As a white, middle-aged, middle class, heterosexual male, I am among the most coddled and protected of people walking the earth today.
So today, as I approach 50 years old, I have almost no direct experience with what it means to be an outsider. To be shunned, looked down on, disrespected or treated as if I don't exist.
It’s something I can imagine in my mind, but don't truly know in my heart.
But I do know there are many people out there who deal with those kinds of feelings every day. For them, it’s not about getting a cab or a table at a restaurant.
It’s about something much deeper and much, much more important.
It’s about being able to marry who they love.
Or at least is was, until yesterday, in Illinois.
As a hetero male in America, I’ve never had to worry in the slightest that I may one day fall in love, want to be with someone and decide one day to get married.
Like being caught speeding after having a beer or two, I know this to be true. Because I’ve been married before and, quite frankly, am likely to be one day again.
So I don't know what it’s like to fall in love only to be told by my government and my society that I must never, ever be allowed to express that love by choosing to enter into a lifelong commitment within the bonds of marriage.
I’ll never long for the day when I can talk openly about my marriage, feel accepted in my community or wish I could be open about my sexual orientation at work. Or sit by a hospital bedside, wondering if I’ll be included in my decisions about my partner’s care or, worse, be told I can’t visit the person I love because I’m not family.
In fact, I’ll never suffer the loss of a whole host of other legal and social rights afforded to those among us who can easily be married. And I’ll never know what it means to be an outsider in this most human of ways.
But now, after Illinois yesterday became the 15th state in the union to legalize same-sex marriages, none of my fellow Illinoisans will suffer those experiences anymore, either.
No one I pass on the street. No one I meet at work. Not in the gay and lesbian bars in the city or in a house with a white picket fence in the suburbs. No one on a farm downstate, a factory in the Quad Cities, a VFW hall in LaSalle County or occupying a seat in the Illinois statehouse or Chicago City Council.
Unfortunately, not everyone in the country can say that just yet.
But in Illinois, we can.
And that makes this makes this coddled and protected middle-aged heterosexual happy and proud.