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One Man Guy
Staff Writer | Photo: Tom Hailand | May 20, 2013
Nearly a year after Rufus Wainwright married his beloved, Jörn Weisbrodt, on a Montauk beach (then held the reception at the Clam Bar!), the world-famous singer describes what it really means to be allowed—by law—to take the leap.
I’m trying desperately to put down roots in Montauk. My partner—and now husband—Jörn and I bought a house here a few years ago, and were married here last August. It’s not on the ocean, but it’s really close. I’m going to spend all of August here; my dream is to spend all fall here, too, writing my new opera and getting more kimono time in.
I was anti-gay-marriage for a long time. I subscribed to the view that gays, especially gay men, shouldn’t be at all traditional, that they should live crazy lives up until the end—a kind of unconventional, Oscar Wilde-like outlook. There’s a part of me that still believes that; I don’t think you can put 2,000 years of that thinking under the carpet. That being said, I got a little older, and then met Jörn; we’d been together for about six years when I proposed.
Then an interesting thing happened. Friends of mine were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, and I asked the wife, “Did you think you’d be married for 30 years?” She turned to me and said, “Rufus, when you get married, it’s forever. That’s the concept, anyway—that’s what you’re imagining in most cases.” It struck me that I’d never had that construct in my life. It had never been an option for me to think in those terms—it’s just not a mental place gay men had been allowed to go. And that had adversely affected me. There’s something sad about not being able to think “forever.” Also, Jörn and I were adopting my daughter, Viva. I’m friends with her mother, who has custody. Jörn isn’t biologically connected with Viva, so I wanted something official. I knew he’d be putting in a lot of time and a lot of love, and marriage was a good way to make it official.
When it came time to propose, we were in London. I told Jörn, “I love you, but I also need you to do some diapers because of this baby, so I should probably marry you.” It coincided almost perfectly with the legalization of gay marriage in New York State [in June 2011]. That was the turning of the tide—we were swept up in the political issues of gay marriage, and it was great to be on the right side of that. It felt important.
Our friend Justin Bond, who’s an amazing transgender performer and a New York legend, performed the ceremony, which really pissed off the right wing. We thought, “Let’s have a gay wedding with a transgender officiator!” And it was fabulous. Yoko Ono came, as did Mark Ronson and Julianne Moore. We wrote our own vows, and I also wrote a poem, and came up with a brilliant line at the end: “I love you forever because I love you now.”
After the ceremony, I performed “The Man That Got Away,” and my sister Martha sang. My dad sang at the dinner, which we had at the Clam Bar on the Napeague stretch. Everybody had lobster rolls.
We went to Big Sur for our honeymoon, and were on the beach right next to Anne Hathaway when she was getting married. I had one paparazzi photographer at my wedding and Anne Hathaway had two helicopters!
Beyond being a big part of my own personal story, gay marriage is a game changer on a few fronts, especially regarding taxes, hospital visits and inheritance—it certainly makes things a lot clearer for people who’ve been in long-term relationships.
And there’s another thing that’s important to me. I’m from a particular generation that was hit hard by AIDS. When the epidemic struck, I was just entering puberty, and for a good 10 years, I thought I was going to die. There was never a period in my life when AIDS wasn’t a major factor. It didn’t allow me to see blissfully. I don’t think marriage is necessarily an answer to that, but I do think having someone who’s officially your partner in the world will help heal a lot of the wounds gay men have experienced with the AIDS crisis. It’s about love and it’s about taking care in sickness and in health. We got to say that out loud in front of everybody.
My husband and I are dedicated to each other 100 percent. But marriage isn’t easy—it’s not going to be easy for us, either. Yet whatever it means to each individual, marriage is an adventure right now for gay men because it’s totally new territory for us. Once I read those vows in front of people, I was changed. I inhabited a different world. And there’s something sacred about that.