* Aly, Editor and Writer & Elroi, Sociology Professor *
When my partner and I decided it was time to make our marriage federally official this fall, we chose Washington, DC for its proximity, kid-friendly museums (dinosaurs! airplanes!), its allowance of “application by proxy,” and because I’ve never felt so patriotic as I did the day the DOMA decision came down.
We already unlawfully married in 2007 in a big gay blowout so this wouldn’t be another wedding, just a marriage legalization ceremony. To that end, we really just wanted a judge to bang her gavel (not that they do that, do they?) to declare us legally wed but discovered that there was a two-month waiting list for courthouse ceremonies. That didn’t work with our schedules. So we decided to plan a quick, outdoor ceremony with an officiant during the weekend of October 5th.
With the help of APW, I found a fantastic photographer, Sarah Gormley, who agreed to modify her usual photography package for us to better suit our tiny, kid-chaotic legalization moment. She helped us decide on the apropos Constitutional Gardens for our ceremony location. It took some incessant googling, but I found the right officiant in Maureen Burke. And a friend from Baltimore, Kendra Sandman, volunteered to apply for and pick up our license for us—and thank goodness because “application by proxy” services start at $200.
And then I heard rumblings of a possible government shutdown. On Sunday, September 29th, I messaged Kendra to ask her if she had picked up the license yet. She had not but planned to later in the week. If the government shut down, the marriage license office would close Tuesday and our whole plan would fall apart. I stopped short of begging her to get to the office on Monday because I didn’t want to impose any more than we had. Lucky for us, she took it upon herself to drive over to DC to retrieve our documents Monday morning where she stood in a long line of other people doing the same. We were relieved when she texted me a picture of the license, but we still thought the shutdown was unlikely—until it happened.
(By the way, Kendra was so inspired by her part in our adventure she decided to start offering this service to others for less than the going rate: message her through her aptly named Gay Bless America FB page.)
So Kendra left the license for us at our hotel, and even though we were bummed for the kids that the museums were shuttered and the monuments were blocked off, we’d been waiting six years for a little legal status and no political collective tantrumming was going to stop us! Also, we thought, maybe everything will reopen by the time we get there? Then a woman rammed the barricades and there was the self-immolation and we were starting to wonder if maybe we shouldn’t just reschedule… But the rooms were paid for and everything was arranged so all we could do was hope for the best.
On Friday, October 4th, with the government still firmly shut, I emailed our photographer Sarah to ask whether or not Constitutional Gardens would be off-limits because I couldn’t tell via Google. It’s a National Park area so even if it wasn’t totally locked down, it didn’t seem like a reliable option. She offered to make some calls looking for an alternate space, which I thought was amazing. Even more amazing, she reported back that one of her favorite restaurants, the vegetarian-friendly, farm-to-table Big Bear Cafe, offered to block off half of their patio for us for the ceremony for free and hold a large table for our dinner while we took pictures afterwards. This is when I cried.
People can be so KIND.
The weekend that followed was a sometimes absurd blur of mishaps and tense moments involving less kind people, getting lost in downtown DC with malfunctioning smart phones and (minor) injuries to the children. But the most admittedly entertaining mishap of all (I mean, after the fact)? When I picked up the marriage license from the hotel front desk and promptly lost it. Turns out I set it on our car’s roof while unloading the kids. I later found it on the ground in the parking garage where the tire marks told me it had been run over a few times. Good thing our friend put it in a thick envelope.
On Sunday, we headed over to the Big Bear Cafe in the early evening and were surprised to find the patio space decorated simply but beautifully for us with flowers and candles by their events coordinator, Kathleen. Our four-year-old lay down on the sidewalk and refused to enter because he didn’t know everyone there and our two-year-old was way too interested in the candle flames but, after a lot of cajoling and corralling, we got underway. Our officiant gave a thoughtful speech honoring our established marriage. We read our original vows. I cried (again). It might have been a little more awesome if our four-year-old belted out “You Give Love a Bad Name” like he’d been saying he would for weeks, but I was just glad he wasn’t on the sidewalk anymore and we could hear him in our hearts anyway.
The next day, we left DC under a tornado watch and drove south through tropical depression Karen’s remnants. The rain finally let up that evening and we rode the last few miles through our home state—whose laws and constitution declare our relationship invalid—toward a post-storm pink horizon. It was no fairytale ending but it was nice, and besides, this marriage legalization adventure isn’t over yet.
The Info—Photographer: Sarah Gormley / Location: Washington, DC / Venue: Big Bear Cafe / Aly’s Dress: Made to measure by Dig For Victory / Elroi’s Suit Coat: H&M / Elroi’s Pants, Tie, and Suit: Express for Men / Boy’s Pants and Shoes: H&M / Boys Shirts and Ties: KidsFormal / Officiant: Maureen Burke