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Why My Queer Marriage Needed a Wedding (Even Though We’re Courthouse People)

One of the questions I’ve been asked with some regularity on the book tour is a variation of the question, “Why weddings?” or “Why marriages?” There actually are layers upon layers of questions here: Why do we view marriages (and worse, engagements) as more culturally valid than anything else? And “Why a wedding?” can mean “Why a party?” or “Why the cultural monstrosity manipulatively pushed on us by the wedding industry?” When asked, I always answer that there are different reasons for everyone, and at APW we’re just trying to explore those answers. So I’m particularly pleased by the answer in today’s post from Laurel. Let’s dive in.

At one point, during the eight months my partner and I spent talking about whether we were going to have a wedding—after the even longer process of deciding that we were in it for the long haul and might consider getting married at all—she said, “But we’re courthouse people.” It’s true. We come from a long line of courthouse people. There were six people at her parents’ wedding, a number which includes the two of them and which is one fewer than at my parents’ only because they successfully kept their own parents from attending. (My dad’s parents crashed their wedding from 1500 miles away with a suitcase full of lobster bisque and sachertorte, but that’s another story for another day.) When my aunt decided to get married, she called me on a Monday and asked if I’d drive up to Reno with her on Wednesday and witness her marriage. (In the end she got married at the Oakland courthouse; there were eight people there, making it the second largest wedding in either of our immediate families.) In our unique, and somehow shared, family culture, it made perfect sense for my mother to ask if she was invited to our wedding.

So yes, we’re courthouse people. We decided we wanted the socially and culturally privileged position of marriage; even in our queerish ultra-progressive semi-radical cultural niche, people treat marriages and partnerships differently.* We saw friends get married and the way their families and complete strangers immediately understood that their relationships were now Important and Meaningful. We saw the huge outpouring of love and support our friends got when they decided to get married. It certainly makes a difference in how our families understand our relationship. There’s just one wrinkle: we’re both women.

We considered getting married in Iowa, where my parents live, but it felt unsatisfying. We’d be asking people to treat our relationship differently because we signed a piece of paper that had no legal effect where we lived. Even with a license, all it takes is one car accident in a conservative town and a nurse with something to prove, and I won’t be able to see her in the hospital. If we have kids and one of us stays home, we can’t contribute to that person’s retirement funds or personal savings without worrying about whether we’d need to pay gift tax. The license doesn’t change that.

Plus, I’ve spent a lot of time arguing that it’s not the license that makes the marriage. I believe it. Why, for my own marriage, would I make all my decisions around the license?

Even though we’re courthouse people, we’re not having a courthouse wedding. There are plenty of reasons to have a wedding—I love a party and I love bringing people together; our parents want to be there—but in the end, it’s the illegality that clinched the deal. For us to feel married, we needed to have a wedding. We needed to feel the reality that our families and friends love and support our marriage, even though the state of California doesn’t. So we’re going to have a smallish casual gay country wedding, and it’ll be the second-biggest wedding in either of our families since the 1940s. And I’m crossing my fingers that at the end of it, we’ll feel married.

*I have complicated feelings about that: On the one hand, there’s a real difference between committed and not; on the other, marriage is only sometimes the best way to tell whether people are committed. Regardless, marriage is shorthand for commitment even when your friends have radical politics.

Photos by: Author’s personal collection

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