One week from today, I expect my life paradoxically to stay pretty much exactly the same, yet at the same time to change utterly, in ways I’m not sure I truly understand or even can fully imagine. I expect my life to change, though, because people whose opinions in such matters I trust, people who already have undertaken the step I’m about to take, keep telling me it will.
Next Thursday, you see, I’m getting married.
On the one hand, my life will stay pretty much exactly the same. After all, back in June Jeff and I celebrated the ten-year anniversary of our first date. As of this month we’ve already been living together for a decade, nearly half of those years within the formal legal status of a California registered domestic partnership. We’ve already been paying joint state taxes; Jeff covers me on his employer’s health insurance plan; we share finances, the care and feeding of two cats, each other’s joys and sorrows, a warped sense of humor, and our bed. Obviously, marriage won’t change any of that. To be sure, we expect our day-to-day life the day after we say “I do” to go on largely just as it did the day prior.
Nonetheless, I also expect next Thursday’s civil ceremony, the promises we will make, and the words and status that will be pronounced to and conferred upon us “by the power vested… by the state,” to be transformative. As Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) noted in its amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court this past winter, “Same-sex couples who have been able to marry have experienced great joy and have found that marriage profoundly deepens their love and commitment to each other.”
In a conversation with Chris Geidner, Edie Windsor, the winsome octogenarian plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that resulted in the eradication of DOMA Section 3, the federal law that before this summer had prohibited the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex couples’ legally valid marriages, put it this way: “I ask all gay couples who have lived together a long time and got married, ‘Was it different the next morning?’ And everybody says yes, and they don’t know how to explain it. Marriage itself, you know, it’s a magic word, everybody knows what it means, it means love and commitment and trust… but there’s this extra thing when it was always denied to you. But it’s profound. Whatever loving was there, it becomes really profound loving.”
Our friend and fellow MEUSA love warriors Ellen Pontac and Shelly Bailes, who have been together for nearly 40 years, married in 2004 (though that marriage heartbreakingly was made “null and void” by the California Supreme Court) and again, finally, in 2008. Ellen agrees with Edie’s sentiment, describing the personal, social, and political transformative power of marriage like this: “Being married changes not only the fact that you can say, ‘I’d like to introduce you to my wife,’ but it changes the way you feel inside, and the way the world perceives you. We have both a domestic partnership and a marriage. Getting married has actually made us realize how inadequate being a domestic partner is. Now that we are married, we never refer to ourselves as domestic partners or even conceive of ourselves as such – we only refer to ourselves as married.”
Jeff and I are incredibly grateful that we now have the right to enter into a legal civil marriage here at home in California, and to have that marriage recognized by both our state and federal governments. We’re excitedly and nervously expectant about making our vows to one another at San Francisco’s City Hall, a location with particular sentimental significance for California’s marriage equality advocacy movement and for us, personally, and about experiencing these profound changes in our relationship as we express our love and commitment in a formalized way that is a very old and shared tradition, yet simultaneously a very new and completely unique experience for each couple who takes that step.
At the same time, we’re also aware that many of our friends, brothers, and sisters across the country still are denied this same opportunity, just as we were until this past June, and even in the midst of our celebration and joy we remain mindful of the hard work that remains to be done to bring the freedom to marry to everyone in this country, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity, and whether one lives in a red state or a blue one.
Emma Lazarus famously wrote, in words and sentiment later echoed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” That’s why I volunteer for a group that advocates for the freedom to marry, and why I will continue to do so even now that my own freedom to marry in California has been secured, and even after I have exercised that freedom for myself. It’s why Jeff and I, in lieu of a traditional wedding gift registry, have set up an equality registry to benefit MEUSA and to help fund the ongoing fight to win marriage equality across the nation. It’s the hard work of organizations like MEUSA, AFER, Freedom to Marry, GetEQUAL, and so many others, that trained, encouraged, and enabled Jeff and me – and thousands like us – to be our own fierce advocates for our equality and to fight for our freedom, and that have played such critical roles in making it possible for us finally to marry next week.
It reminds me a little of that famous television commercial catchphrase of the late 1980s, “I’m not just the president of the Hair Club for Men, I’m also a client.” In that vein, I’m not just a Marriage Equality USA volunteer, I’m also a client. And I can endorse it not just in principle, but because it has worked so well for me personally.