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What It Feels Like To Be Legally Married After Seven Years

Validated. Recognized. And angry.

We were on our way to soccer practice when we got the news: North Carolina’s Amendment One had been struck down in the late afternoon on a Friday in October. My seven and a half year marriage to my partner was finally officially a hundred percent legal (in our state). We cheered, we laughed, we frantically searched the news on our phones for confirmation. I couldn’t feel my face for hyperventilating.

Our kids, ages three and five, wanted to know what was going on. I tried to explain. Would we have another wedding, they wanted to know? Would there be cake?

No. Yes.

As we trudged to the soccer fields, I looked at all of the other families arriving, most of whom had no idea what just happened to us. For the first time, we were equal to them, at least under the law. I had imagined this moment for years and always expected to feel elation or maybe just sweet, sweet relief.

Instead I felt rage.

Just a week earlier, we had made this same trek from the parking lot to the fields, camping chairs slung over our shoulders, water bottles in hand. We had been the same people, the same couple, the same family. But we did not have the same protections. Now because some judge somewhere said so, with the crack of a gavel, our status had changed.

Fuck that.

Years of anger poured out of the places in my body where I’d hid it. It coursed through my limbs. It burned in my ears. My vocabulary left me. My inner monologue sounded like this, “Fuck these people. Fuck all the assholes who will fucking fight this. Fuck this state and fuck this whole fucking country for having these bullshit laws in the first place.”

It’s probably a good thing that the sky darkened, lightning flashed, and soccer practice was canceled before it even began.

Back in the car, I made my partner drive because I was shaking. I tried to imagine what my older sister was doing at that moment—my conservative Christian sister who had voted for the amendment, who told her daughter not to look up to me, the one whose wedding I served in as the maid of honor when I was a newly-out teen, the same one who couldn’t come to my wedding eight years later, though she sent flowers that arrived the morning of and that was something, right? Was there even a small part of my sister left that could be secretly happy for us? Why was I still even giving a shit what my sister was feeling?

Fuck her. Fuck everyone who’d ever made me feel like I had to defend or explain my life and the people I love—or worse, hide it and them. Fuck the anti-gay protesters at Pride parades and homophobic assholes in Internet comment sections. Fuck everyone who ever had to “evolve” on my life. Fuck me for being too fucking nice about this for too fucking long.

Please understand: I don’t frequently drop the F-bomb, even in my mind. In fact, I’m a compulsive smiler. I’m a peace-maker. I’m an analyzer and an explainer and a wisher and a hoper. But years of grief over so many hurts, some so tiny, some so elephantine, wore me down. When that judge nullified Amendment One that day, he lifted a big chunk of that grief off of me. The anger that rushed out behind it was unexpected but it wasn’t unwarranted. I had spent the last fifteen years stuffing it down because I didn’t know what else to do with it.

Meanwhile, congratulations flooded in on Facebook, via text, email, and phone. Even our son’s former preschool teacher wrote to us. Each one of these messages was a puff of oxygen. Reading them helped me start breathing again. I looked at my kids. I looked at my partner. I was also happy. I was also relieved. I was incredibly grateful to all the people who had worked tirelessly for marriage equality. I was also feeling something else, something harder to put my finger on.

As days passed, it became clear that this feeling was hard to define because it was something I’d never really felt, which was, well, normal. I talked to my boss about visiting my partner’s family over the holidays and it struck me that I could now legitimately use the term “in-laws” instead of “my partner’s family” or “out-laws” as I sometimes joked. I could refer to my partner as my spouse, accurately, instead of wishfully or rebelliously. I will never again have to explain that “we are married in our hearts.” How strange and wonderful.

I didn’t feel any more married. Inside my marriage, nothing changed. But externally, I felt validated and recognized—exactly those things that all people want and what the authors of Amendment One intended to keep from us.

But the best part? My marriage is suddenly, finally as legal as my sister’s. My kids know it. Her kids (will) know it. We are no longer on opposite sides of a fence. And while I know we’ll never have a Kumbayah moment, obtaining legal marriage enabled me to metaphorically put down my protest sign and walk away from my big sister, arm-in-arm with the beautiful little family I built despite her prayers to the contrary, and off into sunset. Because love won. Just like I always told her it would.

And that felt fucking fantastic.

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