 19th century.”

In recent years gays and lesbians seemed to be pushing the envelope as they, and heterosexual supporters, advocated for the right to marry. I wondered to myself why official recognition by government registrars had become so important to men and women of a sexual orientation different from my own.

Then I saw a public television documentary of a cross-country bus trip by gays and lesbians to San Francisco, where, for a time, the city government recognized and performed nuptials for homosexuals. I heard men and women of all ages and backgrounds express, with deep sincerity and emotion, what marriage meant to them and why it should mean something to me.

Marriage bestows official status to a relationship with the right to speak for one another, care for one another, travel and live with one another with the protection of the law.

We in Arlington are far ahead of much of the nation in the County’s relationship with gays and lesbians. We have Northern Virginia’s first law enforcement Gay and Lesbian Liaison Team in our police department. We have elected the Commonwealth’s first openly gay public official, Jay Fisette. We have a vibrant homosexual community represented, among others, by the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, the oldest such group in Virginia (

At a time when some are castigating those of the same sex who are attracted to one another, I leave you with the above reflections of a glorious night and ask that you, too, search your heart for what marriage is and means, no matter who we are. Rodgers and Hammerstein put it to music and words many years ago:

Hello young lovers, whoever you are,
I hope your troubles are few.
All my good wishes go with you tonight,
I’ve been in love like you.

Be brave, young lovers, and follow your star,
Be brave and faithful and true,
Cling very close to each other tonight.
I’ve been in love like you.

Nick Penning is an Arlington, Va., freelance writer. His column, “Penning Thoughts,” appears in alternating editions of The Arlington Connection.

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