When we got engaged, along with multitudes of other same sex couples all over the country, one of the discussions we had to have was about what we wanted to do about the actual getting married part, since Colorado voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman in 1996 by passing Amendment 43. We don’t own property, or have significant assets, or children yet, however we did want Julie to be covered by my insurance, and, you know, be able to take care of each other if one of us was hit by a bus on the way to work. It seemed that, for us, the best decision was to take advantage of a civil union and eventually get legally married elsewhere in order to access federal benefits. From the first time we had this conversation, Julie was fairly adamant: she did not want to go get legalled before we had our wedding. I agreed—our wedding was the real deal as far as we were concerned, why dilute the impact by getting married beforehand?
And then, Hillary Hall took a stand. Hillary Hall is the county clerk in Boulder, Colorado, and she is responsible for issuing marriage licenses. This June, the tenth circuit court of appeals ruled that gay marriage bans in Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado were unconstitutional—a violation of the Fourteenth amendment even when voter approved. Implementation of the ruling was stayed immediately, since the court anticipated that there would be many appeals. Ms. Hall however, decided that the ruling was good enough for her, and Boulder County began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. There was an immediate mass exodus to Boulder. My email inbox was filled with missives from various activist groups declaring victory in Boulder. Our Facebook feeds were series of smiling couples holding a marriage license between them, some in poses we had witnessed once before at their non-legal weddings, and a few that had found the same posture when civil unions were passed the year before. Julie and I had a choice to make, and, since I’d lived in California when San Francisco issued same sex marriage licenses in 2004 and during the brief, halcyon period after California declared that a marriage ban was unconstitutional but before Proposition 8 was passed, I knew from experience the choice would probably be a time sensitive one. In fact, I doubted that Boulder would be able to continue issuing the licenses past the following Monday when the Attorney General would surely be able to take legal action.
We wavered. I wanted to do more research on the actual, legal implications of getting a marriage license from a county we don’t live in, in a state that doesn’t recognize same sex marriage. Julie crowdsourced: seeking advice from friends and family on Facebook. It might not be worth much, but this might be our only chance to get a Colorado marriage license—should we go for it? The majority of our crowd agreed with what we’d been thinking—the Boulder County licenses, in our case, would be mostly symbolic, but it was my California-based, criminal defense attorney Pops that made the most compelling argument. He wrote on Julie’s wall in favor of our getting the license and concluded, “I’ve never lost a case because I had too much evidence.” In the end, it proved physically impossible for us to get to Boulder to get a license before the end of the week that Hillary started issuing them. I was committed to bridesmaid duties, and Julie was traveling to the East Coast for a funeral. And, as predicted, Colorado’s Attorney General asked Hillary Hall, and the county, to stop issuing the licenses.
The Attorney General went to the state legal system and asked them to get Ms. Hall and company to stop issuing the licenses.
They also declined. Which no one expected.
Now with Hillary Hall’s brave example, and a state judicial system that seemed disinclined to take immediate, decisive action (and positive, national, media attention), a handful of other counties decided to issue same-sex marriage licenses as well—including Denver County, where we live. This time, the limited nature of the offer was stated up front: on the day they started issuing the licenses, the Denver County clerk stated that they would issue them until the close of business that day only. There was no guarantee they would do so again. We were both at our respective jobs when the announcement was made, and I came into the break room at the paper store to be greeted by dozens of text messages and emails telling me that we were on the brink of something, and asking what Julie and I planned to do about it. Julie called me. “We could do it. We could get married,” she said. I could hear her voice shaking. “We could get married here.” My heart was racing too. We never considered that this would be a possibility before our wedding. We figured that after our state congress had adjourned for summer break, no new legislation would pass until they reconvened in the fall. Our highest hopes were maybe that we’d be able to get married here sometime next year, or that we’d move.
“We could go get married today,” I answered her slowly, still thinking. “Or… we could not. I don’t think that they’ll go so far backwards. The ban’s not going to hold, in the end. We could wait, and we could try to get married at our wedding.” The absurdity of my last comment was not wasted on either of us. “It’s a gamble though,” I continued. “If we don’t do it today, we might lose our chance to get a license out here at all.” We discussed it a little longer, and we decided: screw it. This is our marriage. We call the shots. The county clerk doesn’t get to determine the day we get married—we decide. And that decision was made months ago. We’re getting married on September 6th. We’ll pick up that license (if we’re legally able to do so) the very first minute we can—thirty days before our wedding—but we’re not getting married beforehand. It’s a decision we may wish we had made differently if our wedding comes and goes, and we remain legally uncertainly bound to one another.
Until then though, we’re going to follow Hillary Hall’s rather excellent lead and we’ll take a stand: for us, and our wedding, and our marriage. Justice is coming. And we’ll still be here when it does.