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I Do — And Why

Ingrid and I are getting married at City Hall today. I'm scheduling this post so that, in theory, it should go up right around the time we say "I do." This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog; it's been edited in small ways to bring it up to date.

Vows
As you all no doubt know unless you've been hiding under the blankets for the last month, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage violates the state Constitution. Same-sex couples are now able to legally marry in California.

My partner and I are going to be one of those couples.

And I want to talk a little bit about why.

One of the questions that gets raised a lot when the subject of same-sex marriage comes up is, “Why is marriage so important? Why aren't civil unions or domestic partnerships good enough?”

Fiance and marriage visas nolo press
The usual answers are practical ones. And I'll certainly second them. Marriage is recognized around the country and around the world, and all its practical and legal rights and responsibilities get carried with you everywhere you go… in a way that is most emphatically not true for civil unions and domestic partnerships. Besides, it's a well- established principle that “separate but equal” is inherently not equal. The very act of saying, “No, you can't have this thing that everyone else can have, but you can have that other thing we created just for you that's almost exactly like it — isn't that special?” It's the creation of second-class status, pretty much by definition.

But I want to talk about something else today. I don't want to talk about the legal and practical benefits of marriage. I don't want to talk about hospital visitation rights, child custody rights, inheritance rights, tax benefits, all that good stuff. That's all important, but it's also well-covered ground.

I want to talk about something more intangible. I want to talk about why we're getting married… apart from all that.

Italienischer_Meister_des_15._Jahrhunderts_001
Marriage is an unbelievably old human institution and human ritual. My parents did it. My grandparents did it. My great-grandparents did it, and theirs, and theirs. The word and the concept carry a weight, a gravitas, intense and complex social and emotional associations, from centuries and millennia of people participating in it. And as far as I know (admittedly my anthropology is a bit weak), it's existed in one form or another in almost every human society, in almost every period of human history. There may be exceptions, but I don't offhand know of any. Getting married means being a link in a chain, taking part in a ritual that's central to human history and society.

Yes, much of that history and many of those associations are awful. Sexist, propertarian, oppressive. But the evolution of the institution from its complicated and often terrible history into what it is today is part of what gives it its weight. The history of marriage, and its growth away from ownership and towards equal partnership, is the history of the human race’s maturation. Participating in it means participating, not just in the history and the ritual, but in its growth and change.

Civil unions and domestic partnerships just don't have that.

Let's look at the recent Supreme Court ruling in California. Let's look at what it won't change for my partner and me… and what it will.

On a day- to- day level, it probably won't change much. We're domestic partners, and California domestic partnership does afford most of the legal rights and responsibilities that marriage offers. Within the state, anyway. As long as we stay in the state, not much changes in any practical sense.

Dancing at wedding
And I doubt that much will change between her and me. We had a commitment ceremony two and a half years ago: a joyful, exuberant, larger- than- we’d expected celebration that we spent many months planning. That ceremony and celebration, and everything we went through to make it happen, did change our relationship, profoundly, and very much for the better. I doubt that our legal wedding today will have anywhere near that same impact on how we feel about each other.

But it will almost certainly change how we feel about society, and our place in it. And it will change — officially — how society feels about us.

When we get married today, the State of California will officially recognize that our relationship has the same weight as our parents' did, and their parents', and theirs. It will officially drop this “separate but equal” bullshit. It will officially stop seeing us as kids at the little table, poor relatives who should be content with leavings and scraps, second-class citizens. It will officially see us as actual, complete, honest- to- gosh citizens.

Now.

Look at the patchwork of laws around this country regarding same-sex marriage. Look at the states that have banned it, and the ones that have gone so far as to ban the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Look at the fact that if my partner and I travel to Alabama or Michigan, Alaska or Pennsylvania, or any of over two dozen other states, our marriage will be seen as not having existed at all. Null. Void. Look at the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress and signed by President William Jefferson Clinton in 1996, stating that the Federal government will not recognize same-sex marriages, even if they're completely legal in the state where they were performed.

What does that tell you about how those states, and the country as a whole, sees us?

Second place award
That's the weird paradox of the California ruling. It's thrilling. It's unbelievably great news. It's a huge historical step. But at the same time, it throws the true meaning of this legal patchwork into sharp focus. It makes it that much clearer that queers in this country are, in a very literal sense, second-class citizens. We pay taxes, we serve on juries, we have to obey the same laws that everyone else does… but in a very practical, codified- into- law sense, we just don't count for as much.

Legalizing same-sex marriage isn't just about the legal and practical recognition of our love and our partnership. It's about social recognition. It's about being seen as a full member of society. Kudos for the California Supreme Court for understanding that. Let's hope the rest of the country figures it out eventually.

Equality California logo
Important note: As powerful and historic as this step is, it could be undone. In November, there will be an initiative on the California ballot, asking voters to amend the state Constitution and ban same-sex marriage. If you think this issue and this movement are important, please consider supporting Equality California.

Comments

  1. yoyo says

    Well done to the two of you for making your relationship work for so long and so well. One day your descendents and younger realtives will look back at the two of you with such pride!

  2. says

    Good for you guys!
    I hope this California decision is just one of 50 more.
    And don’t let those punks take it away from you. Hopefully there are enough Californians with enough common sense and empathy to shut this innocuously-named “initiative” down.
    When my wife and I were planning our wedding, it often occurred to me that our gay friends were indeed being viewed as second-class and, even though they may be able to have a ‘civil union’ or get married in another state or country, they may never have the legal benefits of marriage in their home country or enjoy the pure, silly romantic joy of a huge, public love-party without that bittersweet feeling that a little something was missing.
    All the best to you guys
    .M.

  3. says

    Congratulations! May you live a hundred years and never grow tired of each other.

    Marriage is an unbelievably old human institution and human ritual.

    Yeah, that was kind of the crucial point for me as well.
    I used to think, well, obviously gays couples should be afforded the same legal rights, duties, and protections as straight married couples. On the other hand, the word “marriage” carries a lot of cultural baggage, and people get understandably upset when you start messing with tradition. I can certainly understand that. So I figured, let’s have civil unions, or whatever you want to call them, which are legally identical to marriage, but without the cultural baggage that comes with the word “marriage”.
    Then I realized — or it was pointed out to me — that gay couples want the whole marriage package, cultural baggage and all. And that tradition and culture is an important part of getting married.
    At which point my attitude changed from “if you’re opposed to gay marriage, I don’t want to upset you unnecessarily” to “get over it”.

  4. says

    mandrellian:

    I hope this California decision is just one of 50 more.

    Massachusetts and California already recognize gay marriage. So we need 48 more states to get their act together.
    What are the 49th and 50th decisions? Amending federal law, and amending the constitution so that congress can’t undo the federal law on a whim?

  5. dgolden says

    Congratulations! Personally, I’ve always felt that marriage is in your hearts, not in a government or church sanctioned document. But it is so nice to see the state of California finally recognize what you, your friends, and your families have known for years.
    I’m excited for the future, because I believe that gay and lesbian couples can only add to the “sanctity of marriage.” Who is more likely to treat their marriage as sacred than those who must fight for the right to be married in the first place?

  6. says

    Congratulations.
    It concerns me that there are practical reasons to get married in the US.
    Over here (Australia), I’m not aware of a single financial, legal or other issue, whether to do with taxation, medical insurance, wills, government benefits, or whatever that it makes any difference whether me and my partner are actually married or not, and I have looked about pretty hard. Everything I’ve ever come across recognises a spousal relationship irrespective or marital status.
    [It’s possible there is one somewhere (maybe with adoption, because the rules there tend to be very picky, though even there it would surprise me), but I’ve never even heard of an explicit difference.]
    We’re not married, but if there was a practical reason to do so, we probably would.

  7. Chrissie says

    Congratulations! Would love to see wedding pics posted! Two beautiful wedding dresses to admire! hooray!
    are you going to be mrs and mrs?
    Wishing you much happiness for the future x x

  8. Leigh Shryock says

    I’m glad to hear of it. You’ve been holding out for so long, and you deserve it. Lets hope that this is the start of a much-needed trend.
    A rather civil compromise I heard from a republican was this: “Get rid of marriage as a state concept entirely, and replace it with a civil union system that is open to all genders and orientations. Then, if you want to call that a marriage on your own terms, and have a marriage ceremony, feel free to do so.”

  9. says

    Congratulations! I guess you’re also saying, “Thank you California!”.
    I’m recently married, although we had a great day it was mostly a formality and something partly for the relatives. Our relationship hasn’t changed much since – which we’re happy about.

  10. Griff says

    My husband and I got married on the 17th at our local county courthouse. I totally understand and agree with what you’ve said. It feels different. Better. The world is bigger.
    My husband and I talked it over two nights ago, about what these rings and that license and the ceremony mean to us, and one of us (I forget who) said: “It feels completely different now. I no longer feel like we’re two teenagers playing house. Getting legally married makes this real, not a game – it makes it permanent, not temporary. It makes it serious.
    I hope your marriage ceremony went beautifully. Congratulations!

  11. Nancy says

    Congratulations on your marriage. I am sincerely happy for you both and I have a gut feeling that the decision will NOT be overturned. I can feel the “mood” of the country slowly changing…..the pendulum swinging left……..thankfully.
    Goodbye to Bush – If only we could impeach him – I hate the thought that he gets to slither away to Texas w/out answering for his illegal actions.

  12. David Harmon says

    ArensB: Besides federal, there’s also Puerto Rico (And maybe the Virgin Islands too). The national Constitution, IIRC, does not actually discuss marriage, and making it do so might not be wise.

  13. says

    Congratulations! And I totally understand what you mean about marriage being different. It is. It’s a public declaration of your relationship, and it means something. Anyway, I’m very happy for you both.

  14. ssjessiechan says

    Congratulations and the biggest hugs in the world to you both, and to everyone else who is busy changing their lives right now!
    I have a feeling it’s not going to be overturned, though that doesn’t mean it isn’t a danger. People in general are pretty apathetic, and now that you’ve been given the right to marry, and now that they’ve seen how happy it makes you, I expect most people won’t want to try to take it away. That doesn’t mean the tyrrany of the few hardliners isn’t something to watch out for though. *shakes head* Now’s not the time to worry! Go out and change the world through the pure force of your love!

  15. Anon Ymous says

    Firstly, congrats! Hope your day was really special :o)
    Secondly, to Efrique: I’m also an Aussie, and I can tell you that while you are correct that “spousal” rights don’t really care if you’re married or not, they *do* care (for federal law, anyway – I think *all the states are better than the federal government in this one) if you’re in a same sex relationship or not.
    All the things that you get if you’re in a marriage or a “Marriage like relationship” (the “spousal” stuff you referenced) have this little definition at the end which states that a “Marriage like relationship” must be between two people of the opposite sex.
    Trust me. I’ve tried filling out my tax with my partner’s name as my “de facto” (since we’ve been living together over 2 years, and are legally de facto on a state level), and had the electronic program give me an error message due to listing both my sex and my partner’s as female.
    So, yes, if you’re in an opposite-sex de facto relationship, you’re probably right – no real reason to get married. If you’re in a same-sex de facto relationship, I’m guessing you’ve been filling out tax forms and so forth by hand, and might get a bit of a surprise if you ever get audited…

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