What Marriage Means to Me
Gay marriage wasn't legal anywhere in the U.S. when I came out. It was 1998, and I was twelve, one of the youngest members at my gay youth group, which I went to meet girls. I didn't need support, really; I had a liberal family and everybody was basically cool with me being a lesbian. Having lived a strikingly charmed life so far, I assumed that gay marriage would definitely be legal by the time I was ready to marry.
I remember attending a freedom to marry hearing at the Rhode Island state house in 1999 or so. The vast weight of argument was on the pro-marriage side. People testified tearfully about their love for their partners of ten, twenty, thirty years, about being unable to visit them in the hospital, about families broken up by tragedy without the safety net of a legally recognized relationship. Somebody even pointed out that Rhode Island, with its history of contrarianism and idiosyncrosy, would have been a perfect first state to try out this groundbreaking new law, which argument the judge admitted he found intriguing. We lost, of course, but the judge's closing remarks made it sound like he agreed that gay marriage was an inevitable, just not quite yet. I figured it would happen next year, maybe the year after.
At some point, as the marriage hearings continued each year with no progress, I realized that the people who'd testified about their twenty, thirty-year unrecognized partnerships must have been doing this for twenty, thirty years. Somehow they managed to gather the energy and optimism to testify, year after year. It was depressing, but also inspiring.
Gay marriage wasn't legally recognized in Rhode Island for another fourteen years. (By that time, I'd moved to Massachusetts, which was the first state to legalize gay marriage back in 2004.) In the same year, 2013, the Supreme Court case Windsor v. United States granted same-sex couples access to federal marriage rights. On all fronts, by the time I was ready and wanted to marry, in 2014, I was all set. Twelve-year-old me had been right! Like I said, charmed life.
Every time I fill out a form or speak to some official where I need to give my marital status, a part of me still thinks, "Is this right? Is this okay? Is this legal?" And then I realize it is right, it is legal, and I mentally thank all those people who fought to make it happen.
I wonder if I would have been so quick to jump into marriage if I were straight. I have a contrarian streak, and I like the do the opposite of what's expected. I feel like being queer has helped me to see the marriage/kids/career/house in the suburbs track as completely optional, take what you like a la carte and leave the rest, but if I were straight, I'd have to fight harder against it to avoid being swept along. I hope I would have done it anyway, because being married is great!
It's so great
What marriage means to me is having my buddy with me all the time. We live in the same house. We have sleepovers, like, every night! There's someone to consult when I don't know what to have for dinner. I have a default partner for all my fun adventures, from something big, like a vacation, to something small, like a walk through the woods. She comes with me when I visit my family, even if it's a really sad trip, like someone is dying. I do the same for her. She washes dishes because I hate to wash the dishes, and I do the taxes because she hates to do the taxes.
Okay, we could have all this without marriage. We did; marriage has changed our day-to-day lives very little. I guess the difference is that we've both decided assume that it will be forever. Nothing in life is forever, but we've both made the willful choice to ignore that fact. That allows us to let our guard down about contingency plans. Our living spaces, finances, and stuff are commingled. (I remember being totally delighted when, early in our relationship, we shared a hotel room and immediately filled it with an untidy jumble of both our things. It's like that all the time now. I like that level of sharing.) We don't have to think ahead about how to unjoin or who would get what in a breakup, because breakup is not an option. Our future life plans include each other, and when we consider changes and new adventures, we think about how they would work for both of us. That's the marriage difference, for me--letting go of that little back-of-mind voice that, no matter how well the relationship is going, considers each potential future eventuality in light of "if we break up" or "I guess we'd just have to break up if…" Just removing that option.
I'm surprised I like this so much, really. I've talked often about how I like to keep my options open, how I hate commitment: how owning a home makes me feel too "tied down." How I keep my schedule as loose as possible because "having to" do things makes me not want to do them anymore. I've been known to respond to tightish hugs with "MY AUTONOMY IS BEING CONSTRAINED." I don't know why, but with marriage, I feel the opposite. The definiteness of it feels comforting, it makes me feel safe and secure.
Also, I really like filing taxes jointly. I was already doing her taxes because, see above, and now it's half the work.
And that's what marriage means to me.
Happy Pride, everyone!