In my method, I have the couple I’m working with sit facing each other in identical chairs. In a recent session, Geoff sits in one chair, while Matt faces him in the other. They are both bright, attractive, successful men in their 30’s.
As a preliminary exercise, I ask each of them to remember a moment when they felt closest to their partner. With couples who are really in trouble, they sometimes have difficulty remembering any pleasant moment, even from the distant past. But not these two.
Matt speaks first. He says, “I’m thinking of just this Sunday night, laying in bed. You told me your fears, and we held each other, talking for hours. I’ve never felt so in love with anyone.”
Then it is Geoff’s turn. He says, “I thought of that night, too, but I thought of so many times. I couldn’t pick one moment. Sure, I can think of our exciting vacations together, but even in the most ordinary moments I feel close to you.”
Only Geoff and I know how extraordinary this moment is. He had searched for love his whole life to no avail. Finally, only after years of struggle and working on his personal growth, partly in therapy with me, was he able to not only find love, but to keep it, and nurture it. I couldn’t help but swell with pride at Geoff’s joyous accomplishment.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my psychotherapy practice, it is that everyone wants love. Maybe I should put this another way. Everyone has love to give. Everyone wants to share love. (There are those exceptions that prove the rule, of course. The very few among us who do not want to share love speaks to a deep level of emotional woundedness, or a brain and body in severe disarray.)
Philosophers from the beginning of thought have tried to define what love is. As Socrates instructed us 2500 years ago in his greatest philosophical work, The Symposium, we know there are many different kinds of love. Like the great humanist psychologist, Erich Fromm, who wrote the timeless classic, The Art of Loving, I believe that love is a choice, an action. Love is the decision to make someone else’s well being equal to your own. It is the choice to do what you can to make someone else happy.
But even if love is a choice, the ability to connect and give of oneself in such a way speaks to a divine, mysterious, innate capacity. My favorite Chinese philosopher, Mencius, who lived in China around the same time Socrates was roaming around Athens, called this innate capacity, hsin, or heart. Without heart, we just wouldn’t be able to love, and we wouldn’t want to. We wouldn’t need to.
He would say, and I would agree, that we are only fully human, we only fully realize our God-given potential, when we embody, when we live, when we realize, our heart, through loving. And I think most people would agree. Though there are many ways to love, most of us recognize that for grown ups to have a complete and fulfilled life it must include a real, deep, committed, passionate, sexual, loving partnership with another human being.
Sadly, not all of us get to have that. In order to have a satisfying life, those of us who don’t must find other ways to manifest and express the love within, and to share love with others. But though there are those who must find a way to live without that kind of partnership, it is no secret that such a life is one that includes pain at such an absence.
Perhaps the fundamental inalienable human right, then, is the freedom to love. To deprive anyone of the ability to love and be loved in return is to deprive a person of what is essential about them.
Yet that is what I believe the gay marriage debate is really all about. As my clients, Geoff and Matt prove, being gay isn’t about a “sexual preference” or a “life-style choice.” It is about an innate movement toward love. The question about whether you are gay is not fundamentally answered by who you want to have sex with, but by the question Bo Diddley asked in his hit song, “Who do you love?”
The opponents of gay marriage are saying that those people who are naturally drawn to love someone of their own gender should not be able to do so. For what is marriage about, if not, at its foundation, a commitment of love? The marriage vows, spoken in a religious ceremony, don’t speak of procreation, or raising children, but rather aim to define, in an ideal form, that promise of love: for better or worse, in sickness and in health . . .
To love, to manifest that which is essential within us, is to fulfill what Mencius called the Heavenly Mandate, what we might call the laws of nature, or what many would call God’s will.
If we can say, as Jesus does, that God is love, and that it is our job on Earth to manifest God in our moment-to-moment existence; if we can say that we are made in the image of God, or, to put it another way, that the heart is the home of the divine within us, as the ancient Indian book of wisdom, The Upanishads, says; then how can we deny the love in a gay man or woman’s heart?
If we agree that the ultimate human purpose is to love, and that it goes against the Heavenly Mandate, the laws of nature, or God, to deny that to anyone, then the whole argument against gay marriage falls like a house of cards.
We all struggle against the effects of the wounds that we suffered and suffer in our families of origin and in the societies to which we are born and in which we live. These wounds mostly manifest in interfering with, or stunting, our ability to give full expression to our love. Geoff and Matt have had to struggle mightily against these inherited, internalized voices of shame to be able to find their way to forming a bond of love with each other. But they have conquered the limiting voices within, and the oppressive voices without, because they know that love is something in all of us that needs to flower. To deny that expression is a crime against themselves, humanity, nature, and the divine essence from which we spring.
To say that marriage should be forbidden between people of the same sex is to say that their love is an abomination, but how can love be an abomination? When you know, as I do, the joys of love yourself, when you see Geoff and Matt’s deep fulfillment, when you see the happiness they bring to one another, you know that their love, like all love, is good.
And if, as I believe, marriage is a celebration that two people have found someone with whom they can bring their greatest self into being by loving, then I can’t wait to be at Geoff and Matt’s wedding.