On September 15th I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of my second cousin Megan to her partner of nine years and fiance of two years, Mali. I am an egalitarian man and consider the legalization of same-sex marriage a no-brainer, but I was taken completely by surprise by how profound it was for me to see, for the first time, two women get married.

The wedding was wonderful and poignant in the same ways that all really great weddings are wonderful and poignant: The site and decor were both beautiful and quirky in a way that reflected the beauty and quirkiness of Megan, Mali, and their relationship. They are such a solid couple, so clearly in love after all this time, so happy and sure about their commitment to each other. I loved seeing everyone from both families there, getting along so well, excited and supportive, catching up with each other, and forming the bonds of one, big family. And we were all so sad that Megan’s father, Ev, did not live to be there, to cry tenderly at the ceremony, to give a hilarious and heartfelt toast at the reception, and just to be his generous, wise self with us.

The wedding was also moving to me in a way that I’d never experienced before, in a way that I’ve been trying to put into words ever since.

First it hit me how different this looked and felt from the hetero weddings I’ve attended. It illuminated how, like most humans, I am effortlessly and undeniably aware of gender and gender expression in the people around me, and how I fixate and perseverate when what I see does not match what I am used to seeing. It had become completely ordinary for me to see and support same-sex couples, but I had still seen very few images of same-sex weddings.

And at the same time, it looked and felt so obviously right. Of course these two people are standing in front of their adoring families, committing their lives to one another. I’ve thought for a long time that if a couple–any couple, regardless of sexual orientation–can have a happy, stable commitment, especially with the support of their families and community, the world is a better place for it. Witnessing this wedding felt like a shift of that thought into much deeper, experiential knowledge. And why had it taken me 41 years? Simply because I had not been exposed to this moment. I feel certain that I would have been accepting, maybe even excited, as a child, by the symmetry of reality: Some men marry women, some marry men. Some women marry men, and some marry women. It’s about who you love, and who you love is different for different people. We just need access to the schema, the models, the moments.

Second, it hit me how it was Megan and Mali’s bravery that was giving me and the other 120 guests access to this moment. There is real danger as well as the certainty of judgement from a lot of people in being out like they are, and having a wedding is being all the way out. But what a gift: I got to grow into a stronger ally. I imagine we all did.

Third, I had a huge feeling of relief and excitement. Having recently been married myself, I was keenly aware of the cultural baggage that marriage and weddings carry, the history and reality of gender oppression represented by fathers giving their daughters away to husbands, the history and reality of prescriptive gender roles that have felt like prison to so many women. Would participating in these ceremonies and institutions influence my wife and I to behave against our egalitarian principles? How could we possibly know?

Suddenly, here was a wedding and a marriage that was clearly not about gender oppression. Here was proof that it can be done. Here was the possibility of the philosophical redemption of heterosexual marriage from its ugly history.