Seven years ago today, my partner, Lynn, and I went to Worcester City Hall, chatted for awhile with the City Manager, learned a bit about our new town, then repeated a few words after him and walked out with a signed and sealed document legalizing the partnership we had known for the previous eleven years. That was it. I often refer to this event as our “shotgun wedding”. We did it because we had to. It was the only way that I, as a state employee, could carry Lynn on my health insurance plan. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts never recognized the unions between couples of the same sex, however when same-sex marriage became legal in the State, the State had no choice but to abide by its own laws. Anyone wanting family insurance coverage has to be legally married.
And that is why I am legally married. I wish I could tell you that there was another reason, but there isn’t. Lynn and I were forced to get married in order to receive something that, for whatever reason in our nation, is deemed a special right. Health insurance.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about the fight for marriage equality. I’m certainly all in favor of equality and work and/or stand for justice whenever I can, but I remain unconvinced that having my relationship with Lynn recognized legally grants either of these things, in their true sense. Being married in the eyes of the law grants couples a whole host of rights and privileges that single people, people who choose to live together, or even certain familial relationships, say siblings, do not enjoy. At least not together.
There are tax benefits, estate benefits, employee benefits, medical benefits, housing benefits, and death benefits. Married couples can enjoy family rates on automobile insurance. A legal spouse can receive time off from work to take care of the other legal spouse. A married couple can have and/or adopt children. And in the literal end, the survivor of a married couple has the right to make all of the decisions regarding funerals and burials.
One might wonder, “So what in the world is wrong with all of that? Why would you NOT want those rights?” The reason is really pretty simple. My enjoying these rights with Lynn, because of our married status, puts us in a place of privilege over others. Why does the GBLT community work so hard to get same-sex marriage legalized? Because without it, same-sex couples feel as if they are treated “less than”. Married couples have things that they do not.
And that, to me, is the problem. Why does the state grant any one group certain privileges over another? Why does it recognize some relationships as being worthy of tax breaks or health insurance, and others not? I agree with Alisa Solomon, longtime writer for The Village Voice and now journalism professor at Columbia University, “The question isn’t whether the state should marry gays, but whether it should marry anyone.” (“Get Married? Yes, but Not by the State,” Village Voice, 01/09/96)
As I’ve said on any number of occasions, I got a piece of paper and health insurance in Massachusetts, I got married years before in Maine. Lynn and I got married on a beautiful summer day in August, 1996. We got married in a church – the church I happened to serve in at the time – surrounded by about 100 dear friends and family members. Dina, my closest friend from seminary and a woman I’d have gladly partnered up with years earlier had she only been a lesbian, officiated and spoke beautiful words of what it means to find another person to share a part of your life with; what it means to love and care for another soul to the degree that you’d want to share part of yourself. Other friends spoke words of encouragement and love, and when the service was over, we enjoyed the most wonderful party put together by a group of friends. There was food from people’s kitchens, flowers from the farmer’s market, music by another good friend’s band. There was dancing and singing, hugs and kisses, tears and laughter. It was one of the best days of my life.
Lynn and I had lived together for almost two years before that day, but that was the day we chose to stand before and with our friends, to celebrate with them, our relationship. To me, it’s the day we got married, because it’s the day where we, along with our friends, affirmed our relationship. Not the State of Maine, not the State of Massachusetts, not the United States of America. I don’t particularly care if any legislative body affirms my relationship with Lynn. The people most important to us already did.
And so, added to the aforementioned exclusionary nature of the legal institution (not even mentioning the sexist, patriarchal, property-holding history of it), to ask an anonymous government to recognize something that’s long been affirmed by those closest to it, to me smacks of patronizing condescension (purposeful redundancy). There’s that popular saying, “marriage is between a man and a woman” to which I say “yes and no”. Marriage IS between people. Period. The government has no place in it, neither to privilege it nor refuse it. Let the government worry about treating each of us, individually, fair and just.
But all of that said, I’m both blessed and grateful to share a part of myself with someone who brings me so much joy and love and support. Lynn gives me a groundedness that I never knew on my own. She carries more faith in me than I ever have in myself alone. She helps me to dream bigger dreams and encourages me every faltering step towards them.
I’ve been blessed with many good friendships, a handful of truly special relationships, and one person that I partnered up with for a longer journey. My life would be less without any of them, but today on another Groundhog’s Day Shotgun Wedding Anniversary, I say “I do” to Lynn. Again.
And here’s a little song that I played in the car on the drive home from dinner out. It reminds us of the early days together, innocent days of falling in love no matter what.