December 06th, 2012 was a monumental day in history for Washington State. It was the first day that GLBT couples could legally apply (and obtain) a marriage license. The lines at Seattle’s courthouse formed early and by Noon had reached several hours’ wait. But no one minded. Not the media recording the event, nor the well-wishers that came to witness their friends’ nuptials. A river of beaming faces waited in line for their licenses to commit within the next 60 days, holy (or unholy) matrimony. Or so that’s how the pictures looked. I wasn’t there. While we were thrilled about the law changing (by an incredibly close margin!) my partner of almost 13 years and I decided to sleep in.
The bombardment came the next day. “When are you guys getting married?” This question came as quite a surprise to us. We’ve been married. We’ve been married three times over. Among our circle of friends it would be hard pressed to find another couple that is as married as we are, for as long as we’ve been together. Our relationship has outlasted all heterosexual marriages of our generation in either family; in most cases, several of them combined. Our surnames have been legally changed. We have a mortgage together. Our living testaments are secured, and we’ve adopted two cats that we’ve made previsions for in case of our untimely deaths. We have our conjoined bank accounts, and a set TV schedule for the DVR. Really, what else is left to do? I guess now we have the obligation to make them legally legitimate cats instead of being furry bastards of shame.
Our first wedding was called a “Commitment Ceremony” because of the tightly held heterosexual possession of the word marriage. After three years of being together Alan got down on one knee and proposed, making us officially ‘enGAYed’. Since gay weddings were a relatively new concept in 2003 (to most of our friends and definitely to our families) we were spared the stereotypical deluge of advice on how to do everything, and we were able to have our day the way we wanted. It was catered, a DJ was present, and in front of over 95 of our closest family and friends, we said our vows pledging love and devotion. It’s the day we consider to be our official anniversary and thus far, is the best day of my life. While we were semi-traditional in almost every part of the ceremony, privately my partner Alan and I agreed on the rules: I don’t believe in divorce – I believe in widowhood. After all, traditional marriage values should always be upheld even in an illegal commitment ceremony.
Our next wedding was exciting for us. It was a real marriage in the sense that it was legally recognized; at least by the Canadian government and any other country recognizing Canadian laws; except of course for our own. On the 4th anniversary of our meeting, which happens to be six months to the day after our Commitment Ceremony, we got in the car with our two ‘best men’ and drove to Vancouver, BC. We stood before a Marriage Broker, said the updated vows we wrote, and were pronounced Husband and Husband by the great country of Canada.
They say that a piece of paper doesn’t make a difference in relationships. They are wrong. There is something about it that creates a new feeling, a new way of looking at your relationship, and a new definition of commitment. Seeing that tiny set of red numbers listing my marriage certificate among the millions of others; the bold letter-heading that undeniably states Certificate of Marriage, and the signature of the Chief Executive Officer of the Vital Statistic Agency, somehow gives me a completely different sense of pride every time I see it framed on our wall. It’s the kind of pride that only 67,348,152 previous heterosexual/homosexual couples in Vancouver can say they’ve experienced. And if you’re not among the list, then you just don’t get it.
They say the third time is the charm, but for me it was the least significant. In 2007 Washington State passed the “Everything But Marriage” law that gave GLBT couples the title (without using the word marriage) and with (most of) the same rights as our heterosexual counterparts. I couldn’t help but think of Ben Franklin’s saying: Giving the title without all the rights is “like calling an ox a bull. He’s thankful for the honor, but he’d much rather have restored what’s rightfully his”. I had visions of segregated bathroom signs with “Married” written on one, and “Everything But” written on the other. I don’t relish being counted among a group titled, “Everything But”. It just doesn’t sound right for a gay male relationship.
I came home from work that night expecting to have dinner with my partner (now of seven years) and two of our friends. When I walked through the door they turned as one – like children of the corn – with wide eyes and grinning smiles. “Hey Honey,” Alan enthusiastically said. “Let’s go get Domestic Partnered! Right now! They’ll do the paperwork, register it with the county, and waive all fees if we do it before the week-end.” And within minutes we were driving down to City Hall. We sat before an official. He checked our identification and presented the paper for us to sign. That was it. No bells. No whistles. No stepping on a wine glass. I’ve now married Alan three times. Three times to the same person! That should attest to something! Remember, Liz only married Dick twice (insert obvious joke here).
“You’ll get your official Domestic Partner registration cards in the mail within a month.”
An official registration card? This must be one of the non-equal rights covered under “Everything But”. I’ve never heard of a Heterosexual marriage registration card. Would they have to show it to gain access to their partner’s hospital room, as I am allegedly required to do? And of course those rights can be denied depending on in which state any given situation may happen. Does the bar code tattoo on my neck come next, or a simple chip inserted so that a governmental GPS can keep track of my relationship? Oh my God! This means I’m an official card-carrying homosexual! But at least now I’m one in a semi-legally recognized, committed relationship – but only in a few other states outside Washington. I look forward to using all of the membership privileges the cards entitle me, but only in the assigned states that uphold its validity. With all the limits and restrictions, it’s beginning to remind me of the Discover card; it’s nice to have but in all honesty, what good is it?
One thing did change after this wedding. It was a subtle change and I can’t say that I was really aware of it happening for several weeks. The word “husband” was creeping into my vocabulary more frequently as a title for Alan. I found myself saying it more frequently with ease than to just make a political point of reference. It’s comforting. While I alternate between ‘husband’ and ‘partner’, they have become interchangeable for me to say. More surprising is the reaction I get when I say it; most don’t blink an eye, not even the straight people.
Then came the results of election night 2012. Obama was reelected President, and both gay marriage and marijuana became legal in Washington state. Maybe they’re not related. I’m just saying maybe it’s not a coincidence either. My cousin called to say, “Congratulations! Now you gay guys can suffer through marriage with the rest of us! Heh Heh!” My reply was simple: “Doesn’t that say a lot about you and your wife!” Not so surprising they’re now divorced.
All registered Domestic Partnerships will convert to marriage in 2014 unless another marriage is performed by the state. After viewing the weeklong lines at the courthouse, my heart was full of joy and I finally succumbed. This time it was different; I proposed to Alan. I sent him an electronic proposal on Facebook. He ‘liked’ it, so I guess it was a yes.
Neither of us could say when the third marriage, our Domestic Partnership happened without checking our cards, or putting the barcode reader to our necks. We decided that we didn’t need a fourth date to remember; and so planned to consolidate as many events on one date. We will be celebrating 13 years of being together, 9.5 years of our American Ceremony, 9 Years of our Canadian Marriage, and the beginning of our Washington State recognized Marriage – all on the same day. Priceless.
Since the demand for marriage licenses increased so much, the Seattle courthouse moved the registration to a lower office. One has to move through a maze of descending hallways in order to get there. After the third one, I turned to Alan and whispered, “If I see shower heads at the end of this, I’m outta here!” My fears were ill founded and we entered the office. Once proven that we hadn’t married before (the previous ceremonies didn’t count? Does that mean I can get my money back?), we paid the registration fee and were told we had 60 days until the certificate expired. “Good luck,” and we were on our way.
Instead of sending our announcements, we put up a notice on Facebook. “To our friends/family. We are getting married again. It’s going to be on Monday afternoon at 5 PM, at the Shoreline courthouse. All wanting to attend are welcome. We’re going out for Thai food after.”
The comments began to appear almost immediately. The first one said: “That’s funny. I already think of you guys as being married.” The next was, “Does this mean we have to get you another gift?” The third said, “Congratulations…Again!” And so they alternated until one comment appeared further down the feed: “Thank God! Now we can stop referring to you as the Slutty Man Whores around the dinner table to the kids!” I sent a note saying that although not expected, nightshirts that actually say “Slutty Man Whore” would make for another reason to smile when climbing into bed at night.
How do you write vows for a relationship that you’ve been involved in for over 13 years? Do we really need to vocalize yet again our love and devotion for one another? Hasn’t three separate ceremonies shown that already? Not that I want to tempt fate, but I can’t foresee either of us packing up and leaving for any reasons. Our vows should reflect on the importance of our relationship now, the true and realistic devotional pledges.
“I promise to let you watch The Walking Dead in quiet.”
“I promise to pretend I’m listening with a smile when you repeat the same story for the 30th time.”
“I promise not to mock you when you play Angry Birds on your iPhone while we’re talking.”
“I promise to pretend to believe you when you blame the cat for that mysterious smell.”
Those are the realities of life. Those are the promises worth keeping, and they are all bound to bite me in the ass sometime in the future. But if anyone can overlook them for such an extended period of time, that’s the definition of a soul mate. And if it finally takes a piece of paper signed by the glorious state of Washington to provide an undisclosed sense of security or legitimacy, then so be it. The paper carries power. It does make the difference. It was worth the wait and all three previous ceremonies to finally get my state’s legal recognition.
I look forward to renewing my vows and committing for at least another 13 years, hopefully many more. Maybe then it’ll be recognized on a federal level and we’ll have to plan wedding number five.
I wonder if I’ll cry.