Reflecting on Marriage Milestones
I’ve been married at least four times, all to the same man. Maybe five.
Our first ceremony was in a New York City computer store. The most recent was in City Hall in San Francisco, in the board of supervisors’ chamber, presided over by Supervisor Bevan Dufty and sealed with signatures on Harvey Milk’s former desk.
That one was legal — until it wasn’t anymore.
But the next time, I know it will be legal for good. That’s what we promised ourselves after our 2004 marriage, courtesy of then–San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, was invalidated by the Supreme Court of California.
No more half measures. No more purely symbolic unions.
No more bold, sort-of-legal ceremonies that serve as targets for courts or ballot measures to overturn.
Now, finally, New York State — where Christopher and I met 25 years ago — beckons with the promise of full, legal marriage.
But for us, it’s not good enough.
We now live in Asheville, N.C., and even a fine, freshly legal New York State marriage cannot be imported here. Indeed, the newly Republican-controlled N.C. legislature is busy trying to pass a state constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex unions of any kind.
We toast New York State. We honor the long-awaited victory of simple equality, hope to be invited to our New York friends’ weddings, and hope to attend. We’re elated — really, really happy.
But it’s not good enough.
We didn’t fly to Vermont when it became the first state to introduce civil unions, in 2000. We didn’t fly to Canada when it legalized same-sex marriage in 2005.
After living 10 years in Los Angeles, before moving to Asheville in 2007, we didn’t fly back to California in 2008 when courts briefly legalized marriage equality, before Proposition 8 reestablished discrimination.
We want to be legally married where we live now, not in some distant location. We’ve done the partial, the private, the play-acting. Now it’s time for full marriage equality, nationwide, without asterisks.
It was hugely emotional for us and our friends when New York mayor David Dinkins, by executive order, established a domestic partnership registry in the city. It was January 1993, and the order was to take effect on Valentine’s Day. To put it into historic context, this was many months before a court ruling in Hawaii, one in favor of marriage equality, began the long national debate — and gradual march to equality — that’s still going on.
Christopher and I, no longer newlyweds (after just over six years together), celebrated the New York City milestone with our friends up in the Inwood neighborhood. We promised ourselves we’d go file the paperwork once the hoopla died down.
A few weeks later, we were computer shopping at J&R Music World on Park Row. There we ran into our friend Vince, also from Inwood. Vince was a lawyer, complete with suit and tie and briefcase.
“Did you guys get married today?” he asked. When we looked bewildered, he reminded us that the domestic partnership registry opened that morning at City Hall, right up the street. He was in the neighborhood helping people get their documents in order.
“We’ll get around to it,” I said. “But not today. I don’t want to stand in long lines. Anyway, we don’t have the notarized documents we need to register.”
“Well,” Vince said, “I have the documents.” He placed his briefcase on top of a computer display and opened it. “And I’m a notary public.”
Thus it was that Christopher and I got married, the first time, in a computer store.
Thanking Vince, we walked the papers over to City Hall, where the lines had faded to just a few couples. We registered as domestic partners. We were couple number 96.
It was fun. It was silly. It was a little bit meaningful, a little bit legal.
A few years later, we moved to West Hollywood. When the city established a domestic partnership registry, we registered again.
We also registered as domestic partners with the Walt Disney Company, where Christopher worked, one of the first U.S. corporate giants to recognize same-sex unions. (I got my own Silver Pass to get into Disneyland.)
When, in 1999, California passed the first statewide domestic partnership system not imposed by court order, we registered again.
For the next seven years, I followed the gradual march of marriage equality, both with Christopher and our friends and family and as executive editor, and then editor in chief, of The Advocate.
We put Vermont on the cover. We put Melissa Etheridge in a wedding gown on the cover. We put former Vermont governor Howard Dean on the cover. We named Gavin Newsom one of our People of the Year.
It had been a particularly delicious moment when the San Francisco mayor decided to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples over Presidents' Day weekend in 2004, knowing no courts could stop him until at least Tuesday. The marriages began on the day before Valentine’s Day — exactly 11 years after Christopher and I were first (sort of) married.
Once again, though, Christopher and I, then living in Los Angeles, dithered about jumping into the fray. Our indecision was quickly and decisively overruled by our friend Anthony Rapp, who happened to be staying with us that week, and our virtually adopted son, Ryan, then 18.
The two of them booted up a computer and had soon booked tickets to San Francisco for us and Ryan for the next day, Sunday, February 15.
The story of that trip is long and dramatic and full of laughter and happy tears and bad weather. I wrote about it extensively on this very website: the incredibly long lines of joyful people, the unplanned overnight stay with a San Francisco gay couple who were also celebrating their adopted son’s third birthday, the pouring rain at 5 a.m. as we waited in line a second day, still wearing the tuxedos that were the only clothes we brought with us, the overworked mayor’s assistant who helped us navigate the labyrinthine City Hall.
And, of course, the marriage itself — because it was, finally, a real marriage — in the commissioners’ chamber, officiated by our new friend Bevan and witnessed by him and Ryan on Harvey Milk’s old desk.
A color copy of our marriage certificate still hangs above my desk as I write this.
What we learned on that trip, and what thousands of New York couples will be able to experience in just 30 days, is that marriage matters. Legal, state-sanctioned marriage, with that ridiculously antiquated pink-and-blue certificate full of seals and signatures, matters.
Full equality matters.
That lesson was underlined for me a few months after our San Francisco wedding, when Advocate photo editor Michele Fleury and I flew to Massachusetts to witness the first state-sanctified same-sex marriages in the nation.
The events we attended in Provincetown weren’t just commitment ceremonies for private satisfaction. They were marriages, with all the publicly granted rights and personally accepted responsibilities.
That date — May 17, 2004 — as it happened, was also the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. That U.S. Supreme Court ruling applied to racial inequality in education, but its plain statement that separate accommodations were “inherently unequal” still resonates in discussing marriage equality.
It’s really quite simple. And, as the many spontaneous celebrations this weekend in New York State demonstrate, it’s really quite emotional, this full equality thing.
Christopher and I have experienced that first hand. We’ve also spent hundreds of dollars here in North Carolina to try to ensure that our relationship has some of the legal protections a simple legal marriage would grant us.
Somehow, signing all those documents in a sterile lawyer’s office in Hendersonville, N.C., had none of the resonance of the San Francisco supervisors’ chamber. And it wasn’t just the poor set dressing. It was the absence of equality.
In New York, equality is set to arrive next month. In North Carolina, the next several months will see a nasty battle over whether to outlaw marriage equality permanently.
Yes, Christopher and I would like to be legally married again. After 25 years in a committed relationship — and several marriage-like ceremonies — we should have that right. Not just in New York, but in our hometown.
I don’t rule out a trip to New York for marriage number 5 (or 6). But the one I’m really looking forward to is the one in my own backyard, complete with a silly looking pink-and-blue certificate.
After 25 years, the only wedding gift we still need is equality.