I Do | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

I Do

If you've read anything I've written over the last three years, you know that I've done my level best to stay optimistic on the subject of marriage equality. It hasn't been easy, especially when keeping up with comments from the opposition.

When the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (the 1996 law that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman) and California's Proposition 8 (which attempted to eliminate the rights of same-sex couples to marry), I slowly began to coil up inside myself. During the three months the justices deliberated, I read anything and everything on how the court might rule. I gave interviews to some national news agencies about living in the South and what we hoped the outcome would be. I even had the pleasure of participating in a Google+ "Hangout" with Chris Hayes of MSNBC. In addition to hearing Hayes praising my last name, I was proud to be able to say, "I do," when asked if I believed Mississippi would come around on marriage equality.

I figured this must be how it feels to be tried on criminal charges: the waiting, the fretting and the countless hours of speculation before the defendant learns his fate. How my partner, Justin, was able to be around me, I'll never understand.

On the eve of the decisions on the marriage-equality cases, the country learned that the Voting Rights Act had been effectively gutted, and my optimism shattered in an instant. If the justices didn't see a need to protect the right to vote for people of color—especially in the face of voter-suppression efforts across the United States—then how could they see that DOMA and Prop 8 serve solely to pass moral judgment on gays and lesbians? The evening ended with me crawling to bed and, for the first time, bracing myself for a huge disappointment.

I woke early the next morning and, as I sipped coffee on the deck, I came to a decision: Good or bad, the rulings would send a message to our LGBT youth, and that would be my focus, should anyone come calling for my thoughts. And boy, did they ever.

In the middle of my first haircut of the day, a cameraman showed up. By early afternoon, I'd given six interviews. In fact, one reporter had to interview me twice: During the first interview, the news broke of the decisions, so he needed to collect his thoughts and start over. He captured Justin and me sharing a celebratory kiss and even used it in the story.

By the end of the day, my brain hurt, my face was sore from smiling, and I had no tears left in my body. I was never more proud to be able to speak out for the LGBT youth of our nation. They now know that our society has a place for them, and they can look forward to life beyond the bullying. Of course, we all know that we have more work to do beyond achieving marriage equality, especially here in Mississippi.

Transgender people face the harshest discrimination of anyone in the LGBT community, and it's no different in our state. Here, LGBT people can be fired and denied housing for no other reason than our sexual orientation, and we aren't included in any hate-crime legislation. Not only does Mississippi ban same-sex marriage, state law prohibits same-sex couples from adopting. Mississippi has gone out of its way to keep us in the closet, but that won't last forever.

A documentary filmmaker has been following Justin and me since the end of March, hoping to capture the lives of an openly gay couple living and working in a state that likely won't change much on the issue for some time. The goal was to show the world that Mississippi has much good in it and abundant opportunity for change. Throughout the past four months, Lauren Cioffi, of subSIPPI, has been documenting the highs and lows of our everyday life—a life we hope will make a difference here and abroad and, hopefully, a story that might help LGBT youth understand that there is possibly a better Mississippi ahead.

I'm proud to tell you that I'll finally be able to marry my partner of almost 11 years. On Sept. 7, we'll stand before a California officiant in Long Beach, Calif., where we will be legally bound to one another. Justin's father and stepmother will bear witness to our union. That day, at least for the two of us, we'll finally become a real part of this "more perfect union."

Mississippi has some catching up to do but, for right now, I'm finding great comfort in getting to say, "I do."

Eddie Outlaw is co-owner of the William Wallace Salon in Fondren and spends most of his time trying not to embarrass his sweet Delta mother on eddieoutlaw.com.

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