Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation
By the time you read this, it will be the new year and AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s ‘Love is the Best Protection’ Rose Parade float celebrating same-sex marriage will have successfully made its way down Colorado Boulevard before a worldwide audience of 84 million television viewers. This year, AHF’s float honored same-sex marriage and the role it can play in helping to reduce new HIV infections among gay men. Playing off the Tournament’s 2014 ‘Dreams Come True’ theme, AHF’s float included a Rose Parade first: a same-sex wedding performed live during the historic New Year’s Day parade and telecast.
The couple, Aubrey Loots and Danny Leclair, has been together over a decade. Loots, originally from South Africa, and Leclair, from Canada, own Studio DNA Salons, a chain of successful Los Angeles-area hair salons. Joining them on AHF’s float were Mina Meyer and Sharon Raphael, a lesbian couple together 42 years and who were legally married in California in 2008. Meyer and Raphael are also co-founders of the AIDS Hospice Foundation, AHF’s predecessor organization in the 1980s.
In 2004, Massachusetts—the state with the lowest divorce rate in the nation—paved the way for same-sex marriage, and despite fear and protestations, the Commonwealth somehow survived. In the heart of the Homeland, Iowa soon followed. Today, 15 additional states—most recently Illinois, Hawaii and New Mexico—have changed laws to allow same-sex marriage.
Suddenly everything seems different. It is hip to be gay and be married.
But from the time that we first heard wedding bells and pledges of lifelong fidelity from gay men (and lesbians) in Massachusetts and elsewhere 10 years ago, we continue to have soaring rates of HIV in homosexual men. Legalized same-sex marriage will not mean that there will suddenly be a radical change in gay male lifestyles. Much of the sub-culture will still revolve around sex.
Same-sex marriage—and the values any sanctioned marriage encourages—may be one of the single most successful ways to promote safer sex. Most importantly, it will cause more gay men to protect their partners and themselves if they see a future in a committed relationship. The current momentum to recognize same-sex relationships through marriage could be one of the most significant breakthroughs for HIV prevention in the gay community. In short, gay marriage will save lives.
The gay community’s determination to see our relationships recognized, however, should not silence our ongoing discussion of the health crisis that still exists in our community. Any fear that we might have that airing our dirty laundry will hurt our cause must be tempered with the recognition that our first and foremost obligation is to take care of ourselves. Communities that show an ability to take care of their own and address their needs are strong and earn the respect of others, even if grudgingly so.
There is more than a little irony that the same fundamentalists who preach fidelity are so vehemently against recognizing gay relationships. From a public health point of view, health officials and epidemiologists recognize the most effective method of reducing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases has historically been a reduction in the number of sexual partners. Logically, a public commitment to a marriage or domestic partnership should result in gay men having fewer partners.
Both AHF’s 2012 Rose Parade float—a tribute to Elizabeth Taylor for her AIDS advocacy—and our 2013 entry—a global salute to AIDS Healthcare Foundation patients and medical staff from around the world—were honored with the Tournament’s ‘Queens Trophy.’ Today, as more and more gay and lesbian Americans like Aubrey and Danny and Mina and Sharon are able to enjoy and exercise the right to marry, AIDS Healthcare Foundation is proud to honor and celebrate those ‘Living the Dream,’ confident in the knowledge that ‘Love is the Best Protection.’