Love and Activism

By Kenneth Harvey

Originally published on Advocate.com May 07 2010 3:20 AM ET

Dan and Josh Smithman met in Las Vegas while Josh was visiting from North Dakota three years ago, the startof a whirlwind romance that has since led to more than 10 marriage ceremonies in the U.S. and Canada. In the midst of renewing their vows in Iowa, Massachusetts, Washington D.C., New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont, Dan Smithman took time out of traveling between states to talk to The Advocate about the awkward moments he faced on the Smithman Marriage Tour in April, and why he thinks their adventure is significant and simple.

The Advocate: How did you think of the idea for this tour?
Dan Smithman: It kind of came up from the passage of Proposition 8 when we realized our marriage was threatened in California. We got the idea as states were coming on board and we thought we'd take advantage of every state until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed. We kind of became activists by default.

How did the two of you meet?
I was living in Las Vegas in 2007 while Josh lived in Bismarck, North Dakota. He was vacationing in Vegas with a friend in late April and our paths crossed at a social event. We stayed up the entire night talking and laughing, it was pure magic and the first time I truly connected with another human being, spiritually, intellectually and physically. I have never met such a gentleman.

How did you deal with the separation after Josh returned to North Dakota?

Upon his return home we spoke on the phone. I told him that I had an amazing time and I simply wanted two more days with him. He agreed and flew back to Vegas a few weeks later. After almost three months of long distance dating, I proposed and he naturally accepted.

What are the rules regarding applying for marriage licenses in different states?
Every state has its own rules and they have their own guidelines. Boston and Washington D.C. have three day waiting periods so you have to show up in person, apply, and then come back three days later to get married. We've been doing all the leg work.
When we bought the tickets, Washington D.C. wasn't extending marriage rights to same-sex couples so we had to throw in an extra flight and do a little back tracking to make it all work.

We flew to Iowa earlier this month to complete and submit a marriage license application and begin the mandatory three day waiting period required by the state of Iowa. During that time, a local reporter covering our story decided to call the courthouse to get their opinion about our marriage tour. Once courthouse officials discovered we were already married in California, they declined our marriage application. When we returned to Iowa on April 21st, we had a ceremony at the LGBT
Center in Des Moines where we renewed our vows.  [Note: Lambda Legal later explained that while Iowa recognizes marriages between same-sex couples from other states, you cannot remarry in Iowa if you are still in a valid marriage from another state.]













Do other states have similar rules? How do you avoid being denied in other states?
When applying for marriage licenses in all states we were asked if we were already married. Our answer was "no." Given that our country defines marriage as an exclusive legal union between one man and one woman, by definition, we are not married.


MARRIAGE TOUR MAIN X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COMWill your ceremonies be at courthouses?
We’re going to have
ceremonies at courthouses. We didn’t do it in Iowa and we will not do it
in D.C.. The rest will be at courthouses.

What has been your
favorite part of the tour so far?

I think the time I spent in
Plymouth, Mass., and also in Philadelphia, being a tourist, and
appreciating the work of our forefathers and the struggles and
challenges. It's been a very patriotic experience for us. It kind of
inspires us to be American.

How has the trip made you feel
more patriotic?

Often skeptical and
cynical about our post-9/11 views regarding patriotism, we embarked on a
remarkable journey of love, activism, and patriotism. During our
multi-state marriage tour, we reconnected with something that we thought
we lost, our appreciation for this country. More specifically, we
gained a profound respect for our forefathers and their extraordinary
vision of a new world of freedom, equality and democracy. George
Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, the
pilgrims aboard the Mayflower were all radical activists!

Have
you had any awkward moments when you were applying for marriage
licenses?


[Laughs] Every single one of them. The country
is just working their way through it right now. It's very awkward. I
don't know if I can put it in words. It's just different. Right now,
going to a court house as a same-sex couple is different, it's awkward
and you get a sense that something new is happening and the employees
aren't quite sure what to do. We've been treated very well, we've been
treated with respect. They've all been very kind but there is this
unspoken awkwardness going on.

Do you think it's because its
something new or is it a product of a disagreement they have?

I
think it’s more because its something new. I think ultimately people
don't care.

Why are you going on this tour?
The main
reason we’re doing what we’re doing is in protest of the Defense of
Marriage Act. Until DOMA is repealed, regardless of where we are married
and where we aren’t married, we still return home without 1,000 civil
marriage rights. We’re really doing this to bring awareness and until
DOMA is repealed the marriage tour doesn’t really mean anything.

I
would argue what you are doing is significant.

It’s definitely
significant to us. We’re going to return home to Nevada and have no
rights as a married couple, not one. It feels like my country treats me
like a second class citizen. It pisses me off actually. [Laughs]MARRIAGE TOUR BODY1 X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COMWill you discuss the marriage tour when you return to Las Vegas?

















We
definitely will. CBS, KLS a local CBS affiliate actually ran a story on
us. They actually went with us to West Hollywood to cover our story and
did a follow up story with Proposition 8. We definitely help to inspire
people. We spoke at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Las Vegas and we're
out there trying to make a difference.

Do you have any plans
to resurrect the marriage tour in the future?


As each state comes
up we'll do this. As far as what the future holds, I don't know. This
trip has made a difference for me as in it has opened my eyes. I think
there's things to do in the future, I just don't know what to do yet. I
think there's an opening for whatever that is.

What other
kinds of work have you done with the community?


I was a part of
the staff at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles and I've always
volunteered my time. I’ve volunteered time at AIDS Walk and for AIDS
rides. We’re pretty involved with supporting our local gay and lesbian
organizations. My company, excellence promo donates time and resources
as a natural progression.

Were you sponsored on this tour?
How are you able to pay for this trip?


We paid for the entire
trip. The expense of the tour was well over $3,000 and was not something
we could really afford. We decided that we couldn't afford not to. We
already missed the opportunity to marry in Maine, and wanted to make
sure to marry in every state before the voters, and the tyranny of the
majority, have an opportunity to reverse the laws.

You said
you felt patriotic when you were traveling through Plymouth, Mass.,
Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Can you explain why you felt such a
strong sense of patriotism?


Often skeptical and cynical about our
post-9/11 views regarding patriotism, we embarked on a remarkable
journey of love, activism and patriotism. During our multi-state
marriage tour, we reconnected with something that we thought we lost,
our appreciation for this country. More specifically, we gained a
profound respect for our forefathers and their extraordinary vision of a
new world of freedom, equality and democracy. George Washington, Thomas
Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, the pilgrims aboard the
Mayflower were all radical activists!