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By Abby Dees
It’s my wedding anniversary today and I’m 6000 miles away from my partner, sitting in an English cafe. Being all alone and so far away is making me especially wistful about these last three years since we were legally married in California.
I had to be cajoled into getting married. Not the commitment and love thing – I was clear on that – I balked at marriage itself. First, I had to tease out my motivations: was it the universal human urge to engage in an ancient rite or was it the sudden excitement around this new opportunity? Even though we got “equal” marriage rights in California, it was still so different for us.
Most straight people will never know what it’s like to have spent their lives being excluded from full marriage, then to have that change instantly one day – and then to learn within days that marriage might be snatched away again if you don’t marry before election day. Oh, this was definitely not like traditional marriage.
The other issue I faced was whether I even supported this institution to begin with. Unlike my partner, who is a old-fashioned Midwestern gal, I grew up a counterculture hippy child in L.A. – very Birkenstocks and rainbow toe socks. Even before I knew I was a lesbian, the idea of a virginal white dress and a ken doll husband at the alter made no conceptual sense. My childhood fantasy husband was a fellow Peace Corps doctor, sharing a tent with me in Africa while we saved the world together. Later, when I became a politically minded lesbian, I most definitely couldn’t get behind any ritual that involved someone being given away. Ick.
But fantasy always cedes to reality, and the universe must have had a good chuckle as I tried to explain all this to my common-sensical girlfriend. To her, marriage was marriage. If you don’t want the white dress, don’t wear one. Do you want to get married or not?
In a nice turn, my old politics helped me say yes in the end. I decided that my marriage would not be dictated by anyone else’s history or tradition. We would, by our very choice to marry, make it our own. It meant – of course as it should mean for anyone – that I wanted to declare Traci as my family. I also knew that marriage meant something to her that no amount of political lip-flapping from me would change. That probably should have been enough for me, but I’m pig-headed this way.
We married just before the November election, which then put the whole thing in limbo, and my attitudes shifted almost instantly about this complicated institution. When I finally said “I do,” I was in – fully and deeply. I was now ready to beat up anyone who was going to take my marriage away and leave us the decidedly less resonant “domestic partnership” as a consolation prize. I really did have the feeling that in marrying the woman I loved, and despite myself, I’d fallen into a fundamentally human state, one that far precedes the bizarre economic aspects of marriage, or all those questionable gender ideas it’s been laden with along the way.
So what does marriage really mean versus domestic partnership? In California there is almost no difference under the law (other places are different). Then it just comes down to a name, I’m told – which is what the other side has argued in court repeatedly, as if to say, “What are you complaining about? You’ve got it all except for the silly issue of a name.” My response to the anti-same-sex marriage folks is, “Good, then, you try domestic partnership on for size.” I must also point out that separate-but-equal is officially not an American operating principle, as declared by the Supreme Court in 1954, thank you very much.
Now let me put the politics and law aside for a moment. The deal is that it matters to step into something that humans have been doing since they learned to use words. It matters that when I say we’re married to someone I meet they know exactly what that means on an emotional, familial level, even if the legal stuff is head-spinningly confusing right now. It matters that marriage is the highest public bond between two people that we know of, and that my partner and I have declared, to our family, friends, and – courtesy of the county registrar – to our community, that we, joyfully and with full awareness of its obligations, have entered this bond with each other. Take that, domestic partnership.
Three years in, my marriage is strong and becomes more beautiful every day. We have our spats, our weight gain (why, why, why?), our cats and dogs (we’re lesbians after all), but as I sit here today, so far from my home, there is only one thing I want: for my beloved to be here, with me. Marriage is not a prerequisite for this desire, but it still means more to me than I ever understood before.