On Valentine's day 2018, I came home to Jeffrey, my life partner of eight years. I was freaking out. There'd been yet another mass shooting -- this time, of high school students in Parkland, Fla. I was ranting that more "thoughts and prayers" would mean nothing.
I was struggling with the notion that there was something in human nature that could cause a person to build up such a level of hatred, mistrust, and frustration that he could make a plan to arm himself and go into a place where the targets of hate would be sitting exposed and innocent, and wield the power of a weapon to snuff out the life of another human, and another after that, and on and on, until there was no more ammunition, or until someone intervened, whichever happened to come first.
I was wracking my brain to understand how that could happen, how anyone could do such a thing. And what would it take to keep that from happening again. Would it take a bigger, faster gun? Was there a law that could stop it, or reduce the suffering? And what would it take to force politicians to come together to make such a law?
It would have to be something bigger than people, or the gods that people honor. It had to be something that could touch every person and change any heart. It had to be love. Love for the lives of those who'd be the victims. Love for shared humanity. And what was love? How could you show love? What did love mean for the world and what did it mean for every human being?
Overcome with abstract thoughts of love and a pointed impulse to make it concrete, I heard myself say to Jeffrey, "We should get married."
"What?" Jeffrey asked.
"We should get married," I said again.
"Ok," Jeffrey said, but he didn't press for details as I continued ranting about the shooting,
Later, during dinner, Jeffrey asked me to again confirm that I'd proposed marriage and I did. And once more, before we went to bed.
"Just want to make sure that I heard you say what I think I heard you say."
"Yes, I did," I answered. "Ok," he said, "and my answer is yes."
"Great," I said, before we went to sleep.
We didn't set a date, but we agreed sometime in 2019, we'd get married.
In June, we traveled to Chicago for the summer meeting of ACTEC, the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel of which I'm a member. My parents, in their eighties, who still have a fond nostalgia for the time when I was married to a wonderful woman I will always love, but not like that, drove through heavy rain into the city from their suburban home to meet us for lunch at our hotel restaurant. As the meal was winding down, I took a deep breath, gathering my courage.
"You know that I love Jeffrey. We make each other happy, and we're going to get married."
There was a beat before my mother spoke.
"That's important," she said.
My dad grunted a kind of acknowledgment, but didn't use any words. The conversation turned to something else.
Two days later, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and Chicago became the sparkling jewel that it can be, at its best. Jeffrey and I set out on a walk, looking for new hats. We started north on Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile, where I'd spent so much time hanging out after school when I was growing up. We'd just been South Side working class kids but our long commute home from our magnet school gave us the chance to be around all the fancy shops. At some point I looked up and saw Tiffany's across the street.
"Wanna go buy wedding bands?" I asked, Jeffrey, a little playfully.
"Yes!" he said.
So, we crossed the street, walked in and told the salesperson we were looking for wedding bands and wanted the "Tiffany Treatment."
"Yes, indeed," said the salesman, Michael.
They brought out a bottle of Champagne, and we sang "Moon River" as Michael popped the cork, and we sipped from flutes, selecting the platinum and diamond bands we ordered that day, that we'd use whenever we set that wedding day. We had fun chatting with Michael about his plans for Chicago Pride that was going on that weekend.
Then in September, watching the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Jeffrey worried about whether the security of our rights as queer citizens was truly protected, even in the Supreme Court. In a prior relationship, Jeffrey had gotten married when same-sex marriage was first legalized in California, before it was eliminated by state ballot initiative. He understood the fragility of newly-established rights.
Jeffrey knew that in October, we'd be in Washington, D.C. for the fall meeting of ACTEC. I had arranged for one of my law school housemates, Judge Robert Wilkins, who sat on the same court as both Obama SCOTUS nominee Merrick Garland, and Trump SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh, to discuss his book, Long Road to Hard Truth: The 100 Year Mission to Create the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Jeffrey hatched the idea to reach out to Judge Wilkins to ask him if he would officiate our wedding while we were going to be in D.C. We were thrilled when he agreed.
On October 25, a brisk fall day, Jeffrey and I got dressed in our hotel. I put on a navy wool suit, accenting it with a pair of rainbow cufflinks that my daughters Hayleigh and Hannah had given to me as a Father's Day present a couple of years before. I understood them to be the girls' way of saying that they loved the father that I was, a gay black man, as much as the father that I had thought I was supposed to be for them. I'd wear those cufflinks whenever I'd give talks about my family's interesting history of escaping from slavery. Wearing those cufflinks was how I kept the girls with me, whenever I shared the story of our ancestors around the country.
Jeffrey and I did our morning chanting in front of a tiny Buddhist Gohonzon scroll that he travels with, called an omamori, both of us thinking of all of the "causes" that our wedding, a couple of hours away, would make, and of the value to ourselves and the world that would be "effects" of those causes.
Jeffrey put on a light-colored glen plaid suit, we made sure we had our Tiffany wedding bands in our pocket and began our walk to the U.S. Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit.
The air was crisp, and the sun sparkled between the leaves of sycamores and maples, as we followed the GPS instructions. We got a little turned around in the federal complex, and stopped for directions at another federal building near the courthouse. The African-American guard at the desk was stern.
"May I help you?" he asked.
"We're trying to get to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal," I said.
"We're getting married," Jeffrey added.
The guard's face opened into a smile.
"Oh, congratulations! Y'all are looking sharp! Just go up to the corner and turn left," he said cheerily sending us on our way.
We finally arrived at the federal courthouse center, a high-security complex. We'd arranged with Judge Wilkins's secretary, Michelle, to meet us at security, and with her leading the way, we made our way up to the Judge's chambers. Michelle and Judge Wilkins's four law clerks, including the first African-American woman to be president of the Harvard Law Review, were to be our witnesses.
We went through an anteroom, and found ourselves in a spacious, modern office decked out in warm amber woods in front of a wide picture window overlooking alabaster federal buildings and monuments. The walls of Judge Wilkins's chambers included photographs of him in the Oval Office along with President G.W. Bush, sitting at his desk surrounded by the bipartisan coalition of people who had united to create the legislation that led to the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture -- Congressman John L. Lewis, with Senators Brownback and Santorum, and actress and honorary mother of all black people, Cicely Tyson. There were more awards and commendations, done up in script with colorful illuminations.
There was his official "Commission" signed by our schoolmate Barack Obama, who nominated him to the federal bench, and a photograph of Judge Wilkins and his wife Amina, with President Obama, and our other schoolmate, Michelle. The walls were tastefully covered in the symbols and images that reflected the majesty and importance of the office he held, as well as photos of his loving family, his sweet mother and grandmother, whom I'd met at our graduation thirty years earlier, and seen again at his official enrobing, when they had traveled from their home in Muncie, Ind., where Robert had grown up with his brother, a tall, strong man with an easy smile and a calm simplicity.
Robert put on his robe, transforming himself into Judge Wilkins, and began the ceremony, Jeffrey and me facing one another in front of him, his secretary and four clerks looking on.
Judge Wilkins invited Jeffrey and me to take one another's hands and asked, "Jeffrey, there's something you wanted to say about your faith?"
Jeffrey released one hand and took from his jacket pocket a tiny box containing the omamori we had chanted our Buddhist chant to that morning, and placed it on the desk beside us.
"This omamori represents all of the conditions of human life," he said. "It represents the enlightenment of everyone in this room, who each embody the greatness of the Buddha."
"I have been waiting for this," Jeffrey continued, indicating the wedding ceremony by looking around the room, "since the day we met." I looked into Jeffrey's eyes, which were already red from the tears in them. "But I knew that I had to first earn the respect and love of your daughters..."
I looked at the rainbow cufflinks on my right wrist and I smiled thinking of Hayleigh and Hannah. "...and of your former wife." I exhaled, remembering that when I had texted Sandy before the D.C. trip to tell her that our classmate Robert, who had stood up as a groomsman in my wedding to Sandy, was going to be officiating my ceremony with Jeffrey. She had texted back, "I don't know what took you so long."
Robert turned to ask me if I had something I wanted to say.
"I know that Jeffrey and I have been together across generations in the past," I began, willing myself to keep it together, which was hard because tears were running down Jeffrey's face.
"And I know that we'll be together across generations in the future." I heard myself sniffle. "But this is probably the first time in all these lifetimes, when the two of us can participate this way in this ritual of love."
Then Judge Wilkins began his remarks.
"Last night," Judge Wilkins said, holding open his notes before him. "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was interviewed here by one of my colleagues on this Court. Justice Ginsberg sat on this Court before she was elevated to the United States Supreme Court. In her remarks," Robert said, "Justice Ginsberg talked about the power of law and the capacity of people, even judges, to change. I must confess that I myself have changed my views over time to embrace same-sex marriage."
Then Judge Wilkins told us he was quoting the opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Obergefell decision that upheld marriage equality.
"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."
"Do you have rings?"
I took out the ring for Jeffrey and took his hand. I started trying to squeeze the ring onto Jeffrey's finger. I think it was a little swollen in all the emotion of the moment. I wiped a tear from his eye, and I think the moisture of his tear helped me twist the ring onto his finger.
Then he took out his ring for me, and, taking my left hand, worked the ring onto the finger. We both paused for a moment, looking down at our hands, brown and white, with complimentary bands, and my rainbow cufflinks in the frame.
Finally, Judge Wilkins announced, "By the authority vested in me by the District of Columbia, I pronounce you to be married spouses."
Jeffrey and I kissed one another on the lips, and then we held one another, and I could feel myself relaxing, like some weight that I hadn't known I was carrying, had fallen away.
Judge Wilkins's secretary and clerks applauded, and we smiled, all of us experiencing the release following the emotional buildup.
In addition to the sheer joy and excitement of getting married, I had the sense of comfort, of relief, of being able to relax and exhale. I had been married to a wonderful woman, the mother of our two children. But now it felt like all the pieces were together at the same time -- like who I was, was finally fully in sync with who I was supposed to be.
And I had another feeling -- that our new marriage was as valid in the eyes of the law as my last one. The person I loved was bound to me and we'd always have one another. Love had won. It wasn't the exact same kind of love that had inspired me to propose marriage a year before, but I think the core of it -- a commitment to something bigger than yourself, is still the answer.
TERRENCE FRANKLIN is a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Sacks, Glazier, Franklin & Lodise, LLP, Co-President of the Board of Directors of LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest, member of the American Bar Association Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, and was recently included among the Most Influential Minority Attorneys in Los Angeles by Los Angeles Business Journal. He is on a mission to bend the arc of history towards justice through storytelling, including through creative projects about how love saved his family from slavery. He and Jeffrey Moline married on October 25, 2018.