Although my recent wedding (if one could even call it that) was small and private, as a queer woman I feel compelled to share some of the details of our decision to get married. It’s really important that members of the LGBTQIA community are able to contribute their own experiences to the world, regardless of their subject matter, because we have lived so long in a society where our collective experiences have been suppressed rather than encouraged. Ours is a very simple and familiar tale of love, not unlike the stories that so many same sex couples have, and that’s where it’s significance lies; we want to be relatable and understood without people losing sight of the differences that make us unique. The more we share our stories and who we are, the less stigma I think there will be to recognize people from my community as whole, full formed individuals. We are not OTHER, we are others.
As a child, I never ever dreamed about having a wedding, and therefore never ever wanted one as an adult. In fact, my feelings about weddings have always been unromantic and complicated and they became even more so after finding myself in a loving relationship with a woman; who even wants to entertain the idea of having a marriage that your government won’t technically allow?
The beginning of my distaste for marriage in general was born out of defense. As I have mentioned before, I grew up poor in the deep south with parents of different races, but what seemed at times to set me apart more than any of those things was the fact that my parents were never married. The horror on people’s faces, adults and children alike, was obvious. “Why don’t you have the same last name as your Dad?”, they would ask. “Um. Because my parents never got married so I just have my Mom’s last name,” I would answer sheepishly, and then they would look at me like they didn’t know how a child like me could possibly exist.
This seems to be a recurring theme in my life.
They were wondering how I GOT here without a wedding, as if love and marriage were not mutually exclusive. I knew from a young age that a marriage didn’t equate love, a marriage didn’t validate a relationship, a marriage didn’t make you more important than any other couple that loved each other, but I didn’t know how to not feel embarrassed about my illegitimacy in other people’s eyes. So, like any other child, I internalized my feelings, and I grew into an adult who had a deep aversion to the idea of marriage, without ever really bothering to unpack it. This isn’t to say that I didn’t go to my friend’s weddings and cry uncontrollably as they walked down the aisle. I have always been so happy for my friends who found love, but I was happy for them BEFORE their wedding announcements, not because of them. I was happy for them on their seventh date, and happy for them when they moved in together, and happy for them when they talked passionately about their future. To me, that was legit as it got.
Claire and I had been together three years when we got our domestic partnership in NYC, and contrary to popular belief, we didn’t do it because we wanted to have a legal declaration of love for one another; we did it because we wanted to be protected by the law when we both moved to Vancouver for my work. Getting a legal partnership was about security and safety, and this was the first time I recognized that this was the most basic benefit of a legal marriage. The fact that religious doctrine said we were not allowed to get married in the church was fine with me, cause my union with Claire had NOTHING to do with the church. It had everything to do with planning for a family one day, buying property, filing for taxes, getting insurance coverage, making sure that we would be taken care of should something awful happen to one of us. A union in the eyes of the law was a pragmatic decision, and had nothing to with God. I was angry that we couldn’t have this same basic right as other couples, because I didn’t even want a wedding, I just wanted equal rights! Although our decision to get a domestic partnership was a sensible one rather than a romantic one, it was still an incredibly special day, and I will never forget it. We had chosen a pair of very simple, inexpensive rings to exchange over dinner at our favorite restaurant in Prospect Heights where we lived at the time. We enlisted my closest friend Larry to accompany us to City Hall who posed as our photographer as we filled out the necessary paperwork. We took silly pictures next to the “Marriage Licenses” sign in the hallway. When we were finished and we had our paperwork, we stood in the elevator and cried with each other as we looked down at our certificate. Despite the practicality of our legal partnership, we knew we were absolutely committed to each other, and although that piece of paper didn’t dictate the importance of our relationship, the decision to get it did. It wasn’t the domestic partnership itself that was significant, it was the circumstances that encouraged us to get the domestic partnership in the first place; Claire was leaving her job and her friends to move across the country to share a life with me, and I wanted her to come with me more than anything in the world.
As legit as it gets.
Now, fast forward four years to when we moved to our new city and moved into our new home that we own. Nothing much has changed between us, except that we have survived some very difficult experiences and transitions, and thankfully flourished because of them. I still wanted to spend as much of my future with Claire as our love would allow. But guess what. That domestic partnership we got years ago in NYC? It didn’t mean anything here in California. It didn’t mean anything outside of the state of New York. We had to go through the whole process again. We marveled at the fact that this was taken for granted by so many same sex married couples; what if, whenever a married couple moved to a new state in the US, they had to get married again? I began to think that maybe this was a smart idea, that maybe some couples who weren’t really happy together might feel more inclined to separate or re-think their relationship if they were forced to go through the process over and over again. But it didn’t feel smart to us at the time. It felt like a hassle. It felt like no matter where we were or where we went, we didn’t ever count for real.
In late June, we are in Beverly Hills at a lawyer’s office drafting up our wills when we find out that they cannot be executed until we get a civil union in the state of California. This is the very week where the constitutionality of DOMA and Prop 8 are being reviewed by the Supreme Court, and Claire is pessimistic. She thinks that Prop 8 has a chance of working in our favor, but that DOMA will never be struck down in our foreseeable future. A few days later we are both literally awestruck when we wake in the morning and read the news headlines that the federal government is making same sex marriages legal. Speechless. We just hug tightly as my tears start to fall. Now, instead of having to get a Civil Union in the state of California, we are going to get an actual marriage. We will be recognized in the whole country as a legal couple. We wont have to keep filling out the same paperwork every time we move to a new place. If something terrible happens to one of us, we wont have to worry about whether or not the other person will be well taken care of financially. We don’t have to worry about being allowed hospital visits if one of us is sick. We don’t have to worry about who gets to be the legal guardian of any children we might adopt in the future. We don’t have to pay thousands of extra dollars annually for Claire to be be entitled to health insurance simply because she is viewed as a taxable dependent instead of as a spouse. We have always known that we were the same as other couples. But now we will be treated as such. This is what I am elated over.
The strange part about announcing our union for the second time is dealing with other people’s reactions; not everyone has the same attitude about marriage that I do, and marriage means many things to different people, so merging their expectations with our reality was a bit tricky. Most everyone was really happy and excited for us, which was certainly understandable in one respect, but it also reiterated the idea that our domestic partnership we had gotten several years ago didn’t count, that THIS was the real deal. I had never thought of our first legal union as a marriage, but I did think of it as our first public commitment to each other, and that mattered, and still matters, so much to me. In some ways, that one counts even more because we had to take a leap of faith to move forward with it. Making a commitment after seven years is easy when you’ve known each other for that long, when you’ve have had seven years of ups and downs, when you’ve learned to love all the difficult parts of each other for so long. But a commitment after three years with an immediate move to another country? That was dangerous territory, something we could have easily fallen apart over.
We told a few friends and family that we would be getting our marriage officiated soon, but most people didn’t find out till I posted pictures online the day of our wedding. It wasn’t an attempt to exclude any of the important people in our life, but rather a continuation of keeping the spirit of the event low key; we wanted an intimate experience, and that’s what we got, with only our officiant and our friend Kelly (who acted as witness) present.
All the pragmatism and utility in the world couldn’t keep this day from being special. On a whim, we drove down to San Diego a few days before the wedding to visit my high school friend, Henry, who works at a beautiful jewelry store, and he and his wife helped us pick out two simple, lovely rings to exchange. I wanted the most non-clunky, non-showy, functional ring I could find, so that it would never get in the way of what I was doing or where I was going; it seemed to perfectly symbolize my union with Claire- always present but never a burden. On Oct. 5th, Claire and I woke up, had breakfast, and picked out what we were going to wear, outfits that (magically!) matched. Our officiant arrived at our home while Claire was still in the shower, and she sat on the couch patiently as we finished getting ready. Kelly showed up looking radiant in a beautiful lacy white dress and served as our photographer while Claire and I stood in front of our homemade coffee table and listened to each other share her vows. I cried like a baby. Claire doesn’t write very much, but when she does, it speaks right to my heart. Ours was the briefest ceremony perhaps in the history of the world, but it had all the important parts we wanted: our declaration of love for one another, our “I Do”s, and a kiss. We exchanged our perfect rings, mine rose gold, Claire’s white gold, we had a toast, and then we took some fun, casual pictures on the front lawn of our house, with our dog, Rosie. There were a few parts in the day that I had wished our families had been there to witness our exchange of love, but we plan to have a party some time this year for all our friends and family to celebrate with us. I have no idea what the format will be, and honestly, I don’t care. We got the important part done already- the rest is just fun.
It was really important for us to stick to our wishes and be selfish about how we wanted this special day to be, despite the protestations of a lot of well intentioned people in our lives. I had the dream wedding I had never even realized I dreamed up, and nothing could be better than that.