The state of your unions

Salon readers react to the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision and share their dreams of walking down the aisle with their same-sex partners.


Salon Staff
November 19, 2003 11:44PM (UTC)

The first time I saw her, I was smitten. And convinced that she was way too cool to even notice the likes of me. At the time, we were both in the death throes of troubled relationships, but when she was around I was happy and nervous and even managed to be articulate enough to attract her attention. I wooed her via e-mail. We were married on July 5, 2003, after four years together.

Marriage for us is different from marriage for most people. Growing up as lesbians, it was just not on the table. As a young activist, I participated in marriage actions at City Hall, asking and being turned down for a marriage license. I thought maybe it would happen in my lifetime ... toward the end. I remember the excitement when it looked like Hawaii was heading toward legalizing same-sex marriage, and I remember the frustration afterward when my straight pals would ask, "Well, can't you marry somewhere -- like Hawaii?" and I'd have to explain that no, Hawaii had amended its constitution to avoid allowing equal marriage rights to gays and lesbians. Then Vermont was compelled to offer equal rights to its queers -- and predictably copped out with "domestic partnership." No, I wasn't surprised, and yes, it is a step in the right direction. But that doesn't mean I would participate in such an insult -- such a "Your water fountain is over there, dyke, but don't make me watch you drink from it" kind of slap in the face.

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And then on June 10, 2003, Ontario did it. Yes, the Netherlands did it first, and then Belgium, and Germany is thinking about doing it. But the highest court of the province of Ontario, Canada, legalized same-sex marriage, effective immediately. Unlike the European nations, Canada has no residency requirement for marriage.

Suddenly, marriage -- actual, legal, full-fledged marriage, just like dear old mom and dad -- was an option.

Despite the heady infatuation that marked the beginning of our relationship, I was certain that it would fail. All of my previous relationships had ended, after all-- it was the one thing about them that was constant.

But somewhere along the line, about the time we bought the house, I guess, I started to believe again -- perhaps foolishly, definitely tentatively -- in forever. Maybe because a major financial undertaking binds you together. Maybe because we'd both made so many mistakes in the past and had actually learned how to do some things right this time. Maybe because this gangly, dark-haired smarty-pants who plays the bass with loving precision and smirks happily at my silliness is just right for me. I don't want to imagine what life would be like without her, I miss her terribly when she's away, the anticipation of seeing her is wonderful, and the fun and comfort we have together is unparalleled in my experience. I am happy. We are in love.

Our wedding day in Canada was incredible. All those years, I'd told myself that marriage was no big deal -- just a ceremony and a piece of paper, after all. But it is a big deal. It took me completely by surprise. Pledging our commitment to each other in front of our families was transformative. I'd underestimated the power of theater, I guess. I didn't think it was possible to be more committed to each other, more in love, happier -- but we are. I feel so incredibly privileged to have been able to marry this woman. Which is a very good thing, as Canada does have residency requirements for divorce -- meaning that unless one of us wants to live in Toronto for a year, we're stuck with each other.

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There are a few depressing problems: The United States, the land that we love, declines to recognize our union. And they call denying us the rights, privileges and obligations that other married couples enjoy "defending marriage." Somehow, our participating in mainstream culture is a threat to all the nice mixed-sex marriages out there. So much of a threat that there's talk of amending the U.S. Constitution to outlaw our marriage as well as domestic partnership. This would be the first constitutional amendment that denies rights, rather than grants them. Even the gay-friendlier Democratic candidates for president are squeamish about my marriage: Dean is the guy who copped out in Vermont; Gephardt, who has a lesbian daughter, does not support marriage rights for gays and lesbians; only Carol Moseley Braun advocates full marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Just now, my legally wedded wife called me -- she'd heard on the radio that the Massachusetts court had ruled that denying marriage to gays and lesbians is unconstitutional. Yay! But of course, instead of granting the right to a marriage license, as Ontario did, they chose to follow Vermont's example and give the state six months to work something out. Sigh.

-- Tamara Fraser

Although I am a product of a failed marriage, I do not reject the institution at all. I believe that marriage can and does work when people enter into it with enough self-knowledge and willingness to communicate. In fact, I look forward to the time when I will be established and confident enough in my own identity to be open to the possibility of sharing my life with another person.

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It's up to fate, demographics, and Congress, however, whether or not I'll be able to marry whomever I choose.

Sometimes I fall in love with men. I bat my eyelashes, flirt, date them, hold their hands in public, bring them home to meet my family. Occasionally I allow myself to picture the future: the fancy apartment in New York or Cambridge and the brilliant yet unpretentious children (who, I'll admit, already have names). Being in love with a man is light and uncomplicated.

And sometimes I fall in love with women. I bat my eyelashes, flirt, date them, hold their hands in public, bring them home to meet my family. I picture the future (apartment, kids, etc.) and feel really great. Except, of course, for the crucial difference in any future I might picture with a woman: Unless I find me a Dutch girl and move to Amsterdam, legal marriage will probably not be an option. I try not to let that fact interfere with my fantasy. But when I really think about it, the difference is huge.

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Despite my stubborn attempt at "all things being equal" formulations, I realize that my life will be not be totally easy if I settle down with a woman instead of a man. Homophobia will probably inhibit my extended family's ability to deal with the situation. (Voice in head: "So no crockpot from my great-aunt and uncle. Big deal.") It will probably limit the number of cities in which I feel comfortable raising a family. ("I wouldn't want to live in some ultra-conservative dump anyway.") It will probably mean that I have to explain myself more often, that even my liberal friends will experience some cognitive dissonance when I refer to somebody as my wife. ("Who cares? I'll educate a few more people that way.") It's easy for me to downplay the importance of some crucial social differences. The legal ones, however, are much more difficult to brush aside.

What if my future partner and I have trouble buying a home together? What if one of us has a terrible accident and the hospital has a policy of only letting a family member visit patients in intensive care? What if we want to adopt with equal parental rights, or adopt each other's biological children? If I fall head over heels in love with a man, I get to spend my time picking out a dress instead of hiring a lawyer to figure out how to link our finances or file the necessary paperwork to begin a family.

Bisexuality is the case study that illustrates just how arbitrary, unequal, and farcically hypocritical the ban on gay marriage is. In this country, I am free to go out, hold hands, and have sex (even anal sex -- thank you, Rehnquist court!) with any consenting adult I want. But I can't get married to a woman. If I spend two decades dating only women and happen to fall in love with a man at age 40, we can walk down the aisle whenever we choose. If I marry a man who dies right after we have a kid, and then I find love again with a woman, she cannot become a legal parent to my biological child. I can envision a million trajectories for myself in this universe, and the limitations placed on my legal rights and freedoms depend on a factor that is totally irrelevant to me in terms of my intimate relationships.

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For me, the likelihood of marriage is pretty much a coin toss. I don't know what will happen or if I'll ever even want to get married at all. Still, when I look into the future, I don't like to see barriers. I hope that, when I'm ready to make such a huge decision, American society will legally recognize my right to marry the person I want to marry.

-- Erin Judge

When I was 23 years old, I fell in love with a wonderful woman in my office. We followed the usual courtship rituals -- friendship, dating, exclusivity-- but unlike my friends, when the time came to make a serious commitment to this person, this woman with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life, I found myself unable to do so. Although we moved in together the year after we met, our union has never been legally recognized. There has been no engagement, no ring, no wedding, and hence, no "official" start date to our partnership, only a whispered agreement between two people and an acknowledgement of Dec. 5, the day of our first kiss, as our anniversary. It is the personal yardstick with which we measure the years.

When there is no wedding, there is no formal announcement of a couple's commitment to each other. There is no meeting of old friends, no toasts, no well-wishes or sage advice from those who have gone before. While the pomp and circumstance that traditionally announces the beginning of a lifetime commitment is lacking in our relationship, the paperwork that accompanies a domestic partnership is not: living-together agreements, living revocable trusts, and medical and financial safeguards are our own (decidedly unromantic) way of telling the world that I am hers and she is mine and that we are responsible for each other. Yet, none of these printed forms come close to providing the stability and protection that a marriage certificate affords. What I wouldn't give to be forever bound to my sweetheart, to be recognized as her spouse, as the person she has chosen to be married to for the rest of her life.

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After six years together, we still enjoy each other's company. We look forward to coming home after a long day at work and cooking dinner, feeding the cats, paying the bills, and snuggling together. I can't imagine not running my fingers through her beautiful thick hair, or kissing the top of her head when I pass by her on the sofa. My life would be that much emptier without her, and I won't give her up even though many see us only as biological abominations and not as the loving, funny, and very ordinary people we are.

As I sit here and contemplate the state of my union, I want to smile and cry. Smile, because I'm with a wonderful woman who loves me and to whom I am entirely committed; and cry, because there is a part of me that craves social acceptance and that wants the legal recognition provided by both a "real" marriage and a change in anti-discrimination laws. Everything I want is so mundane it seems ridiculous -- to take her to the company Christmas party without fear of being fired (coming out at work is not an option), to file our taxes jointly, to have her on my hea lth insurance plan, to sign this letter with my full name without shame or apology or fear of recrimination.

Sitting here at my computer, I can see my partner busily working away in the next room, unaware that I have condensed six years of our life into a short essay for public consumption. When she reads this, I want her to know that I love her and that even though I shed tears over the unfairness of our situation, no public sentiment, or anti-gay law, or vitriolic denouncement of homosexuality will change how I feel about her. This is the state of our union.

-- Victoria

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We want to make you a part of this series. What is the state of your union? Did you find the one and never look back, or has finding lasting love been a marathon of trial and error? Did you have a fairy-tale wedding only to watch things crumble once the reception was over, or have you glided along in marital bliss since Day One? We want to hear your stories of joy, romance, heartbreak and pain. After all, partnership, as we all know, is a complex concoction of all of those things. (Please remember: Any writing submitted becomes the property of Salon if we publish it. We reserve the right to edit submissions, and cannot reply to every writer. Interested contributors should send their stories to marriage@salon.com.)


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