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.)
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