by Eric Andrews-Katz -
SGN A&E Writer
December 6, 2012, was a monumental day in Washington state history. It was the first day that LGBT couples could legally apply for, and obtain, a marriage license. By 10 a.m., lines had reached several hours' wait. A river of beaming faces waited in line for their licenses that would enable them to commit, within the next 60 days, holy (or unholy) matrimony. That's how the pictures looked, anyway - I wasn't there. While we were thrilled about the new law, my partner of 13 years and I decided to sleep in.
'When are you guys getting married?' This question came as quite a surprise to us. We've already been married - three times. Among our circle of friends one would be hard-pressed to find another couple that is as thoroughly married as we are. Our relationship has outlasted all the heterosexual marriages of our generation in both our families, and 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 provisions for in case of our untimely deaths. We have a conjoined bank account and a jointly-agreed-upon TV schedule for the DVR. Really, what else is left to do except get legally married in Washington - and make the cats legitimate instead of furry bastards of shame?
Our first wedding was called a 'commitment ceremony' because of the controlled heterosexual possession of the word 'marriage.' After we had been together three years, Alan got down on one knee and proposed, making us officially 'enGayged.' Since Gay weddings were a relatively new concept in 2003 (to most of our friends as well as 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. In front of more than 95 of our closest friend and family members we said our vows, pledging our love and devotion. It's the day we consider to be our official anniversary, and I regard it, thus far, as the best day of my life. While we were semi-traditional in almost every part of the ceremony, Alan and I privately agreed on certain rules - paramount among them my insistence that 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 a real marriage, in the sense that it was legally recognized - at least by the Canadian government and by those countries that recognize Canadian same-sex marriages (the U.S., sadly, is not one of them). On the fourth anniversary of our meeting, six months to the day after our commitment ceremony, we got in the car with our two 'best men' and drove to Vancouver, B.C., where we stood before a marriage broker, said the updated vows we wrote, and were pronounced Husband and Husband.
They say that a piece of paper doesn't make a difference in relationships. 'They' are wrong about this. There is something about that certificate that creates a new sensation, a new feeling, 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 couples in Canada can say they've experienced. And if you're not among them, then you just don't get it.
In 2007 Washington passed the 'Everything But Marriage' law that recognized LGBT couples as 'domestic partners' and gave us most of the same rights as our heterosexual counterparts. I couldn't help but think of Ben Franklin's saying: Giving someone a title without all the attendant 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' on the other. I don't relish being counted among a group titled 'Everything But.' It just doesn't sound right, especially 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 weekend.' Within minutes we were on our way 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. 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,' we were told.
An official registration card? This must be one of the unequal rights covered under 'Everything But.' I've never heard of a heterosexual marriage registration card. And of course those rights can be denied depending on the state we are in at the time. Does a bar-code tattoo on my neck come next? Or a sub-dermal chip, so that a governmental GPS can keep track of us? 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.
FINALLY, THE REAL THING
Then came Election Night 2012. President Obama was re-elected, and both Gay marriage and marijuana became legal in Washington state. (These two things may or may not be related.) 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?' They're divorced now.
All registered Domestic Partnerships will convert to marriages in 2014 unless another marriage was performed by the state. After viewing the week-long lines at the courthouse, my heart was full of joy and I finally succumbed. This time it was different: I proposed to Alan, via Facebook. He 'liked' it, which I took as a yes.
We decided that we didn't need a fourth date to remember, so we planned to consolidate as many events as possible on one date. It's amazing that the Gay community is the only one that plans a wedding for their anniversary. We will be celebrating 13 years of being together, 9.5 years of our American ceremony, nine years of our Canadian marriage, 7.5 years of being (now obsolete) domestic partners, and the beginning of our state-recognized marriage - all on the same day. Priceless.
Since the demand for marriage licenses has increased so much, the Seattle courthouse has moved registration to a lower office. One has to navigate a maze of descending hallways 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 we proved that we hadn't been legally married before (the previous ceremonies didn't count), we paid the registration fee and were told we had 60 days until the certificate expired. 'Good luck,' we were told, and we were on our way.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
It was a lot more casual this time. 'To our friends/family: We are getting married again,' we wrote on Facebook. 'It's going to be on Monday afternoon at 5 p.m., 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 my favorite comment appeared: 'Thank God! Now we can stop referring to you as the 'slutty man-whores' around the dinner table to the kids!' 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? Haven't three separate ceremonies shown that commitment and devotion already? Not that I want to tempt fate, but I can't foresee either of us packing up and leaving for any conceivable reason. 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 not to come in during the middle of your series and ask you to explain the entire season during commercial break.'
'I promise not to mock you when you play Angry Birds on your iPhone while we're talking.'
'I promise to pretend I'm listening when you repeat your stories ... again.'
Those are the realities of life, 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 soulmate. 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. That paper carries power. It does make a difference. And I am grateful that my state recognizes me as being equal.
I look forward to renewing my vows and committing for at least another 13 years, with yet another option to renew. 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.
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