Chalkboard sign at our wedding – September 2011
When the ruling came down Friday morning I felt this deep sense of breathing easier – and breathless at the same time. This week – these last couple weeks – have changed our landscape and our lives in ways I likely can’t understand for years to come. I hope I’ll be able to explain it to my son when he asks, looking back on all this. Here are just a few words on where I am today.
Exactly two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the clause within Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – which barred the Federal Government from recognizing individual State’s same sex marriages – was unconstitutional. This ruling tangibly change my life. The Wife and I had been married for almost two years at that point (something that I had not thought I even wanted, seeing marriage as too much the domain of a straight culture that was not for me — until I met her and wanted it bad). We got married in MA, and were living in DC where our marriage was not only recognized, it was the law of this capital city.
We had largely expected the DOMA decision to go that way so, the morning of the ruling, when the Wife asked if I wanted to stay home from work to watch the decision together I poo-pooed her, stubbornly mumbling about upcoming deadlines at work as I hustled to the office. When 9:45am came around, we both got on SCOTUSblog and my heart rate accelerated. Then the ruling came down so definitively – and I was speechless. I cried. I sat on the phone with the Wife as we each poured through news clips, tweets, excerpts of the decision, quick snippets of analysis, spotted with exchanges of “wow” because there was nothing else we could say.
About an hour into this activity – neither of us having said anything for at least a couple minutes – the Wife delicately suggested that maybe we didn’t need to be on the phone anymore if we were just going to be reading independently. “No,” I quickly cut her off, telling her I needed to hear her even if it was just her breathing. “Ok,” she assured me. And so we sat for another hour, occasionally talking, but mostly taking it all in (and certainly not working). Me, who had been so dry and clinical about it all, had been instantly stripped of any intellect on the matter, operating in the purely visceral.
That weekend we had a free Saturday morning and realized we could bang out a long-overdue trip to Ikea before the crowds got too crazy. As we parked our car in the massive lot and walked into the big box store I laughed at us – here we were, just like any other married couple now, living our boring life and going to Ikea on a Saturday. Never mind that that had never been either of our idea of happiness – ours much better situated in one of the progressive urban enclaves we had each lived in across the country.
But something was starting to seep out of my brain that I didn’t know I had – an asterisk. I realized that I was so accustomed to discussing our wedding and marriage with a ‘but’ at the end of the sentence. First it was equal access to health insurance that we couldn’t get. The Wife’s employer decided to take care of that, joining a handful of progressive companies and organizations by “plus-ing up” to pay the tax consequences we would incur by my receiving the wife’s health coverage (the Federal law recognized us as strangers and treated insurance as a very expensive, taxable gift). Then there were the myriad of other federal benefits we couldn’t access for one another from social security to immigration rights (were we to need them) to joint tax returns. And all the states that would not care that the Nation’s Capital recognized our union.
That Saturday morning trekking across the Ikea parking lot, I caught the reflex to note the exceptions to why our marriage entitlements were incomplete. This time, I realized, there were no asterisks left. It was complete – for us, if not for most other Americans.
Except. Except if we traveled across the river into Virginia. And then eventually Virginia turned too, with the swath of Federal decisions equalizing entire chunks of the country at a time.
This last decision – bringing marriage everywhere – felt different. It felt less about me. I already felt secure – secure in my marriage, my rights, and secure in the fact that marriage equality would indeed come to all of America – eventually.
When I was about 8 months pregnant I started drawing lines about when I would stop traveling. I wouldn’t fly from about 6 weeks out. The train to New York? That had to stop 3-4 weeks out from the due date. “I would never forgive myself if this baby was born in New Jersey,” I’d joke. But I was kinda serious too – if I went into labor on the train, it was possible I’d have the baby in a state where the Wife could not be on the birth certificate (as was guaranteed by law in DC and NY). And that was unacceptable.
When the decision came down on Friday – it did as I was dialing into a conference call, and I stumbled to hang up and take in the news for a few precious minutes – I was speechless. Slowly the realization dawned that my son would never know a time when gay marriage was a thing (surely by the time he knows this, it will just be marriage?) He won’t comprehend, let alone know, a time his moms’ marriage wasn’t legal everywhere.
That’s when the breathlessness started.