Mikaya Heart

is the author of "With the Sun in My Eyes"

I am the kind of person who holds radical views, but the issue of gay marriage is an odd one for me.

I came out as a lesbian in 1977 in England. A wave of feminism was sweeping through the Western World, and a lot of women woke up. For me and many others, coming out and recognizing how traditional male dominance kept us down were one and the same thing. We didn't just climb out of the box made for us; we leapt out. Discovering that we could have great sex without men was only the beginning. We were going to live our own lives, do what we wanted, and be independent. We certainly weren't going to get married - to anyone. Marriage was all about being in that limiting little box. Wedding bells sounded too much like chains clanking.

Sadly, the lesbian community was anything but open-minded. Traditional lesbians identified as either butch or femme, gender roles that we despised. They and their gay male friends were appalled at our rejection of anything traditional. They saw us as a threat to the very shaky tolerance that the mainstream accorded them.

Since we saw our position as women in society as the source of our oppression, we considered ourselves lesbian feminists, a part of the women's liberation movement. But heterosexual feminists were uncomfortable with us. All good lefties were obliged to support us, but they saw us primarily as lesbians, still a loaded label in those days. They didn't want to socialize with us. We weren't popular.

By 1990, living in California, I'd met some gay men and heterosexuals of both sexes who actually liked me, and I them. This is a trend that has continued, I'm happy to say. Life is a long, delightful picnic compared with the '70s in England. Although I have never forgotten those hard-won lessons about believing in myself no matter what others say, I've become very forgiving.

Nowadays, I think everyone ought to be allowed to do her own thing. That includes getting married, whatever sexual orientation you are. Still, that word marriage doesn't sit easily with me. Yes, I want the legal benefits. It infuriates me that we must stoop to subterfuge so our foreign lovers can live in the United States. Beyond those kinds of legalities, I don't need my partner and me to be seen as a couple by the authorities.

The concept of marriage has too many assumptions attached. Married couples settle down together. They are responsible for each other. They owe each other. They are dependent on each other. They are meant to consult each other on long-term and day-to-day decisions. They are meant to be monogamous. They are meant to be willing to give up things they really want for the sake of the marriage. If they get divorced, which is usually horribly messy, they are considered to have failed, even when divorce is the most growth-enhancing option. There is a tendency to use being married as a safety net enabling one to get away with behavior that lacks integrity: We're married, so s/he's not going to leave me.

Of course, a committed relationship, whether considered to be a marriage or not, doesn't have to be that way. But I'm not on the front lines of the campaign for gay marriage. I'm going for a model that is conceptually broader. I want love and intimacy, and I want freedom, which means not being tied down. My personal experience illustrates that's quite possible. I'm not saying it's easy. It requires a unique level of honesty and responsibility, and it's made far more difficult by social disapproval. Those of us who are choosing these kinds of options are on the cutting edge of something absolutely new in Western culture. That certainly doesn't mean it can't work. It already is working on a small scale.

I hear people saying, but what about the children? In a village type of community, children have half a dozen people, or more, to parent them, and, in my opinion, that's much healthier than having only two.

In this day and age, plenty of other people feel the same way as I do, and are open to very different models of partnership. Next month, I'm participating (not for the first time) in a commitment ceremony involving three people. I'm looking forward to the day when we can do that kind of thing in public, and be honored for it.

But just because I don't want to play the game doesn't mean that no one else should. I have no doubt that gay marriage will be legalized on a federal level within the next five years, just because human evolution is about becoming more and more accepting of differences. The trend to open-mindedness, and the self-empowerment that goes with that, is well under way, worldwide. Even the most reactionary forces have not been able to do more than slow it down.

So if you are working to have gay marriage accepted, go for it! I'll cheer loudly from the sidelines. And I hope that you will do me the same favor as I go for the gold.

E-mail Mikaya Heart at mikayaheart@myfastmail.com.