Believe in Love
“Got any plans for Valentine’s Day?”
I had been stirring my drink when the man sitting beside me at the bar asked me this; I shrugged, then started stirring in the other direction.
The man chuckled knowingly. “That’s all right. You’ll find your somebody. There’s someone for everyone.” He leaned back on his stool, opening his stance a bit. He continued speaking with casual confidence. “Got my gift for the missus already. Box of chocolates and a dozen roses being delivered to her possibly as we speak. She likes tradition. We’re traditional people.”
I smiled and nodded. Then I shifted just slightly, bracing my arms against the padded rails of the bar and stirred my drink with focused intent, hinting as hard as I could that I didn’t want to hear anything more about this man’s Valentine’s Day plans with his wife or the traditional nature of their partnership. It had been a long day, and I wanted to be alone while I waited at the bar.
But either I was lousy with my body language, or the man just wasn’t interested in picking up on it. “Yep,” he said, the word escaping on a satisfied breath, “been married thirty years now. Best decision I ever made. Oh, we had our troubles for awhile there, and sometimes we still do. Best marriages have a bit of bite to them, I always say.”
“Hmm,” I said, with absolutely no invitation at all. I glanced up and down the bar, trying to decide if I could get away with switching to a new seat. But there wasn’t anyone else sitting at the rail, and there wasn’t even a better view of the TV hanging in the corner. I glanced at my watch, noted the time, and repressed a sigh.
“Bedrock institution, marriage,” the man went on. “My wife is my ground wire. Bad day at work? Most days just walking in the door and seeing her face makes it go away. And then there’s the kids.” He laughed ruefully. “Oh, they gave us most of our gray hair, that’s for sure. But they’re our legacy. All off in the world now, and a few of them have kids of their own. That’s the way it’s supposed to go. You find someone to love, you make a life with them, and you raise a family. That’s what a marriage is.” His tone sharpened a little as he added, “That’s what it’s supposed to be, anyway. And as soon as those chicken-shits in Des Moines let us vote, that’s the way it’s gonna be again.”
My straw stilled in the middle of my glass, and I looked intently down into the ice. Just say nothing, I coached myself. Just don’t say anything. Just keep your mouth shut and wait, and he’ll go away.
But it was Valentine’s Day, and I was tired, and this man was getting on my nerves. So I said something.
“I don’t think people’s marriages are anyone else’s business outside of the people in the marriage,” I said.
He snorted in derision. “Oh, you’re one of them liberals, are you?”
Leave this, I urged myself. Leave this right where it’s lying. “Actually,” I said, “I’m Libertarian. I don’t believe the government should involve itself in people’s private lives or their businesses.”
“But you see?” the man dogged. “That’s just what that damn Iowa Supreme Court ‘decision’ was. A bunch of activist judges deciding what marriage should be. I didn’t get to vote that judge in. He’s not representing me. But he just decided what my marriage was without asking me and made a mockery of everything good Christians believe in.”
“The judges interpreted the Iowa Constitution,” I said. “That’s their job. They’re meant to make decisions based on law alone, without any pressure to act politically.”
“That should change.” The man’s fist tightened as it rested against the smooth surface of the bar, and he glared at the line of liquor bottles across from us. “We should vote them in just like we do everyone else. They should be representative of us, not the damn liberals that put them in.”
“But most of the Iowa Supreme Court was appointed by Republican governors,” I pointed out. “And Varnum vs. Brien was a unanimous decision.”
Now the man was getting agitated. I will confess, I was enjoying it a little. “You’d feel differently, son,” he said gruffly, “if you were married and it was your marriage being cheapened.”
Do not open your mouth! I pleaded with myself, but even as I reached out to still my tongue, I knew at this point there was no hope. “Actually,” I said, “I am married.”
“And it doesn’t bother you that some fag can just waltz down the aisle with some guy he met online and get married, just to thumb his nose at what you have with your wife?”
I frowned at him. “I don’t think that actually happens. And in any event, a heterosexual couple could do that too.”
“Heterosexual couples don’t have a degenerate lifestyle,” the man sneered. “They don’t go against the word of God.”
I didn’t even bother urging myself out of this conversation anymore. I just pushed my drink away and turned to the man. “You don’t think it’s against the word of God to hate homosexuals?”
That pushed him over the edge too. He aimed an angry finger at me. “Don’t even start. I’m so sick of hearing that a Christian speaking out against the degradation of the institution of marriage is preaching hate. Did I say I hated homosexuals? Did I say that? No. I didn’t.”
“It was implied,” I said, “when you wanted to take away their civil rights.”
“Bull!” he shot back. His face was red. “Special rights are not civil rights! Not even every gay thinks so, either, so don’t go talking about what you don’t know about. Some gays are fine with civil unions. They get that their choice means they don’t get what the rest of us have. They get that it’s right that way.”
“And those people, and you, have the right to speak for everyone else who doesn’t feel that way?”
The man’s eyes narrowed, and I watched his opinion of me slide away like mud down a hill. I watched him judge me, and I felt him dismiss me. I made myself see it, made myself feel it. Remember this, I told myself. Remember the way he’s looking at you. Remember that this is the reason that you fight.
“You’re one of them, aren’t you?” The disgust in his voice was thick. He looked at me as if I carried the plague, and he was horrified that he had been sitting next to me this long, treating me like a regular, healthy person. “You’re one of them.”
I lifted my chin and kept my voice even and calm as I replied.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m one of ‘them’. I’m one who believes that you shouldn’t get to vote on my marriage or anyone else’s. I’m one of them who believes that all men and women are created equal in the eyes of the law and that we are all endowed with certain inalienable rights. I believe that love is blind. I believe that sexuality is not a choice but a complicated state of being which is no one’s business outside the person living that life. And for the record, I do believe in the word of God. I believe that we should all love one another. I believe that as you do unto the least of us, you do unto God. I believe that judgment is reserved for God alone. I believe that we should care for one another and respect one another, that we should build each other up, not tear each other down.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the door to the bar open, and my heart rose up, carrying my body with it. I couldn’t smile at my partner, but it wasn’t necessary. My heart and my love were in my eyes. “I believe in love. For everyone.”
I grabbed my coat from the stool beside me and pulled out my wallet to pay my tab, because I was leaving now, and thank God for that. The man beside me watched me move, and it was clear that he was sickened and repulsed. “You’ll think differently, fag,” he snarled, “when you’re rotting in hell.”
I tossed a ten dollar bill on the bar. “I don’t believe in hell.” The man snorted, but I ignored him, turning around and putting on a wide, grateful smile as my wife came up to me and put her hand on my arm before leaning in to give me a kiss on my cheek.
I watched the man’s jaw fall open in surprise, and yes, I enjoyed it. I smiled at him as I took my wife’s hand and squeezed it in silent welcome and thanks. I kissed her on the lips, lingering and soft, drawing strength from her, letting her take away all the ugliness this man had given me, the ugliness against which I’d been unable to turn the other cheek. I let her love wrap around me, lifting me up.
When I was feeling strong again, I turned to the man, and I gave him a civil smile. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” I said, then took my wife’s arm and let her lead me away.
Copyright 2010 by Heidi Cullinan