Everyone Deserves a Moment

Maddie and I met Sarah & Dawn at the Atlanta book talk where we were working the line telling people to submit their stories already. And I’m so profoundly grateful that Sarah submitted this story because it’s so important on so many levels. Sarah dives into why we get married. She talks about why legally recognized marriage is important for everyone. And she talks about deciding if marriage is right for you, and how that can change over time.

My partner and I have been together for almost six years. Over the years, a lot has happened that made us “feel” like we were married: lived together, moved states together, gone through a mess of family crap together, gone though immigration bullshit together, mourned the loss of our insanely sweet pet together, bought a car together, put one of us through school together, drove across the country together. And still, we’re together! We make an awesome team and are crazy in love with each other. And so, I unceremoniously moved from calling her my girlfriend to my partner, at some point I don’t even know when. And yet, I kind of hate calling her that. I know some folks may get down with the title, but it doesn’t feel right to me. We’re not a business. I run my own business and when I’m out and about I want it clear when I introduce her: this is my wife not my business partner.

The trouble was I didn’t feel like I could just make that switch overnight. That didn’t feel right either. Neither of us really wanted a wedding though—or truthfully, we didn’t feel like we needed a wedding. We were together and that was all that mattered, right? We love each other and I firmly trust in that and know we’ll do whatever it takes together to make it happen. Plus, neither of us had dreamed of a wedding, ever. We didn’t come with childhood fantasies about this or that happening. When I would bring up exploring the option of having a wedding, she would say, essentially, she could go either way on it. She already felt married so it wasn’t so important to her. But, over time, it became important to me. More aptly, the moment became really important to me. I needed a moment, a concrete memory, so I could remember when I made a commitment to her, and she to me, that we are sticking in this together. I wanted to recall that specific day and remember what she said and what I said and remember what it felt like and what the weather was like and if I was nervous or cold or jittery or just crazy excited!

About this time, I had this line down that was slipping off of my tongue a little too easily. Buying a pair of prescription glasses, they ask me, “Are you married?” I reply, “For the purposes of insurance, yes but legally, no.” Checking into the doctor, filling out the form, same line. Picking up a prescription at the drug store, same line. For any type of legal paperwork, I had to a quick mental jog to figure out *why* they wanted to know if I was married and answer appropriately. We are lucky that her employer offers SSDP benefits so I’m on her insurance plan. But SSDP sounds like some sort of court ordered monitor to me. I scrapped that title and took on the line since it was lesser of the two. Are you married? I’m her same sex domestic partner. What? No thanks. Where is the love in that title? I want to be married. I wanted to just say “yes” and have them figure out what it means for their paperwork and I’ll just walk away in my bliss. It’s not my problem. You figure it out.

It was decided then. We’ll have a wedding. It pretty much went down like that, too. I realized that I needed that moment. I told her I wanted that moment, it was important to me, and she, while drinking coffee one morning, just said okay. No rings. No big hoopla or surprise. No down on one knee. No who will propose to whom. Just an agreement that we’ll do it. I was stoked! When we would tell people we’re getting married, they always ask how it went down or let me see the ring. And we tell them, we just decided. No rings. We probably won’t even exchange rings at the ceremony. We just want the moment.

What I didn’t fully grasp was how this moment would be so important to more people than just us. After all these years, our families have seen us grow from just dating to living together to knowing this is the person we will be with until the end. But it just happened. There was no moment when she became “Aunt Dawn” instead of just “Dawn.” There was no moment for my parents when she became their daughter-in-law rather than just my girlfriend. It’s like I just looked around one day and said wait. She is all of those things. And to just declare it one day, without any ceremony, just felt like I was cheapening how big a deal this was for us. So we were tasked with figuring out what we wanted our wedding to be and who, if anyone, would be invited.

Fortunately, (insert huge cheer and crazy big grins) legal marriages on the state level are an option now. We live in a state that would not legally recognize a same-sex marriage so our option would have been to travel to another state or to Canada. Since she’s a Canadian citizen, that sounds like a lovely idea but for immigration reasons, it’s not an option for us unless we want to move to Canada and, right now, we don’t. We’d also like to have some say in the matter of where we move and when rather than just getting kicked out so, while states legalizing gay marriage is a-w-e-s-o-m-e; it’s not enough. It needs to be recognized on the federal level for all the reasons we know. Yet, even if immigration was not an issue, having a courthouse wedding in one of those states still wouldn’t feel right.

I want the person who says we’re married to be able to say that it is true in more than just a few states. For us, going to a courthouse to have someone we don’t know declare us married only within a set of arbitrary boundaries of state lines, wasn’t enough. Being “sometimes” legally married wasn’t cutting it. It’s legal here but not legal there. No way. Then I’m back to the, “For the purposes of insurance, yes, but legally, no” chatter. When I say I will be there beside my wife until the end, I want it to be heard and be declared by someone who believes and knows it to be true no matter where we go. And that person, is our people. They are the ones who will have our backs and know that no matter where our road leads us, we’re married and she’s my wife. That’s going to be an awesome moment. Now, give me the ability to marry and have it recognized on the federal level and we’d be first in line at the courthouse! I’ll take that memory, too. Any day of the week.

Photo by: Sarah & Dawn’s personal collection

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  • This is one of the most moving posts I have ever read at APW. And that’s saying something! How can anyone read this and not see that the right to marry MUST be extended to all (and on the Federal level, as so eloquently pointed out by the author).

    Everyone needs a moment indeed.

  • Sarah’s story is made all the more poignant, because I just clicked through to her shop and she specializes in wedding toppers! Which are cute and adorable, but more than that, should be available for everyone to celerate their moment with. Everyone.

  • Karen

    Can I get an amen?! My partner and I were just discussing this the other day. If she were to get seriously ill, we couldn’t use the Family Medical Leave Act for me to take care of her. Thankfully I have a flexible boss but one never knows what could happen. In my community there is an elderly lesbian couple that have fought for civil rights for all people their whole lives. They know they could go to another state to get married but they want it here, in our state, for the whole country. I pray that it happens in their lifetime.

    • I never thought of that particular problem — all the worse given that FMLA is all we have for parental leave in this country. This is the kind of thing that makes me crazy about people in the queer community who argue that marriage is an elitist concern. It’s the quickest simplest cheapest way to get legal support for relationships, which is particularly important for those of us who can’t afford to jury-rig alternatives.

  • Nora

    LOVE this. Especially “I wanted to just say ‘yes’ and have them figure out what it means for their paperwork and I’ll just walk away in my bliss. It’s not my problem. You figure it out”. Because wow. Just wow. Here’s hoping one day soon you get to stand in line for some federal recognition!

  • Ack. Crying. At work.

    Thank you for sharing this. This post hits especially close to home for me, because my wife and I also live in a state where same-sex marriage isn’t recognized (and is actually banned in the state constitution.) We had a wedding anyway, for very similar reasons as what it seems you have: we wanted to stand up in front of the people we love and declare that we were each others’. Even though we were already living together, had shared bank accounts, etc. and FELT married, we wanted to have that moment as well.

    And yet, it’s really hard. We live in the South. Sometimes that really sucks. Neither of the places we work for offer same sex partner benefits– although, horribly ironically, MY (national) company would… but only if we lived in a state where same sex marriage had been legalized. And so, we’re waiting until the day when we can get married here, again, at the courthouse, and have it be recognized. It’s probably going to be a rather long wait for our particular state, but I have a lot of hope– things are changing, and I am so, so glad.

    • Karen

      I’d like to know more about this. I live in NC and there is an amenment on the ballot on May 8th that says the “only legal domestic union recognized is between a man and a woman.” Many people feel like that means that has the possibility to force companies and municipalities that already offer DP benefits to drop them. Did that happen in your state?

      • Sarah

        Thank you all for your comments on our story! I know it will change but dang–c’mon already.
        And Karen, we actually live in GA and they have passed a constitutional amendment that marriage is between a man and a woman. However, her employer still offers SSDP benefits.

        • Karen

          That is both good and bad. It’s bad in that the supporters of this amendment can say “see, it won’t take anything away!” and those of us against say “does ‘legal domestic union’ mean health care power of attoneys won’t be recognized? What about hospital visitation?” There’s a lot up in the air right now. It is anxiety provoking.

          • Sarah

            Well, in reading both what GA passed in 2004 and the current NC proposed bill, the proposed bill in NC does go further and that is scary. I certainly didn’t mean to imply it’s a good thing, by any means, only that in the face of GA’s constitutional ban there are still employers, and rather big ones, that are opting to offer benefits anyway. Of course, there are huge issues with these benefits and they are by no means equal. But you’re absolutely right, it’s unclear if employers would even have the choice to do that under the proposed NC bill.

            Though, the Arkansas amendment, passed at the same time in 2004, did go further here
            and it does clearly state that legal status which is similar to marriage shall not be valid or recognized in the state–which seems to be similar to the proposed NC bill. Georgia’s amendment sticks to language surrounding the State not recognizing the marriage rather than making any recognition of anything similar to marriage to be illegal by other parties.

      • The ban in Arkansas (where I live) was passed in 2004, which was just before I moved here and 6 years before we got married. I know Minnesota is doing the same thing as NC this year. I would actually like to know the answer to that, too– perhaps someone in your local government might know?

        Sarah- how do they define SSDP? Do you have to register or have any sort of legal documents?

        • Sarah

          For us to qualify, she has to sign a document certifying that we are DP and I don’t have access to medical insurance through my employer.

        • KW

          At risk of nitpicking, MN’s will be to bar gay marriage through language in the state constitution (nevermind that it is also banned due to legislative action a few years ago). MN has many companies that offer domestic benefits, and these are not at risk, as I interpret the NC discussion above.

      • Karen, that seems to be the big concern right now. I don’t see where anyone in the legislature has put it that way, but groups are interpreting the amendment to mean that DP protections and benefits would be stripped.

        You can read about it here: http://www.protectncfamilies.org/issues/families

  • After reading this, I feel disappointed in myself for taking the ease of my marriage for granted. I’m a woman who happened to fall in love with a man and because we’re opposite genders, I get to have simple answers. I was thinking about a couple days ago when I had a doctor’s appointment and I was able to take him with me, use his insurance, have him in the room, and walk out without paying a dime for specialized care, all because I can check yes on him being my husband without ever needing to think about it. I’m not trying to rub in how spoiled I am but I’m so mad and heartbroken that not everyone can enjoy that most basic process. It’s shouldn’t be so easy for some and so distressing for others.

    On the upside, I read last week that Washington (state) passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in their state and that Prop 8 was repealed. If it sticks, that’s grounds for some serious hoopla!

    • Brytani, I understand that anger and disappointment. But remember that anger can be used productively to advocate for equal rights. In fact, straight allies have a special role in gay civil rights, as some conservatives may value your opinion over those of queers! So no need to stay stuck in disappointment, as simply continuing to speak your mind can help create the change we need.

      After all, Washington State (and NJ, NY, Maryland, etc) is made up of lots of little people, just like us. That bill wouldn’t have passed if representatives didn’t think the majority of us agreed.

      • YES. Also, the awful North Carolina amendment is doing really well in statewide polls. If you want to do something concrete to protect queer relationships, donate to the groups fighting the amendment. Small amounts totally help.

        • Karen

          And those groups are: http://www.equalitync.org and http://www.protectncfamilies.org. There are many other local groups but these are the biggies! Prop 8 (CA) won because of outside contributions – wouldn’t it be great if Amendment One lost because of outside contributions???

          • Class of 1980

            Thank you. As someone contemplating moving to NC (again), I will donate.

            I must say, I am sort of surprised this is flying there. NC is a swing state with a history of Democrat governors. And they went for Obama in 2008.

            They have always been a bit more progressive there in comparison to other southern states. Maybe the polls will prove to be wrong. I hope.

          • Class of 1980

            Donation: DONE!

          • Thanks for sharing these links.

            @Class of 1980 (couldn’t reply directly to your post): I lived in NC for a few years, including right up to the 2008 Presidential election. It was so exciting (and a little unexpected) that the state voted for Obama. But apparently “Democrat” can be easier for some people to swallow than “gay marriage”. It’s crazy the type of conservative religious rhetoric that gets employed for this issue!

          • Class of 1980

            Hi Danielle,

            What’s kinda funny is that I’m a Libertarian. I’m not comfortable in places where there is such a monopoly of thought that people assume you think the way they do.

            NC isn’t like that. Sure, it has pockets of people that would support the stupid amendment, and the amendment pushers mistakenly think the pockets are the majority.

            But in most of NC, you can’t just assume a person you don’t know thinks the way you think. I like that because it’s an indication of more open minds. NC has southern charm with a bit less of the downside that too often comes with that.

            I could name a few places where everyone marches in lock step and questioning that is discouraged, but I don’t want to offend anyone who might live in those places. ;)

          • Class of 1980, I was in Chapel Hill, bastion of the progressive South! Then I moved to Durham which was grittier and more diverse (in every way), and more difficult to pinpoint people’s beliefs.

            There’s something southern about not assuming you know or understand someone right away… possibly relating to manners, privacy and giving people space.

          • Class of 1980

            Cool. Also love the state motto:

            Esse quam videri (To be, rather than to seem)


  • Man, I wish there’d been time at the Atlanta event for everyone to just go around and introduce themselves (surely that would have only taken a day or so!). That crowd was like a secret cabal of awesome.

    • I think we were all too busy eating those amazing cupcakes. haha

      • kathleen

        Totally agree on all fronts: cupcakes and general attendant(s) awesomeness. I wanted the event to last like 4 more hours.

  • Yes, yes, yes! Marriage is CIVIL RIGHT, and it should be granted, as such, to EVERYONE.
    I hope you will soon be able to marry your wife anywhere in the world.

    • MDBethann

      Exactly! I find it very interesting that in much of the Western World-as evidenced by posts on APW and a friend’s recent wedding in Germany-the legal marriage is completely separate from the religious one. Frankly, I think we should have the same thing in the U.S. Then we take the religious issues out of it and EVERYONE (grandfathered in of course) has a separate marriage to give them legal, civil rights.

      I have a pastor friend who once expressed some discomfort with the fact that when he performs wedding ceremonies, he not only acts on behalf of the church, but as an agent of the State.

      I wonder why we developed things so differently from our peers in Europe and elsewhere?

      • Class of 1980

        I’ll take your idea of civil marriages and raise you one.

        How about we get rid of the idea that we need a license to get married, or that we need a majority of voters to define who gets to be married?

        Marriage licenses have historically been used for the purpose of discrimination. They used to not exist. The only difference between one decade or another is who the marriage licenses were discriminating against.

  • Leanne

    Thanks for sharing your story! It’s great to see the process that other same-sex couples have gone through, and why they think what they do about the importance of marriage. I think I get most resentful and demandy when it comes to benefits that don’t come easily to us. Sure, the insurance and tax stuff is key. But it’s the day to day social stuff that I find the hardest to cope with. Like the benefit of NOT HAVING TO EXPLAIN myself to people when I tell them I am married and then they ask about my husband and then I get to tell them it’s a wife and then I am put in the position of answering all their questions about “how does that work?” It’s so great to see LGBT weddings discussed here. I can’t wait to hear and learn more about others’ experiences with LGBT marriage – we have so few resources when it comes to relationship guidance!

    • Yes. This. Even when you live in a super-queer-friendly community there’s always the edges of the community and the work people who aren’t hostile but are kind of like “huh” and don’t know what to say next. Or who say stuff about how it’s not a ‘real’ wedding.

      • Meigh McPants

        Seriously. I had my former boss (who I met through my wife!) ask me *twice* if she should be referred to as my husband. Sigh.

        • Wait, so which one of you is the man?

          • Hah. My favorite way to respond to this ridiculous question is ‘Well, neither of us is the man… that’s sort of the point.’

          • Spicy MacHaggis

            “So, how does that… work?”

  • pixie_moxie

    “Like the benefit of NOT HAVING TO EXPLAIN myself to people when I tell them I am married and then they ask about my husband and then I get to tell them it’s a wife and then I am put in the position of answering all their questions about “how does that work?”

    I work in an industry where if you were to say the above the only thing that would follow would be “Oh awesome. What is her name?” That some days I forget that this isn’t the normal response. I hope one day the country will understand that this isn’t a fight worth having and just let people be the people they are.

    I love how happy you guys are in the photo, great shot! You spoke so eloquently, here’s to more people hearing!

  • RachelC

    Wow. so, so beautifully written and wonderfully stated. You two deserve a moment and I hope you get many moments to celebrate! I also got lucky and happened to fall in love and marry a man, and I too find that I take some of that for granted. What if it had been a woman I had fallen in love with for the long haul? My thoughts and best wishes are with you both.

    • RachelC

      I say “lucky” ironically….lucky legally? Not lucky like it’s better….

      • Karen

        I’m sure it’s understood what you mean. Language is inadequate sometimes and in these kinds of situations where we will only know each other online, I think even more grace should be applied.

  • I am so glad to see this post from Sarah. We were both at Wedding Day Hooray recently and she so sweetly got me lunch when she went out to get her own. Sarah, thanks again for lunch and thanks for writing this lovely post about how important it is for all of us to equal.

  • I’ve been a huge fan of Small Object/you since I first saw your wedding cake toppers on Etsy many years ago. Since, I’ve tried to follow you as much as I could, because I love your style and aesthetic so much. It wasn’t until I heard about your new Tumblr/blog through My Paper Crane that I put it together that you’re also gay (queer/lesbian/GLBTQ/however you identify – you didn’t say, so I’m going general!). My heart kind of exploded…with joy, with relief. I have been trying to find crafty folks who are also LGBTQ/queer-identified like me for years, and there was one right under my nose. :-)

    All that (fan-girl-ish stuff) said, I so genuinely appreciate this post. While my partner has always been steadfastly committed to getting married, my interest in it has waxed and waned significantly over the years. We decided last year, after witnessing my partner’s brother getting married, that we needed that moment too. So we’re getting married in October, and we feel some degree of obligation to get legally married in DC, though it won’t be recognized in VA where we live. I have a lot of trouble with that, simply because I don’t want a fair-weather marriage, and because I also agree that federally recognized marriage is the battle we need to fight. We’ve had a lot of hard conversations lately about the value of the legal marriage at this time, and we still haven’t found a compromise. We could move to DC or Virginia, but we are both content with our jobs and the commute would be a daily bear. I also feel like a lot of our family members expect that we would get legally married, but I also feel like it kind of tokenizes the experience. Why would anyone encourage us to do something that doesn’t matter where we live, or federally? It just seems silly.

    What matters to us IS the moment, and the spiritual union. So I’d like to say thank you for putting these thoughts into words and sharing them. They help me have a little more peace about my reticence and also a clearer understanding that I’m not alone. Thank you for also sharing bits and pieces of your planning on your blog…it’s so inspiring! I’m processing through a lot of my own thoughts on my blog as they come to me, too, in the event you need some more community. :-)

  • KateW

    What a lovely article. As a Canadian, I wanted to give you some resources about what’s actually going on in Canadian marriage law. You mentioned you would have to move to Canada to be legally married in Canada, and that is actually not true. I know there has been a lot of attention lately in the media about Canada’s oversight in our divorce laws as to same sex marriages, and the government is moving to fix that. For all intents and purposes, a married couple in Canada will always be treated as a valid married couple, with the right to divorce, regardless of the laws of their country or state of permanent residence. To follow how these laws are unfolding, check out the newspaper the Globe and Mail at theglobeandmail.com. They have been following this fairly closely. Here is a link to an article with more information:

    • Sarah

      Thank you, you’re too kind to share the info and link! Our issues are with her current US work visa status rather than Canadian law but I wasn’t keeping track of the unfolding news. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

      • KateW

        My pleasure! I hope you and Dawn arrive at a solution you both feel great about!

  • What a wonderfully meaningful post. All couples, including straight ones, can relate to the need for that moment of transcendence when you declare in front of your families and friends (or not, in an elopement!) and, most importantly, to each other that “You are my person. We will do this life together.”

    I cared about the legalization of same-sex marriage before, but as I became more serious with my now fiance, the need for others to be able to dream of the same commitment has become more and more important to me. I live in Idaho, so the likelihood of same-sex marriage here in the near term is bleak (the front page of the paper a couple of weeks ago read “In Idaho it’s still a man and a woman” …blech) but I do what I can to educate my family, friends, and neighbors.

    Sarah, thank you for sharing your story. We’ll all be fighting with you until the day your marriage is recognized on a federal level.

  • A resounding and emphatic, yes.

  • I “exactly-ed” Beth but I really want to thank Sarah for such a sweet, poignant post. My wish for Sarah and for this country is for the Feds to get going and stop this state-by-state thing; it’s just ridiculous that same-sex marriage is not viewed as a civil right in the entire country. Unfortunately, with the recent attacks on birth control and prenatal testing from conservatives, legalizing same-sex marriage looks like a distant dream. Sigh.

  • Erica

    This is so lovely and touched me in so many ways. First, because I never dreamed of a wedding either until one day I, too, wanted a moment. So that really resonated. And then, as others have said, because reading about your experience reminds me all over again how spoiled I am. After my wedding moment, my partner is my husband and I am his wife and no one ever questions that or asks us how it works. I hope that we are able to end marriage discrimination in our nation soon, so that wonderful couples like you are able to be married, period. No ifs, ands, or buts.

  • Meredith

    This made me cry so hard. I’m bisexual and currently dating/hardcore in love with a man. However, I’ve really loved several women before him and there’s always the possibility that one day my boyfriend and I will break up and I’ll want to marry a woman. Why shouldn’t I get my moment too? Why does it depend on which gender I’m dating at the time? I make it a point to remind (real life) people during these conversations that but for me having met my guy, I’d also be shut out. I recognize that I have privilege because I do have the option/possibility of ending up in a “regular marriage.” But I should have the freedom to marry whomever ends up being the love of my life, not the love I have to settle for legally if it came to that, and I think the desire to conform to societal norms and legal benefits could play a role even subconsciously. So, in short, thank you so much for highlighting this. Everyone should get a moment. Everyone.

  • Cass

    Sending this to everyone!

  • LOVE this post!

    I just came back from my I-130 interview today, so I’m all too familiar with the intersection of government and marriage. Gay marriage–I hate calling it that–isn’t the same thing as marriage to a foreign national, but I do know what it’s like to have to wait for someone to decide if your commitment, your relationship, or your love is legitimate. I know what it’s like to have your marriage questioned. Ugh.

    PS: Your custom toppers are adorable. I’m seriously thinking about buying one for my husband once all this green card mess is resolved. I love them! :)

    • ALSO I love that the two of you decided to get married. No proposal, no ring. That’s how it was for my husband and I, too, and people tend to be dumbstruck when they hear that. Sometimes I even get a, “Aw, poor baby, your husband must not really love you” look, too. You know, as a bonus.

    • Sarah

      I can only imagine… When I dream of being legally married so our immigration issues can be behind us, I quickly catch myself. Ha! They wouldn’t let be that easy. I wish you both all the best in the process.

      And of course, I’d love to work on a piece for you both! That will be one big awesome celebration!!

  • Dodie

    Yes, yes, yes. I had this EXACT conversation with a friend tonight (minus the Canada part). Sometimes it breaks my heart. I want to marry my love, the woman I’ve lived my life with for 4 years, the woman I always want by my side. I want to call her my wife. I want to be legally recognized. I want to be able to be on her insurance, if we so choose, and to be able to be by her side in an emergency. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Except that I’m a woman too. :(

  • Moz

    THIS is why it matters. So excited for you both.

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  • debra t

    I never wanted to get married unless it was legal. To me it seemed “pretend” and we were already together. We have a son and we have done a lot of legal work. Wills, adoptions, DPOA, POA, and we are registered domestic partners. We went down to Olympia to register with the grumpiest state employee ever.
    So now in Washington it looks like it’s going to be legal. We are getting married on 7/6/2013. That will be our 29th anniversary. And it means something. It means more than I thought it would. I am going to be legally wed to my wife of 29 years.
    I wish this for everyone who wants it.
    Deb T.