About a year ago, last Valentine’s Day to be exact, I surprised my beloved with a ring and a question: “Will you marry me?” He said “yes,” and made me very happy indeed. If you’re wondering why the girl was proposing to the guy, then you didn’t find this essay because I told you where it was. This was even less traditional than that; I’m also a guy, and it’s going to be a “gay marriage.”
To be honest, I spent the first thirty-five years of my life expecting a much more traditional marriage. I’m what’s technically known as “bisexual,” because when I make a list of people I think are “sexy,” it includes both genders. I think Jenneane Garafolo is sexy, but I’m not hot for Uma Thurman. Pierce Brosnan is sexy, but Brad Pitt, no. I’m not excited by Tom Cruise, but ooo Mama! for Johnny Depp. Marilyn Monroe? I’ll pass; give me Raquel Welch instead. (She’s still got it! Wow!) If I had to generalize, then I think boys are cuter on the whole, but girls more fun to actually hang out with.
And, since there are way more women seeking men then men seeking men, I figured when I finally, at long last, fell in love, it’d be with a woman. I even told myself, “Self, you shouldn’t turn your back on true love if it happens to be with another man, but if you’re gonna look, look for a woman. It’s way less complicated, for one thing. And the odds are a lot better.”
Well, it didn’t work out that way. I fell in love, and had somebody fall back, and we were both on the same side of the fence. I fell hard; it only took about a week before I started acting goofy. Nevertheless, I waited eight months before popping the question, and then we set the marriage date more than a year beyond that. Having ridiculed others for getting married three weeks after they met, my sweetie and I agreed that it’d be stupid to not wait around and make sure it seemed like it was going to take.
Well, it took. (By the way, I proposed to him because (a) I’d been looking forward to proposing for years and years because it has such wonderful romantic potential, and (b) because he’d already had his chance with a previous marriage.) I slipped a ring on his finger, then we went out and shopped for an engagement ring for me.
You’ve been most patient. We’re getting to the point of this essay now. Once I started introducing “my fianceé,” people tended to say either “Oh, are you going to Toronto/Vermont/Hawai’i?” or “How are you going to do that? You can’t get married in Washington.”
I found this hilarious. Even Time magazine’s article “The Battle Over Gay Marriage” has the statement “Gays can marry in Massachussets come May.” But I’m pretty sure that people were getting married in this corner of the country even when it was just known as “Oregon Territory.” They didn’t need a county courthouse. Heck, people have been getting married before 1776, or 1076, or even 76!
Although there are plenty of Congresspersons who seem to imagine otherwise, the simple reality is that the government does not, and has never had, any authority to tell me that I am or am not married. All it can do is choose to recognize the fact. I will get married this summer because God, my minister, my fianceé, my family, and my friends are all coming to see it happen. I’m not planning on inviting governor Gary Locke, or any other government official for that matter. Nobody else does, and I’m planning on having a pretty traditional wedding.
Let me just underline this point, since it has been entirely absent from all the brouhaha I’ve seen in the media: marriage doesn’t come from a county courthouse. It comes from God. It comes from your family, and from your community. It comes from your heart. If the legal recognition of marriage were truly important, then everybody would put on tuxedos and head down to the auditorium at City Hall, and spend an hour signing the license with a giant ostrich plume pen; nobody would really care when you dropped by the church to get their minister to bless the certificate or whatever.
If a couple gets their marriage license on June 13th, but all the relatives show up on the 15th to see the bride and groom in the church and eat cake and dance afterwards, which date do you think the couple will use as their anniversary?
Ironically, thirteen states and the District of Columbia recognize “common law” marriages. In a nutshell, if you “act” married, you can potentially get legal recognition of that fact even if you didn’t do the paperwork. If you use the same last name, file joint tax returns, introduce each other as ‘husband’ and ‘wife,’ and generally carry on as a married couple, then a lack of a licence doesn’t necessarily mean are you aren’t legally married. As long as all genders are fairly represented, of course.
I have some straight friends who didn’t bother filing for a legal marriage until they’d been together eight years. They finally did because it was going to be more convenient to handle certain legalities that way. They never did have a wedding with flowers and rice and a photographer, and they still use their own last names, but long before they got their license, their friends would tell you “Yea, they’re married. I mean, I don’t think they are legally, but they might as well be.”
The only useful purpose to informing the state that you’re married is to trigger a bunch of laws that automatically change who’s in charge of what. That’s pretty much all it’s good for, which is why we’re not going to Toronto or San Francisco or Vermont or Massachussets. I really couldn’t care less if “The Government” knows or admits that I’ll be married this summer. I’m just irritated because we have to write out specific wills instead of having it default to one another; we have to register Durable Power of Attorney instead of having de facto authority over each others’ well being; we have to sign documents with each others’ doctors to be allowed access to each others’ medical records; in short, we’re going to have to waste hours and hours of time piecing together the rights we recognize are important for our life together, because the state refuses to admit that we are, in fact, married.
It also illustrates how pitiable organizations like Focus on the Family, Campaign for California Families, and Concerned Women for America are. I don’t need their approval to get married, either, nor will their disapproval stop us. What they can do is encourage our government to continue to deny us the “1,049 benefits and protections afforded to [recognized, licensed] married couples by federal statute.” (Time, Feb. 16, 2004) Now, exactly how playing “dog in a manger” benefits them isn’t at all clear to me, but that seems to be their shtick. It’s sad, but I have more important things to do with my life than worry about their emotional hang-ups.
Ironically, James Dobson, the leader of Focus on the Family, has said “we will never support legislation aimed at depriving [gays] of their basic constitutional rights.” He also says that it’s his firm belief that “sex outside of marriage is not permitted for [Christians.]” So far so good, except for that FotF press release that says “We must amend the Constitution if we are to stop a tyrannical judiciary from redefining marriage to the point of extinction.” Extinction? Huh?
President Bush pledged to “support law to protect marriage between a man and a woman.” Sounds good to me; I absolutely support the right of men and women to get married to each other. How else will I get nieces and nephews to spoil? I am hoping that he’ll explain his apparent belief that same-sex marriage is going to somehow mysteriously endanger different-sex marriage. Maybe he thinks that once we have marriages where both members are from Mars, those Mars/Venus pairups are going to look like a bad idea?
OK, whatever. I’m amused by all the gays and lesbians who think they can’t get married because City Hall says so, and I’m simply mystified by the anti-equal-rights forces’ desperate zeal coupled to illogical, incoherent justifications. It all seems to me to be so very unrelated to actually getting married. After all, I popped the question four months before the Canadian ruling, way back when there was no sign at all of getting legal recognition for the union, but I still said “Will you marry me?”
See, I know what getting married looks like. I’ve seen it in person many times. There’s singing, and a minister, and flowers, and bridesmaids complaining that they’ll never have any place else to wear This Dress, and a ring, and a couple of “I wills” (and how come it’s never “I do,” anyway?), and a lot of cake with sugar frosting. I’m pretty sure there’s no law that says we can’t rent a church, wear tuxedos, invite our friends and family, exchange rings, say “I will” at the appropriate time, have a minister pronounce us husband and husband, serve cake, and drive away in a car with cans and shoes tied to the bumper. That’s what getting married’s all about, and I’m getting married this summer.
—Dave Howell, February 2004
P. S. And we did.