First, thanks to all of you who have sent me good wishes for my impending nuptials. I’m humbled by your kind thoughts.
Our chosen Justice of the Peace e-mailed us some sample vows. She’s a lesbian herself, and understands that we’re celebrating our thirteen years together as much as our new marital status. The vows reflect that. On some level, the entire marriage process seems merely administrative, but in reviewing the vows I’m reminded of how I feel every time I update my resumé. It’s an opportunity to reflect, to distill and ennunciate the things that matter.
I’ve also been struck more deeply than ever by the power of the term marriage. A couple of other (straight) moms in our area e-mailed me the other day to set up a playdate for our kids. I replied that I wouldn’t be able to make the date because I’d be in Massachusetts getting married. They wrote back with all kinds of large-font congratulations—which was very nice, but I can’t help thinking that if I’d said we’d be in Vermont having a civil union, it wouldn’t have gotten the same immediate gut reaction from them. Marriage sounds celebratory. People know how to react to it. “Civil union” doesn’t even have a verb form. It sounds akin to going to the Town Hall for a building permit. If we need civil unions as a halfway measure, so be it. If we gain legal recognition of other non-traditional types of relationships, that’s a good thing. But they are not the same.
Even a “marriage” in Massachusetts, for same-sex couples, is not the same as a marriage for straight couples. We are reminded of our difference every time we cross the border, every time a stay-at-home parent cannot contribute to an IRA, every time we file taxes. And yet we need to call it “marriage” to get that reaction from people, that deep recognition of what marriage is and what it means when two people enter into it. I’m reminded again of a piece of career advice, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
It’s a fine line, though, between using the term to show that the world won’t fall apart if same-sex couples marry, and having people assume that because we’re married, we don’t have anything more to worry about. I’ve had friends look shocked when they discover that Massachusetts same-sex spouses still can’t receive each other’s Social Security benefits, or that our relationship isn’t recognized in other states. I hope I can use the occasion of our marriage to spread some knowledge.
I’m not getting married, however, to promote a political agenda or educate the masses. I’m not getting married just for medical benefits (though that is hastening the date of the ceremony). I’m getting married because thirteen-some-odd years ago, I met a woman with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I would have gladly married her any day since then, to legalize the marriage we already had in our hearts.