Why the word 'marriage' matters
At my wife’s brother’s wedding in July, my wife’s aunt and I talked about our weddings. We compared minor disasters (bad directions to the church, no-show caterers), and she asked what surprised me most. I paused. “The minister’s homily was about the couples she’d been marrying all summer. That most had been together for 20, 30 years, and what we should learn from them. At eight years, we were her shortest-duration couple. That surprised me. Oh, and the crying. We had 20 people at our wedding, and they were sobbing.”
My wife and I were legally married in California in 2008, the summer of marriage equality, after the California Supreme Court ruling that allowed same-sex marriages in May and before Proposition 8 outlawed them again that November. Because of Prop 8’s high-profile journey through the courts, I’m frequently asked about my marital status. Occasionally I still get the awkward, “So, are you and Andrea still together?,” but most people notice the wedding ring and put it something like this: “You got married — that’s great! Wait, is your marriage legal?”
So I was prepared when, at a summer potluck for gay members of our church, the host posed a question: “Why should marriage be the goal? People have such strong opinions about the word ‘marriage.’ Why not fight for full civil unions instead?”
I raised my eyebrows across the table at Jonathan and Mark, together since the 1980s. Mark gave me his “No, you take the last slice of pie” expression. I took a deep breath, and said this:
Marriage matters, because marriage is how society decides whose relationships matter, and whose don’t. No matter what, gay people will fall in love and make homes together, as we always have. Marriage equality is about whether straight people are going to recognize those relationships. It’s how they decide who’s family.
Take my parents. When I visit my small hometown, my mother, without prompting, fills me in on which of my old classmates has gotten married or given birth. No serious boyfriends, no RDPs. Only what matters.
What’s an RDP? It’s a “registered domestic partnership.” We registered that way when we moved to California, by signing and notarizing an application. We got a certificate back by mail. It had all the romance of renewing a vehicle registration. At work, our human resources departments had no idea what an RDP was. Though I told my parents we registered, they didn’t remember. Which means that for years they didn’t know that Andrea was my legal next-of-kin.
Not that they would have told anyone. For eight years, when people asked about me, my mother said I’d gotten my doctorate, was living in Arizona, then California. Who I was with while I was studying, living and moving remained unspecified. My parents love Andrea and made her part of the family, but they lacked the vocabulary and the confidence to describe her to others.
Since I got married, my parents have “come out” to select friends. Not “my daughter is gay” but “My daughter got married [deep breath] to a very nice woman.” Apparently, marriage is something you shouldn’t hide.
In my four years in California, it was illegal to marry the love of my life, then legal for one summer, then illegal again. Now that we’re Maryland residents, we’re in legal limbo. The attorney general says our marriage may be recognized. Does that mean we can we file our state taxes jointly, or hold title on our new house as a married couple? Nobody knows.
Last week, a marriage equality bill was introduced in the Maryland Senate. It would provide my family with the legal clarity and recognition that most married couples take for granted. Will it pass? Will it be challenged by voter referendum? When will we get to be equal?
Last year, after I accepted a job in the Washington area, I flew out to house-hunt with my mom’s help. As we drove down Blair Road, snaking back and forth between the District and Maryland, I watched the GPS switch back and forth. “Look, Ma! I’m married . . . now I’m not . . . Hey, I’m married again!”
She turned in the driver’s seat. “Jane Rebecca, don’t joke about a thing like that. You are married. You had a beautiful wedding. I was there.”
Jane Rigby, Silver Spring
| February 12, 2011; 9:29 PM ET
Categories: HotTopic, Maryland, Montgomery County
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