Sarah Beth Alcabes kisses girlfriend Meghan Cleary, both of California, after the US Supreme Court’s ruling on cases against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s gay marriage ban known as Prop 8, outside the court in Washington, June 26, 2013. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Dan Savage started the It Gets Better project in 2010, with a short video online addressed to gay, lesbian, bi and transgender young people facing harassment, letting them know that, yes, it gets better. Today more than 50,000 people have posted videos at ItGetsBetter.org, which have been viewed more than 50 million times. He’s also a best-selling author whose new book is American Savage. He lives in Seattle with his husband, Terry, and their 15-year-old son, D.J.
Jon Wiener: How did you feel when you first heard the news that the Supreme Court had overruled DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act that had defined marriage as limited to two people of the opposite sex?
Dan Savage: I’m morbid, so my first thought was ‘I can die now.’
You didn’t think “now we can live happily ever after”?
For fifteen years my husband Terry has been a stay-home parent. I’m the sole source of support for my family. I have had this burden on my shoulders: if something should happen to me—if a plane I was on crashed, or some of these people who send me death threats made good on that threat, Terry wouldn’t get my Social Security survivor benefits, which he would if he was a woman; he would pay a crushing tax burden; he would lose the house. Terry and D.J. would be made to suffer.
And what was the official reason for that?
Persecuting Terry and D.J. in the event of my death was framed as something that, in some mysterious way, would strengthen the heterosexual family. So that morning, when the decision came down—it was 7 o’clock in Seattle—suddenly I didn’t have to worry any more about the gratuitous financial persecution of my husband and son in the event of my death. Which I hope isn’t coming anytime soon.
How did it happen that a gay man became the go-to guy for straight people seeking advice about sex? When you started the Savage Love column, was that the plan?
That was absolutely not the plan. I started the column as a joke. A friend was starting a newspaper, and I said, “You should have an advice column, everybody reads those.” He said, “Great idea, you should write it.” I was a gay dude and out for a long time even then. We thought it would be funny to have a gay guy giving advice to straight people. And I would treat straight people with the same contempt and revulsion that straight advice columnists had always treated gay people. To be treated with this kind of contempt was a new experience for straight people, and they liked it. So this thing I thought I would be doing for six months or a year turned into something I am now trapped into doing for the rest of my life.
The letters you get from teenagers led you to write in American Savage: that “every teenager should be required to take a sex-ed class.” I imagine the curriculum would not be “abstinence only.”