Better late than never, eh? Seems apropos, given the subject.
Hi, again, internets. Hope you enjoyed NaBloPoFortnight as much as I did. Following the streak-ending snafu on Tuesday, the Bean got an awful cold and refused to even try to sleep except against one or both of us, which didn’t mean much sleep for us at all. I ate Thursday night’s dinner in the dark of his room, to give you some idea, lying on my right side with him on my right arm, my plate balanced on my left hip, lowering bits of omelet into my mouth like an ancient Roman at a La Leche League banquet. Very conceptual and hip.
Things are somewhat better now: though the Bean still flat out refuses to fall asleep except against us, he can at least be transferred once asleep. In a related story, he has now officially climbed out of his bed. He did wait at least eight months longer than I though he would.
Anyway, here, terribly late, are some disjointed thoughts on marriage for that blog carnival I told you all about. Can’t wait to read the rest of the posts.
Sugar and I were legally married in Connecticut, three years ago last Tuesday. It was Friday the 13th, because that was the date our parents could all come. We wore pretty dresses and rode the commuter rail up to Greenwich with them and two friends: through a funny piece of fate, each of us had a lifetime friend living within a few blocks, despite neither of us having grown up here. Sugar’s friend was the little brother of her childhood best friend, the one they’d made walk out on thin ice in the swamp to test its strength and sacrifice his baseball hat to carry home a deer skull from the woods. Mine was my only true babyhood friend, born six months before me to a friend of my mother’s who later took care of us both. Before I was born, my mother held her on her lap. I kicked and she started crying. She’s been getting me back for it since. A friend from the community garden gave us a box for our rings and the most beautiful bouquets, a mix of store bought flowers and a few miniature roses still blooming in our garden in November.
We went to Greenwich because it was the closest place on the train line with a tolerable attractive court house. I had hoped for nice weather and a wedding under a red leafed tree, but the wind blew the rain hard that day, and we settled for the fluorescent gloom of a conference room lined with disapproving portraits of the Village Selectmen of the mid-1950s. The camera seized up from the humidity and refused to focus.
Same sex marriage wasn’t legal in New York yet, but the Governor had declared the state would grant them reciprocity if they were performed in jurisdiction where they were legal. This shouldn’t have been big news. States routinely recognize each other’s marriages, even marriages (such as between close cousins) that are not legally allowed in every state; there is no such thing as federal marriage law in the US, except for the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, including the one specifically giving states the right to refuse to recognize same sex marriages. But under the circumstances it was big news, and it was the best news we thought we were likely to get. We thought we’d better act on the offer before a less friendly governor or a constitutional ban rescinded it.
In 2009, we’d been together for 12 years. It was a little strange that we weren’t married in some sense already. We’d certainly shown any number of other kinds of commitment, including beginning to try to conceive a child together. But we don’t have a faith in common and didn’t especially feel like making our own ceremony, unmoored from a religious or legal framework. It’s a fine thing to do, but it’s not our thing.
So up to Greenwich we went. Our friends met us in at Grand Central, and we got everyone on the train. I spent the ride up sewing a button back on my good coat. We piled into cabs and found our conference room and submitted the paperwork afterwards. We looked at some regrettable art in the hallway. The train ride back to the city was pack with commuters, so some of us stood and the others sat alone. We all had a nice dinner at a Korean restaurant in Park Slope. I got a positive on my ovulation predictor pee stick, but despite the potential romantic story, we did not do an insemination that month. Our parents went home.
I didn’t really expect any of it to change our lives much. It seemed like the thing to do, something we ought to take advantage of, if only to insist to the world that we meant the things we had always said about our relationship to one another. Our parents seemed happy about it, although they would probably have been happier if they hadn’t all been sharing the same vacation rental apartment. But really, we’d been together for 12 years, and this wasn’t a big party with lots of family and friends and all that. This was just for the sake of form.
When it comes to practical matters, the ways our particular marriage — as opposed to just the act of living in a place where gay relationships are generally accepted and sometimes celebrated — has improved our lives is a fairly short list. For the first year, the New York State Revenue Service couldn’t figure out what to do about our taxes, but now that marriage equality is the law here, we save some money by filing jointly. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, there are a whole host of marriage benefits we cannot have, including the right to file joint federal tax returns. Because we are legally married, Sugar’s employer gives her some money to partially offset the imputed income penalty we pay for her to have me on her health insurance, a form of taxes straight couples do not pay. The money doesn’t make up for the whole penalty, but it’s a nice gesture.
The surprising thing, then, was in fact how very different being married does feel from being “married,” as we were for many years. The difference hard to pinpoint or explain, but it is profound. Immediately, I felt more confident in my right to have my relationship respected, more settled in the world, in some fundamental way more real. Alex Ross has recently written a very fine essay for the New Yorker on the history of gay rights advocacy, one that describes with a more dramatic scope of time what I try to explain to discouraged college students now: how incredible the changes feel, how rapid this can seem sometimes, even for someone who is simultaneously impatient for greater change (the end of DOMA, a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act). He says about his own marriage,
When you get married, your relationship is taken more seriously by those around you; when you are also gay, the sense of public affirmation goes strikingly deep. Friends reacted as if we had done something vaguely heroic. I realized, as with coming out, that personal gestures ripple outwards into politics.
On election day, couples in three more states were given the right to find out for themselves how it feels to go from talking about my “partner” and “girlfriend” to saying, with the sense of pride and absolute authority that only the law can give someone like me, this is my wife. Congratulations. I hope it feels as good for you as it does for me.
Forty-one states to go.