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Why We’re Not Crossing the Line


Last week, I was on Forum, our local NPR affiliate’s news and call-in show talking about the agony and ecstasy of weddings. We only had one gay caller, and what she said felt like a punch to the gut. She talked about how she was marrying a woman and even though it wasn’t legal, she was still calling it a wedding. What viscerally hurt me in that moment was she clearly felt she had to defend that, and she went on to say she wished people would stop asking her if was legal. On most days, I hope we’ve come farther than that (at least in liberal enclaves like an NPR station in the Bay Area, for goodness sakes). On most days, I hope that enough of us know that while the government may control marriage licenses, they damn well don’t control the word or concept of marriage. But in that moment I realized that, again, we’re not there yet. In my response to the caller, I mentioned Meghan’s (of oh meaghan) post today. About how it’s not the legality that matters, it’s the marriage. And how we’d all better stop asking our LGBTQ friends if it’s legal or not (hint: Go look it up if you really don’t know, and then go work to do something about it.)Why We’re Not Crossing the Line | A Practical Wedding

Six years ago, my fiancé Em and I were just friends, and we stood on the university campus where we met, cheering loudly as someone gave a speech at a marriage equality rally. Em looked at me adoringly, likely feeling what I felt (wild, wonderful love…which was becoming increasingly difficult to conceal), and said, “Will you marry me?” I laughed and accepted, despite the fact that I was still one of “those queers” who really didn’t think that marriage equality was The Issue Upon Which I Wanted to Hang My Hat, and despite the fact that we weren’t even technically together yet. Four years later, Em sweetly and nervously asked for my hand in marriage. I accepted, and this time it was for real. Five years later, I stopped resisting the idea of marriage and opened my heart to it for me, for us. Six years later, we are whole-hog committed, down to our joint bank account, co-parenting a pug, and planning our October wedding.

There has never, ever been a shred of doubt in my mind or heart that Em is the one for me. Even when I was philosophically and politically rejecting the notion of marriage, I still knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life only with Em. In March of last year, we attended Em’s brother’s wedding and I began to see things I had never seen before. Specifically, I saw how a wedding is an opportunity for the community of family and friends that surround the couple to stand up and promise to help them stay true to their commitment, to be the anchor that steadies the ship should the waters ever get too rough, and to celebrate all of their future accomplishments joyously and sincerely. This particular wedding made it abundantly clear to me that there was an entire part of a marriage that had nothing to do with legal recognition. Therefore, I decided I wanted a wedding.

When we started talking about our wedding, we both were firmly in the “It’s legal in Washington, DC! Let’s make sure we at least have some sort of courthouse event that our family can see and experience!” camp. We delighted in the novelty of it. It seemed like not only the right thing to do, but a nice gesture in general. We should take advantage of the rights and privileges offered to us, should we not? Our families were excited to participate in the process, but during a phone conversation with my mother I realized that there was still some lingering confusion. She asked me, directly but filled with compassion, “What’s the point?” And quite honestly, I didn’t have an answer. In 2006 the Marshall-Newman Amendment (aka the Virginia Marriage Amendment) was passed into law in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the same state where we live, pay taxes, and are gainfully employed. By law, we are not afforded the same benefits as our heterosexual neighbors when it comes to legal marriage, and we get that. What this also means is that our union, if legal in DC, will not be recognized the moment we drive home over the Roosevelt Bridge into Virginia. It also means that any legal documentation we create to protect our relationship, including medical directives, is not necessarily guaranteed to be recognized depending on the interpreter of the law at the time we are attempting to engage it.

There is an obvious quick fix to this predicament. We could just move back into Washington, DC. With that comes a number of frustrating issues, however—inflated cost of living, three hour commutes, noise, pollution, quality of life for our dog, etc. Frankly, I’m just too stubborn to do that at this point in my life. Additionally, the concept of having to pack up my life and change my geographic location so I can be protected equally under the law infuriates me. It is, quite simply, why I think putting marriage equality to a popular vote and/or handling it on the state level is completely absurd, socially and legally. It essentially forces LGBTQ people into enclaves scattered throughout the country where we have some degree of certainty that we’ll be protected. We all fanned our faces in shock and horror at the thought of a North Carolina preacher who wanted “queers and lesbians” to be penned up with barbed wire fences surrounding us and left to die out, but that is what state rights do to us. Repealing DOMA is truly the only reasonable option. I can think of no other way to look at it.

After numerous challenging conversations between the two of us, Em and I decided that we aren’t satisfied with a DC marriage and have since redefined things for the sake of our nuptials. On our wedding day we will be married, as we like to say, in front of God, our family and friends, and in our hearts. This is so exciting, especially for me, because it is exactly what I have always wanted. We have planned to spend our first year of marriage putting together all of the documentation that might protect us so long as DOMA and the Virginia Marriage Amendment linger, and we have also decided to postpone conversations about moving to somewhere more accepting/safe for a year, too. If we move to a state that supports marriage equality, we will get legally married in that state. Most people understand this, but questions continue to come up about various components of our wedding and marriage. The times when I mention our upcoming wedding to a stranger, friend, family member, or vendor without them asking, “Are you going to make it legal?” are few and far between. In all honesty, we owe no one an explanation for our decision, nor does the lack of a marriage certificate change the sanctity or sincerity of our union.

Over the years I have joyfully attended a number of weddings for heterosexual family and friends, and never once have I asked if they were going to take advantage of legal marriage, nor have I asked to see their marriage license, the credentials of their officiant(s), or whether a year into their marriage, if they’ve jointly filed both their state and federal tax returns. It is, frankly, none of my business how people organize their unions. The fact that I’m queer seems to have stripped me not only of rights, but of any shred of privacy or discretion with which I might want to operate; curiosity is truly the devil in disguise when it comes to being an LGBTQ person, even for non-LGBTQ people who are visibly and openly supportive of legal marriage equality. I want to be open and receptive to inquiries, but at a certain point they morph into something less than necessary, and wind up making me feel like a sideshow. The frustration forces me into a corner and I wind up resisting the urge to shout, “If you don’t like what we’re doing, DON’T COME.” I walk into the churches, gymnasiums, banquet halls, and barns where my heterosexual friends and family host their weddings and celebrate LOVE. I don’t ask questions. On my wedding day, that is all I ask of my family, friends, and community. If you are the side of love, equally and without hesitation, nothing else should matter.

Photo by: Pang Tubihrun

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  • http://www.lillianandleonard.blogspot.com cara

    “never once have I asked if they were going to take advantage of legal marriage, nor have I asked to see their marriage license, the credentials of their officiant(s), or whether a year into their marriage, if they’ve jointly filed both their state and federal tax returns. It is, frankly, none of my business”

    Word.

    I’m so sorry you have to put up with this shit.

  • http://www.safarimama.blog.com Manya

    I want to be open and receptive to inquiries, but at a certain point they morph into something less than necessary, and wind up making me feel like a sideshow.

    I feel the same way about my rainbow family. My husband and I are white, my first (adopted) daughter dark chocolate black and my second (biological with my first husband) cafe au lait. And damn if people don’t ask about legality, immigration, etc. etc. etc.

    Thank you for this great post, and for a very true bottom line: Are you on the side of love? It really is that simple.

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

      “Are you on the side of love?”

      That’s a great t shirt quote right there.

  • Francis

    Thank you so much for this!
    I do consider myself LGBTQ friendly (very much so) but it has never crossed my mind how offending the question “Is it legal?” really is. I will be much more aware of the implications and think twice about what I ask in the future. You are so, so right – it is only about love in the end :)

  • Lethe

    This is a beautiful and well-written essay. So much congratulations on your marriage.

    One of the first things people asked when they heard about our engagement was the is-it-legal question. I also found myself going to lengths to emphasize that it was legal – subconsciously hoping to legitimize our wedding, while knowing all along that’s not what determines the legitimacy of a wedding nor a marriage.

    This ties in interestingly with yesterday’s post: when you’re a numerical minority, it’s common to confront well-meaning family/friends/acquaintances who ask invasive questions. I get that people are curious, or worry for us, or genuinely want to be educated. But like you say, facing these questions has a painful cumulative effect, no matter how well-intentioned they are.

    I would suggest that if allies are curious about the reproductive choices/expenses we face, the legal rights which are/aren’t available to us, or other difficult subjects, the best thing to do is pay a visit to Mr. Google or your local library. Educating yourself *first* will get you past the basic-questions stage and help your LGBT friends to interact with you as a supporter and confidante – and I think most of us could use more of those!

    • Class of 1980

      Or as I like to say … “Google is your FRIEND.”

      • http://www.embracerelease.com aly

        Or, Let Me Google That For You:

        http://bit.ly/KB1DyH (safe link to the LMGTFY site.)

      • Lee

        Your librarians are your friends too! Come see us at the library :)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      This is teaching me to stand up to the repeated questions I, as a straight, white woman, face in those obscure areas where I am a minority. I’m usually pretty good at dodging questions when I don’t think people are entitled to the answer. Now I’m thinking about dodging questions when they can have the answer, I just shouldn’t have to give it to them.

    • http://prettypicturesbydanielle.tumblr.com/ Danielle

      For US residents, you can also check out/forward Lambda Legal’s website for a state-by-state map of LGBTQ marriage, employment and parenting rights:
      http://lambdalegal.org/states-regions/new-york

  • http://www.onabicyclebuiltfortwo.com Tracey

    I feel a bit different about the question “is it legal?” I find it provides an opportunity to educate people who don’t necessarily feel that they have a vested interest in marriage equality. It is an opening to discuss the issue, shed light on why it is a critical and basic civil rights issue and hopefully instill some fire in them to fight for the cause.

    • http://www.ohmeaghan.com Meaghan

      I don’t disagree that teachable moments are important. I also think that it’s a strange question to ask in the first place, as the same question is not asked of straight people…pretty much ever.

      • http://www.onabicyclebuiltfortwo.com Tracey

        I know one straight couple that legally wed in secret to share healthcare benefits prior to their wedding. It somehow came to light to their family who took enormous issue with it. They felt that the wedding that they were about to witness was unnecessary and that a reception on its own (minus the ceremony) would be appropriate.

        In a second example, I was at a wedding of a straight couple that forgot to have their marriage certificate signed and basically threw up their hands and said “who cares!” it turned out that many close friends and family did care and were often asking the couple if they made it legal yet.

        In my opinion, these are NOT appropriate reactions but they are examples where the legalities of hetero marriage were also questioned.

        • http://www.ohmeaghan.com Meaghan

          These examples make complete sense. I think the only distinction I draw is that in our case we’re saying, “we’re getting married!” which is the same thing that most straight people say, and is the same thing that doesn’t usually inspire a barrage of questions from family/friends/acquaintances. If I was doing some sort of non-traditional spin on a wedding/marriage, kind of like what you described above, and I made that known to my family/friends/acquaintances, then I can understand why people would be inspired to ask more questions or have feelings that they shared with me in an unsolicited manner. Nothing we’re doing is spectacularly unusual in the grand scheme, which is why I’m all, “get out of my face!” Also, between you and me (and all the people reading this), I think that privilege has kind of made a lot of people ignorant to the complexities of getting married/weddings/the legalities of it all…both on the side of the couple getting married AND the family/friends. The fact that in the first example the family felt like the civil marriage was identical to any ceremony they could’ve wanted outside of the courthouse is just kind of dumb! We chose our officiant because he is of specific spiritual importance to us, not because he’s Judge Bob. I think a lot of people do that too, right?

          • ElisabethJoanne

            I say this often, but I’ll say it again, in this context: The couple who married civilly and then spiritually shows a great teaching moment for even straight couples: Like Meg said, while the government controls marriage licenses and lots of the legal consequences of marriage, the government does not control marriage itself or love. Because they’re different things, having different ceremonies is a good idea.

          • meg

            We did that. We signed the civil paperwork in a private ceremony after we signed our Ketubah (I was really upset, actually, at this point. It was not a happy moment for me, so there were reasons I didn’t even forsee that it was good to have it be a separate thing), and then we had a religious service (lead by two married lesbian religious leaders, at that). The separation was super important for me, because at least right now, they are very different things.

          • Laurel

            I’ve heard of clergy refusing to perform legal ceremonies on principle, which I LOVE. Separation of church and state is good for both.

      • Stacey

        Yep! Good friends of mine had a wedding ceremony with all of their family and friends. However, the straight never signed the legal paperwork. were are young and didn’t have any reason to right away. However, a year later, she wanted to get on his dental insurance. So, she and her husband got legally married by my ordinated on the Internet “minister” fiancé in a bowling alley. The first ceremony was the important one. The second one was just paperwork (that gave many important rights).

        Because they were straight, everyone just assumed they were legally married the whole time.

  • CRoseJack

    I have to disagree with the conclusion that “putting marriage equality to a popular vote and/or handling it on the state level is completely absurd, socially and legally”

    Frankly, as a straight woman, I don’t want any government (state, federal, city, county, international, etc) involved in any relationship I’m a part of. We should be free to share our income, homes, medical records with any person we choose to share it with.

    I wish more LGBT communities would consider standing up for all marriage rights by kicking the government out completely.

    • http://www.embracerelease.com aly

      My interest in marriage rights is primarily for the legal benefits, rights, and responsibilities my family would be able to access through it. I’m not sure how the government could ever be kicked out of bestowing or restricting or protecting rights business. Isn’t that what a government is for?

      Also, you can share your home, income, and medical records with whomever you want (marriage or no marriage).

      • CRoseJack

        A government cannot bestow rights, it can only protect rights. The most important right in respect to this conversation is the right to sign contracts. In an ideal world, any two individuals could enter into any contract and the government would protect that contract agreement. If I (and my partner) wanted to call that contract a marriage, a civil union, a will, or a medical proxy agreement, it wouldn’t matter. The government would enforce the contract as agreed upon by the people who signed the contract.

        • http://www.embracerelease.com aly

          I understand what you’re saying but technically, government can bestow rights, and does every time it abolishes some discriminatory law like when women finally got the legal right to vote, and every time a state votes to allow same-sex marriage, etc.

          You can enter into contracts (as my partner and I have) but they usually cost a lot of money (lawyer and court fees), and are therefore cost-prohibitive for a lot of people. A marriage license is an affordable shortcut to thousands of rights. That’s why we want it. But I agree with you that contracts between two people should always be enforced and honored.

          • Lethe

            This exactly. Plus there are hundreds of rights attendant to marriage that nobody would think to contract for even if they could. (The right to have standing to sue for wrongful death? Generally doesn’t come up until it’s too late.)

          • Class of 1980

            The Bill of Rights presumes that people naturally have certain rights. Any law that discriminates against a certain group, is just ignoring the Bill of Rights.

            When the government overturns a discriminatory law, it is not bestowing rights. It’s acknowledging that the right already exists, and removing the unconstitutional impediments that took them away in the first place.

            When it comes to marriage, I don’t believe in the concept of marriage licenses because I think they violate our rights.

            Historically, we have not always had them. Marriage licenses were enacted as a method of control. Various groups of people have been denied a marriage license according to the era, often for racist motivations. Now it’s for homophobic reasons. It’s always something.

            http://www.ehow.com/about_6644194_history-marriage-licenses.html

            Somehow, married couples managed to have marital rights without marriage licenses long before marriage licenses existed.

            Once we get married, we should only need to register our marriage to have all the legal rights of marriage.

            The gay community is only the latest group to struggle because we allowed the government to restrict our natural rights to choose who we marry.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            A better example of bestowing rights is Social Security. That’s not like a say in our government, which we have in virtue of being human, though that right it trampled on for lots of people in lots of people at lots of times. Social Security is a program our government (through representatives we’ve elected) has set up, which gives us the right to certain complex benefits.

            And it shows the difficulty of marriage-as-private-contract. Social Security isn’t private. If the program is going to provide benefits to spouses, it has to have one definition of “spouse” in order to be fair.

            Similarly, wrongful death suits aren’t private. You can’t contract in that area. The person paying the money is a stranger.

          • Sarah

            I would just throw in that even if DOMA was repealed and even if we could count on our binder of contracts regarding our family, property and heath care wishes to be honored by those at the State and at the Federal level (or even some couple’s own families), it does not address immigration issues which are only granted at the federal level. A U.S. citizen in a same-sex relationship cannot sponsor their partner for a “green card” and that can’t be secured in a document notarized by a lawyer. (On the subject, Immigration Equality has filed a lawsuit on behalf of five families challenging DOMA, which you can read more about here: http://www.immigrationequality.org/lawsuit/)

            I have had conversations with some people who think that now we (LGBTQ folks) have access to the same rights but just in a more inconvenient way; which is, of course, not true. But it’s the confusion that comes from saying we can now “get married” in a handful of States. We can do something but it’s certainly not marriage in the way we have come to define in it in our society. Not to say that it’s not an important step, but it’s not the same and it’s nowhere near equal. At the risk of throwing in extraneous information, another case challenging the constitutionality of DOMA is the case of Edie Windsor, who was legally married to her wife in Canada but the U.S. government, under DOMA, did not acknowledge the marriage so she had to pay $350,000 in estate taxes to “inherit” her wife’s assets when her wife died. So while we can have a contract that says I want my assets or joint assets to be left to my wife, it’s not treated the same legally or financially.

  • http://www.embracerelease.com aly

    “It essentially forces LGBTQ people into enclaves scattered throughout the country where we have some degree of certainty that we’ll be protected. We all fanned our faces in shock and horror at the thought of a North Carolina preacher who wanted “queers and lesbians” to be penned up with barbed wire fences surrounding us and left to die out, but that is what state rights do to us.”

    YES. Brilliant!

    As for the legal questions: in my experience, when friends and family ask this question and I reply that our marriage is, indeed, not legal (I like to say we’re illegally wed,) these questioners usually express disappointment or a kind of solidarity by saying, “That’s so awful. I’m so sorry you can’t be legally married here.” So, I generally don’t get the feeling that the “is it legal” question is about whether my marriage is valid, or real. It’s more like, “Remind me again, does this state still suck on LGBT rights issues?” So maybe straight folks could just come right out and say that, or better yet, educate themselves on their state’s marriage equality stance, and join the fight if there is one.

    Here’s a handy map to get started: http://www.marriageequality.org/sites/default/files/National%20Map%20%2306%20%2811-Jun-2012%29.pdf

    • Gigi59

      I’ve struggled all week with how to put my feelings on this into words. I think you’ve come closer than I could. My experience is that most people are simply not informed because the issue of marriage equality doesn’t affect their lives in any way. Most people who asked my wife & I about the legality of our relationship over the years truly didn’t know about this issues involved.

      It doesn’t always feel like it, but I think we’ve reached a point where most people don’t think that same-sex marriage is a big issue. My feeling is that a small, but vocal and emotional, group is managing to control voting on this issue. The problem, as I see it, is getting more people who aren’t directly affected by the issue to believe that it is something they need to be involved in protecting or granting. (I say this from the relative safety of a state where a few, critical, legislators were able to see it this way and we are “legally” married.)

      And with that in mind, I gladly answer anyone who asks me about the legal issues involved in our relationship and try to control my impatience. The more people who know about us and the problems we face, the more of them might be moved to vote to support us.

      • http://www.onabicyclebuiltfortwo.com Tracey

        YES!

      • Class of 1980

        “The problem, as I see it, is getting more people who aren’t directly affected by the issue to believe that it is something they need to be involved in protecting or granting.”

        In other words …

        “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

        • Gigi59

          Yes…

    • AnotherCourtney

      I’m one of those straight people who tends to ask too many questions, and the “is it legal?” one is definitely a question I’ve asked before. I have the same reaction as your friends, though, when the answer is No. I’m not asking to judge – just to learn more about it.

      I think the reason people don’t ask straight couples this question is because, to them, the answer really is a personal decision. Everyone knows that hetero couples CAN legally get married, so if they decide to have a non-legal ceremony, that’s completely their own decision. Gay couples, though, don’t often have the option of choosing whether their ceremony is legal or not – the state they’re in does that for them. I guess the question people like me are really asking is “Do you have the option of having a legal ceremony in that location?” We don’t really care what your personal choice is on the matter, just that you HAVE a choice (and how better to educate ourselves than to ask?). That it comes out as “Is it legal?” is unfortunate.

      • http://www.servicedriven.org Sharon T-B

        It seems like the frustration and resentment towards the “Is it legal?” question, is more about the fact that you are getting married during a time when doing so is a political act, whether you intend it to be and/or want it to be. Straight couples can marry without involving national politics, but until marriage equality is won and we are far enough beyond it to see it as a political issue, all gay couples that are choosing to marry will be thrust into the political spotlight.

        When friends or neighbors or coworkers ask “Is it legal?”, they may be trying to signal that they know that this is a hot political issue right now and they want to connect with you around it. Of course, they could find another way to connect, like asking all the annoying questions that people ask straight couples. As Meg has pointed out, the bride-to-be is usually inundated with a barrage of annoying and intrusive questions, while the groom gets a pat on the back or a high five.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I can certainly attest to the “Is it legal?” question being just a “remind me” or “I assume you’re better informed on this issue” thing. I’m a strange person, a lawyer in California who likes the quirks in The Law. I ask “Is it legal?” about all sorts of issues all the time.

      On gay marriage, for a period during the Prop 8 legal battles, the answer was changing week-to-week. As a lawyer, even when I care about the issue, once it’s in the hands of judges and there’s nothing I can do about it, I get busy with the rest of my life and wait for a final decision.

  • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

    I love this: “I saw how a wedding is an opportunity for the community of family and friends that surround the couple to stand up and promise to help them stay true to their commitment, to be the anchor that steadies the ship should the waters ever get too rough, and to celebrate all of their future accomplishments joyously and sincerely.”

    We’ve been married for nearly two years now, and throughout our engagement and married years we’ve been asked ‘Will it be/is it legal?’ more times than I can possibly count. I don’t mind educating people about it and about the state of things where we live, but at the same time it IS sort of intrusive and tiresome. After all, as you say– I have never ONCE asked a straight married couple if they were filing their marriage license with the county. I think it bothers me that sometimes that seems like ‘the thing that matters’ when, although it is certainly important and I would absolutely love for it to be legal for a multitude of reasons, our marriage is so much more than that.

    • http://www.ohmeaghan.com Meaghan

      I totally, totally, 1000% understand! I’m glad I’m not the only person out there thinking, feeling, and experiencing this. Thank you! <3

    • Sarah

      I was lucky to not be asked this too many times before our wedding but what bothers me about the question is the supposition that if a wedding is not “legal” than that would make it “illegal.” A same-sex wedding is not illegal! Perhaps they mean to be asking if our wedding will be recognized in a legal sense, but with DOMA in place, the answer is no and it doesn’t matter where I live in the U.S. to echo what others have said. It’s a mute point.

  • http://secretcityranch.blogspot.com L

    I loved what you had to say about privacy–how no one asks straight couples about whether they file joint tax returns, etc. I had never thought of it that way. Thanks for the very helpful perspective!

  • http://www.onabicyclebuiltfortwo.com Tracey

    Can I also say that I immensely applaud you doing what is right for you.

    Because really, that is what it should ALWAYS be about.

  • John O'Malley

    As Meaghan’s not so younger gay brother, I’m proud to have Meaghan and Em as family and cant wait to for the wedding!

    • Shiri

      My favorite comment!

    • Terry

      I am the proud mother to both Meaghan and John. I love both of them from the bottom of my heart. I love Em too! She is already part of our family, forever!

  • http://www.poprockphotography.com Tonya Russ Price

    On a superficial note, your photograph is really awesome!! Much love from NC!

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    Sometimes I forget how privileged I am that marriage equality has already been legalized in Canada. I just naturally assume that any wedding taking place here is legal (if the couple wants it to be). This week has really been reminding me how important that right is.

    It’s also making me think a lot about the nature of what makes a couple “married” and how those answers can be so different for so many people.

    • http://www.ohmeaghan.com Meaghan

      Thank you for sharing your process! I commend you for being open to learning and sharing that growth. Seriously! Also, APW in general has done SO MUCH to change and evolve the way I look at weddings and marriage, too. I also believe it has kept me sane in the face of some serious crazy-making stuff!

  • http://somewhatbookish.wordpress.com Carrie

    YES! This is one of those (generally) well-meaning, but often offensive questions that is a particular pet peeve of mine.

    I do feel like, if you are a person who supports marriage equality (and I hope you are), you would have some general idea of whether same-sex couples could legally marry in your state and then would have no need to ask the question (which grinds a huge and happy, complicated and joyous event down to a particular technicality). As a cheat sheet, the states where same-sex couples can legally wed are: Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and the District of Columbia. Washington state and Maryland have both passed marriage equality legislation, but they are facing ballot referendums this fall.

    Also, as a native Virginian I am particularly excited that you are marrying in my home state, despite its awful laws. Congratulations!

    • http://www.ohmeaghan.com Meaghan

      Thank you so much! I am so excited to get married in Virginia, my home state! Despite all of the political crap, it really is a beautiful place.

  • Elisabeth

    I can see how asking “is it legal?” shows ignorance of the issues, but I would like to argue that “are you going to make it legal?” is a completely different question. I have known people who really wanted a legal ceremony, so they had “destination” weddings in Canada or Massachusetts or DC. People who ask “are you going to make it legal?”, especially if they are family or friends, probably know someone or know of someone that has done this and they consider it a valid option. It is not something you have to do, or even should do if you don’t want to, but it is something you could do. Therefore, I think it falls more into the line of questions like “have you set a date?” or “have you picked a venue?” or “are you having a dj?” or flowers, or bridesmaids, or any of a million other things that people love to ask engaged people every single day.

    • http://www.ohmeaghan.com Meaghan

      The two questions you brought up are really one in the same for me. And I think that I did an adequate job describing the reasons why a legal marriage is not a logical or pragmatic option for us at this time. I understand the desire for people to head off to a destination other than the place where they live to get married legally, but that is a choice and an option that a lot of other people don’t have. The South has done a pretty thorough job of making those destination unions as meaningless as possible, and our choice was to abstain from local marriage (because we’re about 20 miles from DC) not only because it doesn’t afford us any rights in the present, but because in the long run Federal marriage equality is the only comprehensive option. I also think “is it legal?/are you going to make it legal?” is a COMPLETELY different question than “did you choose peonies or gerber daisies?”, the former being completely invasive and about something [theoretically] lasting a lifetime, the latter being an aesthetic choice. I think asking the question, no matter how you parse it, indicates an unwillingness on the part of the person asking to the research to know whether it’s even an option for the couple in the first place. Given that it’s an option for all straight people in the US, I can see how the curiosity seems valid. But there are ways to find out -OR- ways not to care at all, which is what I’m really going after. It is only my business, really.

      • http://www.onabicyclebuiltfortwo.com Tracey

        i think the problem lies in the fact (imo) that IT should only be your business – but to an extent IT isn’t.

        because the term “wedding” is typically tied up in societal understanding of legalities and commitment and monogamy and religion and government, right now IT is the business of the federal government, the voters, the state legislatures and many organizations (both pro and anti-equality).

        it shouldn’t be. but it is.

        as i understand your post, you aren’t necessarily just saying don’t ask the question “is it legal”, you are trying to redefine what a wedding means.

        and that is awesome.

      • Elisabeth

        I agree that your post was absolutely beautiful and gave an interesting perspective about why you shouldn’t have to go to DC for your ceremony.

        My argument is that the two questions are different. “Are you going to make it legal?” shows that the person knows that it isn’t legal in your jurisdiction, but that it is legal in other jurisdictions, and some people go to those jurisdictions for their ceremony (or second ceremony) regardless of its meaning when they return home. And my guess is that most of the people asking this question haven’t heard your really great argument for staying in VA and are just curious.

        It is a very personal question, but it seems that once weddings get involved, all bets are off. Maybe flowers was a bad example (although you wouldn’t believe how many people have taken serious offense to paper flowers). I am also getting a lot of questions about the legality of the wedding I am helping plan, since a friend of the family will be officiating instead of a minister we don’t agree with or professional officiant who we don’t know. I have even been asked, directly to my face, why I am even bothering with the wedding, since my partner and I have been together so long and we can’t have children anyway. That was personal and hurtful, too.

        This is your wedding, but it is about your community, too. People care and are interested in your choices.

      • http://www.ameripriseadvisors.com/cristina.l.caruso Cris C

        “but because in the long run Federal marriage equality is the only comprehensive option”

        This. 1000 times, this. My partner and I continue to have this discussion as we work on the ground in ME and MD. We know DC is an option as we plan for a wedding. I’m leaning toward waiting for federal recognition, while finding a middle ground with her need to celebrate and have witness to our love and life together.

        On another note, divorce laws are messy and vary state by state. No one plans for divorce while they are planning their wedding, however a destination wedding can add another set of challenges (as can moving out of the state you were married in). Many states and Canada require residency to apply for divorce, often of one or both partners for a year or more. We have no idea what the legal implications are or will be to states that don’t allow gay marriage in the role of recognizing or implementing gay divorces, making federal marriage recognition really the only option.

    • Maddie

      I think what Meaghan is arguing here is that there are some questions in wedding planning that are definitely appropriate and other questions that feel very private, but still get asked anyway. Premarital sex, for example, is a choice often associated with weddings and marriage, but it’s prodding rather deeply to ask whether or not a couple has chosen to sleep together before they get married.

      I also wanted to add that I went to the courthouse and legally married my husband a year before having our wedding, and there were quite a few questions about whether or not my subsequent wedding was real. And I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that the stigma around weddings where paperwork isn’t signed is still very present. So for many LGBTQ couples, I imagine that the question of “Are you going to make it legal?” isn’t one so much about a choice they DO have as much as it is a reminder of a choice that really doesn’t exist, you know? A DJ is always a choice. A legally recognized marriage isn’t.

      • Maddie

        And to clarify, obviously crossing state lines to get married legally IS a choice, but until the choice to legally recognize your marriage is no more complicated than trying to decide what to wear to your local courthouse, then it shouldn’t be treated as an easy choice that could be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

      • meg

        Also, asking “Are you going to make it legal?” is asking a meaningless question while DOMA is on the books. Sure, a couple can get legally married in Iowa, but it means nothing at home. So the question isn’t fully informed, and it’s rubbing the couples face in a very painful reality: for most gay couples in the US, there is NO WAY they can make it legal (or even partially legal. Let’s not kid ourselves, if you live in Iowa and are legally married in Iowa, you still don’t have the rights that a straight married couple in Iowa does.)

        • http://www.onabicyclebuiltfortwo.com Tracey

          But SO many people don’t know that. When my wife and I were married we weren’t even clear on the legalities.

          And “meaningless” is not necessarily true. It can be very meaningful to the couple that crossed state lines to wed in Iowa.

          Our legal CT wedding was meaningful on many different levels than our CA wedding. It felt (and is) VERY permanent, meaning that we would now have to answer to the state of CT if we ever want to unwed.

    • http://morganculture.com morgan

      I’m a straight woman having a destination wedding. As the OP mentions, conversations where a vendor, guest, or family member doesn’t ask “Is it legal?” are few and far between. I’ve had to explain our choices more times than I can count. Hm… maybe I should put it on our website FAQ, actually. So yes- it is asked of straight people as well.

      However, I do see the difference. People don’t typically ask it of straight people, but they do typically ask it of gay people. I could see how that would be offensive and tiresome.

      My third point is slightly different… I do ask my gay friends if they’re planning to legalize their marriages. I don’t ask to be offensive or to bring up this giant political issue it’s become- I ask because I want to know if there are travel plans, if I can join in those (VAYCAY!!), if there are multiple events to celebrate. Or if they need any help with research, etc. I already know what states it’s legal in and what the legal implications are in our state- I don’t need help Googling, I’m just asking my friends a question about their wedding. I can see now that my question might be one of roughly a million they’ve been asked in the same vein, and might be frustrating, but is there a better way to ask this question in a supportive way??

      I do ask them about the flowers. I do ask them about the DJ. I do ask them about premarital sex (well, about living together anyway). If someone is a friend, I feel we should be able to talk about all these aspects in a way that shows our love for each other, right? I’m not talking about complete strangers here. Any suggestions?

  • http://www.4realequalityweddings.com emily

    i had to comment because of what you bring up when you talk about virginia’s marriage laws and the conflict of the idea of moving to a state where you are protected legally….

    i am a virginia girl at heart. i was born and raised there. but, i chose to move away. i chose to move to new england to a state that welcomed me completely (and in a way I *never* could have been prepared for before moving) for the chance to be able to live my life legally and to, as i once said in my baby-lesbian days, “maybe have a group of friends like they do on the l word” (because the concept of knowing any more lesbians that my own girlfriend was so distant). and i have embraced my life here. i have been welcomed by my work (who annually marches in the gay pride parades), welcomed by my friends, welcomed by the health care system (which helped pay for my wife to get pregnant) – and it has been amazing.

    but you know what? i miss virginia. i miss my family. my sister, who lives in northern va, just had a niece and my parents, who live in central va, get to go visit her all of the time. i think about my future child and how much i want her to be close to her cousin. how much i miss my friends from high school. how much i miss the spring weather in march when it’s still 30 degrees up here. and it breaks my heart that i can’t move back. i have been spoiled by what new england has offered me and my gay family. and i’m not saying that it can’t be done, but for my lifestyle, right now, due to many various circumstances, i just can’t see it happening. right now i *need* what the laws have to offer me. i need to be supported when we go to complete the second-parent adoption of my wife’s biological baby. and it hurts me so much that i am forced to chose – my gay family or my virginia family. and not because of things like their acceptance of me, but because of my home state’s acceptance of me.

    so, i give you both so much credit for living your life there and for chosing not to leave. sometimes, i wish i never did too. but then i wouldn’t have met my lovely wife. so there’s that.

    • Jashshea

      I’ve always wondered (see yesterday’s note on being a nosy parker that rarely asks questions of live people) if people/how many people were basically gay marriage refugees – leaving one home to migrate to a place where their union could be recognized – Thank you for adding your perspective. It sounds like a brutal decision to have to make – especially when you have to continue to make it for the foreseeable future.

      And, bless New England’s l’il heart, but “spring” is simply not a season they have on offer. I miss living in New England only on NC’s most unforgiving summer days – And I really just miss the relative proximity to the ocean (lived in Boston, now in WNC). Stay cool up there – I hear it’s been brutal!

    • Remy

      “as i once said in my baby-lesbian days, “maybe have a group of friends like they do on the l word” (because the concept of knowing any more lesbians that my own girlfriend was so distant). ”

      D’awwww. *hugs* to your younger self. I’m glad you have found community, and I hope that soon you will be able to have that same support in your home state.

    • Terry

      Your words truly touch me. Thank you for your thoughtful words and encouragement. Bless you, your partner and your children.

      Meaghan’s Mom

    • http://www.servicedriven.org Sharon T-B

      As another Virginia native, I am very touched and saddened by your comment. How terrible to have to make that choice to move away from your own home state, move away from your family ties, in order to live a full and protected life. I hope our state changes and changes quickly enough for us to enjoy those changes within our lifetime.

  • Laurel

    I feel you on this. When my dad heard about a friend’s not-legal wedding a few years ago, he said, “so it’s just a party?” My dad’s a big marriage equality advocate and everything — it’s just that in his frame of reference, the legal part has a lot more symbolic significance than in mine. He has (I think) mostly changed his mind, in part because he was invited to the wedding of one of my close straight friends, who I happened to know didn’t sign paperwork until a few weeks later because it saved them a few hundred dollars on the name change. So he had the experience of going to a wedding he had found meaningful, and then learning that the legal part hadn’t happened at the same time.

    To folks who are wondering how to express curiosity, interest, and sympathy without sounding like a jerk and bringing up worries, I’d think of this in the same vein as fertility decisions: if you’re going to ask, try to phrase it in a really neutral, curious way that doesn’t presuppose correct answers. “Are you signing any paperwork?” “What’s the legal situation here?” That kind of thing.

  • Louise

    That a person would as, “is it legal” I think it speaks pretty loudly about their own experiences with love and marriage. I had NO idea I’d want to get married (or that when I did it wouldn’t be about all the crafting opportunities) until I started thinking for real about marrying my fiancé. I just didn’t have the experience with love to make marriage mean anything yet (this probably speaks volumes about my parents failed marriage). So, someone who hasnt made the emotional connection with marriage might assume its all about the legal benefits (or lack thereof)… Which is why its SO important that this blog post exists! Marriage isn’t just about the state sanctioining your union (although obviously it should and afford you and your partner all the rights afforded to hetero couples) it’s about love and family and commitment and celebration. Makes me crazy/infuriated/sad that politicians think they can legislate all that! Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

  • Leanne

    I am really struck by this: “The fact that I’m queer seems to have stripped me not only of rights, but of any shred of privacy or discretion with which I might want to operate.”

    In planning my own gay wedding(s), I went “public” with information that I don’t think I’d otherwise have to share, and it continues now almost a year into marriage (re: kids/family/yesterday’s post). It got to the point that I started blogging over at So You’re Engayged just because I felt like I had to somehow explain, document, or defend our decisions and choices. I felt more vocal about this choice in my life than any other, and in a way talking about it so publicly allowed me to disclose on my own terms, even if it was just in trying to beat people to asking me. I have a feeling that majority of people in hetero marriages are afforded the luxury of keeping their life choices more private, rather than as a sideshow/curiosity for others. I think we can see it as an opportunity to teach, but it also often feels like a burden in an already difficult culture to navigate. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.

  • http://www.momentville.com/RemyandLina/faq Remy

    “Is it legal?” is the first question on our wedsite FAQ. Most people who know us are familiar enough with the marriage equality issues in California to know that — at this moment in time, whether that’s when we first launched the site or today — it isn’t. But the answer lets us educate a bit more about why and how that looks as it relates to our relationship, and volunteer our plans for how we’ll address it. (Which you shouldn’t have to do; we chose to so that the conversation was easier and people who wanted to know were informed. You can’t Google an answer for “Are Remy and Lina domestic partners yet?”)

    • Dianne

      *nods* I plan to do this as well.

      Most Californians I know do know what’s possible–they also are aware enough to know that it was legally possible for 6 months four years ago, that Domestic Partners in CA are legally equivalent (and commonly use the term), and that it’s possible/accepted practice to go to another state to do the paperwork.

      Ironically, they know too much to actually *know* what we mean.

  • Dianne

    Being in the same situation I find myself really torn by this.

    The first family member we told asked just that. There was never any question in my mind that she was (and always had been) completely supportive of us; I knew she was asking out of curiosity and (ironically) support for us. So I smiled and answered and let it go.

    In my experience people ask because they’re confused by what’s possible and want to understand–without any judgment. Often they’re explicitly trying to be supportive by asking–by acknowledging that it’s not a simple matter for us and even looking for the opportunity to reaffirm how unjust they feel the situation is. Sometimes it seems to be an attempt at something more personal, aware, and relevant as a generic response than “How did he propose?”

    And I know all this. I believe in the need for education and I’m happy to do my part. I’d rather people ask than stay confused. I am very fortunate to have a family, community, and state that are very supportive. (The 2% majority badgered/tricked into voting in Prop 8 aside, CA’s Registered Domestic Partnership law is only a page long, because it literally describes RDPs as having “all the rights and responsibilities of marriage”–no further elaboration needed.)

    So I had honestly never thought it would bother me. After all, my intended and I had been living as friends and roommates for 13 years, quietly-but-not-entirely-silently unrequited on one side for 11 of those, RDPs for the insurance for the last 5, serious for the last 3, and committed/this-is-it! for just over a year. Somewhere in the past few years we’d gone from joking about calling each other “my wife” to being dead serious about it. In many ways actually having a wedding now (instead of waiting the 1-2 years it will take for CA to get its act back together) is all about making all those little private shifts public and clear.

    And yet, when she introduced me to a co-worker (at another co-worker’s reception in Las Vegas) as her “wife”, and he responded with “So… is that _legally_…?” I was surprisingly upset. I didn’t show it, but as he continued on with “I mean, did you go somewhere…? Or did you do it before…? [i.e., in the May-Nov 2008 window when it was legal here]“, I felt challenged as to the validity of my relationship–even though I don’t really think that’s what he was doing.

    The repetition is the killer, though. Each ask can be innocent and a teachable moment. But time after time and I start to feel generally devalued. Unfortunately, our society and laws have made my marriage a very public issue when it shouldn’t be. (My bumpersticker for the last 4+ years: “No on 8: Or do we all get to vote on your marriage next?”)

    It’s hard to remember sometimes that it is the laws that are doing the devaluing, not the people asking. (If the laws were clear and supportive and fair, there would be no reason or need to ask.) But I try. Because people’s awareness is what’s going to do the most to change the unfair laws the fastest.

    • Gigi59

      The repetition is definitely killer! Sometimes I just want to look at people and ask them if they’ve ever read a newspaper in their lives!! But, I guess I feel like my answering these questions calmly is my contribution to the cause.

      • Remy

        GIGI59, your comment reminded me of the afternoon my sweetie and I were having engagement photos taken out near the Ferry Building. A woman jogging by stopped and asked what we were doing (not sure if she thought it was a student project or what). Our photographer answered, “They’re getting married.” and the woman’s jaw dropped.
        “NOW?”
        “Well, no, in a couple of months. We’re just taking some pictures…”
        “Did you see the newspaper??!”
        [blank looks from all three of us: me, my sweetie, and the photog]
        “Obama supports same-sex marriage! Congratulations, you two, you’re beautiful.”
        [jogs off]

        • ElisabethJoanne

          I love San Francisco

  • leah

    Interestingly we got this same question repeatedly when we ( a straight couple) got married. We had actually made it legal 2 years prior, but weren’t telling people that. My brother got married last weekend, to a woman and they also got this question. I think it comes with doing anything unconventionally.

  • Ellie

    What a beautiful wedding, and so inspiring. I’ve been having the debate over whether it’s worth having a wedding when I already have confidence in a lifelong relationship with my partner. But it’s so true that its a matter of celebration with – and support from – Whanau. Thanks for such a heartfelt story!