In July of 2004, I was married in a religious and community ceremony. I and my lovely bride were surrounded by friends and family. in fact, it was friends-who-are-family who made the ceremony happen. Strung the lights. Had the whole house painted. Cooked and served the best wedding food you’ve ever encountered, I mean it. Tended bar, my mom and my teacher. Lit the torches. Built the altar. Arranged bouquet after bouquet after bouquet until all she needed was a gin and tonic. Created gorgeous floral headpieces, one for each attendant. Built and covered a stunning purple box for our well-wishing cards. Played music on the balcony so it would waft through the house. Was game to wear a crown of red roses because his queer man identity is just that strong. Officiated through an illness that kept turning him green. Washed glassware. Fought like siblings and guarded our door as we ate our first meal together as a wedded couple. Held the sword and the broom that made the gate through which we walked into the time-without-time that was the Circle of our wedding. Made a ritual for a drama-free ritual. Got people to sign our little book. Witnessed our vows, our libation, our unity candle, our exchange of rings, the binding of our hands with silver cord. Gave us a book with every recipe lovingly written out by hand.
Blew a plume of fire over our heads as we were declared married. We were married. That is a description of what we refer to as our “real” wedding.
Later that year, we did the paperwork and by February 2005 we were officially the Clarenbachs. We had plans, and those plans included sharing the same name until death us do part. So we went to a judge and he read our reason for wanting to change our names–because we wanted to express the nature of our family relationship, or something like that. He signed off on the expensive thing, and boom, different last names. We got our licenses changed. We got our social security cards changed.
Still, a well-meaning (bisexual!) supervisor of mine said, “Well, but you’re not really married.” I was in Washington, DC. It was 2006. I asked her never to say that again to me.
It wasn’t until 2009, when we went to Massachusetts to witness the wedding and sign the ketuba of two dear friends, that we were really married, according to my old boss.
And now every state in which I have ever lived recognizes my marriage. There was no one happier when I learned that the court finally declared that Pennsylvania needed to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. My home state. I cried. But… There are so many more questions to be asked. There are so many ways of making family. Julie and I are pretty damn conventional, where our marriage is concerned. We go to sleep together. We wake up together most of the time. We get groceries. We put them away. We feed our dogs and cats. We make love when we have the energy and we say I love you every day.
Our relationship is not “open.” We are not part of a tribe of folks who occasionally sleep together or don’t, but who love one another. We are not in a triad of any kind, emotional, sexual, or both. We do not have a “don’t ask-don’t tell” rule. We don’t agree that we can sleep with other women, but not with other men. Neither of us are trans*. We don’t have any of that stuff.
But we could.
Every one of those descriptions above describes a way of being family for someone I love. Every one. Same-sex civil marriage is important because it is about equal protection. It is about not keeping some people out of an institution into which other people are allowed, even encouraged, even pushed to enter. It is about the recognition that the government has been handing our privileges, unearned goodies to other-sex couples of marry. And so if they get goodies, same-sex couples want the goodies too.
Only fair. Only fair.
But what is fair about my having excellent health insurance and excellent health care and my colleague’s having none? What is fair about that?
For real, why can’t we separate the religion and the legal recognition? Why can’t we? Why can’t folks just have contracts with people with whom they want to have legal contracts, and congregations of all kinds bless the folks they bless in the ways they bless them? I love marrying people. I have officiated or assisted at the ceremonies of many people. It is beautiful and a blessing. But why should those ceremonies be linked in any way to legal status? In centuries-ago Christian Europe, it used to be that the contract was sealed on the church steps or in the churchyard. The blessing ceremony took place inside. But the contract was not of the church. The sacrament of Holy Matrimony (by the 12th century when it became so) was of the church.
It’s hard to switch boats in midstream. I get that. Impossible, in this case.
I don’t know what may be done about this. The dominoes are falling. Very soon, marriage for all couples who want to be legally bound together in marriage will be the law of the land. And I will be glad.
But I will also know that I have privilege others do not. That same-sex marriage is not the end-all-be-all. That the law protects me — protects the connection between Julie and me, protects our relationship — in a way it does not protect all those I love. I will celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary in July. And I will think lovingly of all who made it happen. And I will think of the 5th anniversary of the civil licensure and registration of our marriage in October. I will be grateful for the legal welcome Massachusetts extended to us.
And I will think of those I love, still left out in the cold where love and law are concerned.