Tuesday, February 13, 2007

On marriage

It’s Freedom to Marry Week, Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and my double anniversary* is coming up. I could run through a list of the reasons why this issue is so important to me, but I will point you towards Freedom to Marry’s pages that present arguments for allowing same-sex marriage and a short list of the rights and responsibilities that are unavailable or difficult to obtain for families headed by a same-sex couple. I suspect that for many of my readers, there is no need to attempt convincing.

So instead, I wanted to reminisce a little about the role that the idea of ‘marriage’ has played in our relationship. Humor me while I wax nostalgic.

When I first came out (mumble, mumble) years ago, I generally accepted that I would not ever get married and that I and any partner I might have would need to define our commitment for ourselves. Once Trillian and I were together long enough to be talking seriously about our future, we found that we were in agreement. Even as we settled in for the long-term, we also made a vow that we would not have a commitment ceremony or anything similar unless it created legal recognition of our relationship. Part of our reasoning was that we and our friends and family already recognized that we had created a life together, making a ceremony-for-the-sake-of-ceremony unnecessary. Our other reason was a little more practical—we both are of the small celebration mindset, and we knew that it would be impossible to keep things small if Trillian’s mother had any say. At the time, we both felt confident we would never have a need to revisit the issue.

When we bought a house, we looked in a geographic area that straddled a few different jurisdictions. Due to differences in laws towards gays and lesbians, we eliminated a large number of neighborhoods we liked because it would be harder to protect our relationship there. Our house was in an area where we had more government recognition of our relationship (not a lot, but not invisibility) and where we could pursue a second-parent adoption once we had children. My job had domestic partner benefits, and Trillian was listed in the faculty directory on the spouse line with my information.

As part of the second-parent adoption process, we had to complete a significant amount of estate planning and so ended up with many of the documents that aim to insure that same-sex partners have legal rights and responsibilities approaching those of a married couple. It was not particularly fun to sit down and think about the various death scenarios our lawyer gave us, but it means we have a document that spells out our wishes so that we don’t have to rely on the court’s interpretation of our (non-)relationship.

During all of this, same-sex marriage began to look like less and less of an impossibility. Hawaii had been a bit of a dead-end in 1999. But then had come Vermont. And while civil unions were not exactly marriage, there was a sense that it would come. But Trillian and I continued to hold it. It still was not marriage. And it would have no legal standing outside the state of Vermont.

And the more that a legally-recognized marriage became a possibility, the more it was debated and analyzed, the more I began to realize just how much I wanted it. The immediate reason was the inherent protection it would give to any children we had, but there was an undeniably sentimental aspect to it as well. When Massachusetts began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, Trillian and I began to plan and push at the strict limits of our old vow. Although it would not necessarily transfer to where we lived at the time, we would eventually move to Massachusetts. So why not go ahead and get the paper? But before we could plan our trip, the attorney general announced that marriage licenses should not be issued to out-of-state couples. We held off.

When we decided to move to Canada after the horrific rhetoric of W’s second presidential campaign, our marriage plans shifted north too. I applied only to those schools with programs in my field that were located in provinces that already allowed same-sex marriage—the irony being that it was extended countrywide the summer before I started classes. Taking an extended weekend that included our anniversary, we visited Toronto and my first choice program; we also eloped. Having told none of our friends or family members, we had friends-of-friends as our two witnesses at our short, non-religious ceremony in City Hall. Since all of the adults in the room had a role to play, Scooter ran around the room.

Although I have finally become comfortable calling Trillian my ‘wife’ instead of ‘partner,’ I remain aware of the ambiguity of our status. In Canada, we are recognized as legally married, no limitations or qualifications; ironically, the status does not seem to be much different than if we simply claimed the common-law status to which we’d be entitled. In the United States, however, we are married only in the state of Massachusetts. Everywhere else, we go back to needing our powers-of-attorney and other documents, something I find I resent more than I did before. Our commitment is no less solid in such places, yet I am aware that our status changes simply by crossing an invisible line.

I am hopeful that those lines will continue to be erased and look forward to the day when I can check off the ‘married’ box without hesitating to think about my present jurisdiction.

*Trillian and I celebrate a double anniversary during the month of February. More than a decade ago (and increasing faster than I can quite believe), we began our relationship. Two years ago, on the same day, we were married in Canada.


Mad Hatter said...

Happy looming anniversary and happy Valentine's Day. I'm off to paste a link to this post into my Feb Just Post list.

metro mama said...

I'm hopeful we will see that day.

Happy anniversary!

cinnamon gurl said...

Thanks for sharing this. Although I have always thought same-sex marriage rights were a good idea, I'm ashamed to say I'd never actually thought much about why, or the challenges people face without such rights.

Happy Anniversary! (My huz and I have the same kind of double anniversary in August.)

Mouse said...

Thanks, everyone! We're having a nice dinner out tomorrow (before our actual anniversary) and then headed to the in-laws for a visit. My mother-in-law has promised a chocolate cake in celebration.

One of the funny things is that I'm usually in a state of equilibrium concerning the way things are--my everyday family life works as it is. But then I come upon some reason to think about things and the situation slaps my in the face again.

Lisa b said...

I love the "double anniversary".
Reading your experiences always makes me simultaneously delighted in your triumphs to ensure your rights as a married couple and appalled that you are forced to do so.
Happy Anniversary to you both.

jen said...

this is lovely and hard won. happy anniversary (albeit a bit belated)

Mimi said...

Happy anniversary! I'm here from Mad's Just Posts lists. I'll be back ...

Laurie said...

My son is gay and I continue to hope that some day he will be able to marry in the states.

Congratulations on your double anniversary (a bit late) and also your splendid Just Post.

Amber said...

I didn't know Canada allowed gay marriage. That is something I hope California will do as well. I bet it will, sooner or later.

Hope you had a happy anniversary. :)

(Came from the Just Posts)