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Isobel White

Isobel White

Posted: November 3, 2008 10:27 AM

For the Fourth Time, Yes I Do


Last month I got married for the 4th time. To the same person. And we've never been divorced.

When my partner Angela and I tied the knot in late September, we became one of the more than 11,000 same-sex couples to be married since the California Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages legal. But this wasn't the first time we had expressed our commitment publicly.

The Bride Wore a T-Shirt. The first time, we became domestic partners. That was in 2001, a year after we met. We were deeply in love and planning a formal (though legally unrecognized) wedding for the fall of 2002. But when we came upon a domestic partner registration booth at the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco, we jumped at the chance to cement our relationship right away. Our witness? A beaming member of Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFFLAG) staffing the booth. I look back at the Polaroid photo he took that day, and my first thought is how young and thin we were. Thanks to California's first domestic partnership law, passed in 1999, if I got sick, Angela could visit me in the hospital, but we had few other rights.

Our Enchanted Evening. The second time we exchanged vows was in 2002, under a majestic redwood tree on a warm fall afternoon in Sonoma. We had 85 guests and 5 bridesmaids in matching dresses; our parents walked us down the aisle while a harpist played Canon in D. I wore a white wedding dress with a princess waist and intricate pearl inlays, while Angela wore a tux. We registered for 12 place settings, a weed whacker and a soldering iron. We promised to be each other's partners in love and in life. And then we danced all night. This was our "real" wedding, but legally, we were in exactly the same place. The state legislature had added various domestic partner benefits in 2001 and 2002, so we did have the right to sue for wrongful death and to inherit a portion of each other's separate property. Lovely.

Our Shotgun Wedding. The third time was "for real." A call came from our (straight) friend Josh early in the morning of February 13, 2004. "They're marrying same-sex couples at City Hall!" By 3pm, we had begged off early from work to dash into San Francisco. We agreed to meet up on BART -- "okay I'll be on the 1st train...." Angela stuck her head out of the train car and I lept to join her. We wore our everyday clothes, though Angela had managed to dash home and grab me a "Bride" ball cap left over from my bachelorette party in 2002. I was five weeks pregnant at the time with our first child. We told everyone in line our news, joking that our child would one day look at the date on the marriage certificate and say "wait a minute...." We were excited, jubilant, walking on air. We were legally married! But we were also in legal limbo, because our marriage was immediately contested. While a state law passed in 2003 had granted us not just rights but responsibilities, such as taking on each other's debt and going through divorce proceedings if we broke up, our 2004 marriage was about so much more than legal minutia. It was about love, and acceptance, and celebration. What marriage should be about. But seven months later, it was ruled invalid.

This time, for Keeps? Finally, just last month, on the 6th anniversary of our Sonoma wedding, surrounded by 40 friends and their 20 kids in our backyard, with tables and chairs borrowed from neighbors, we tied the knot. Again. Legally this time, thanks to the California Supreme Court ruling last May that same-sex marriages are constitutional. I wore a new black and cream-colored dress and borrowed high heels; Angela, a beautiful maroon shirt and tie. As I primped before our wedding (but oh, how different primping is when it's your own home and you have an almost-four year old and all your friends are busy with their own kids), Angela looked at me and with all seriousness said, "we're a lot older now." And indeed, I felt like I'd been around the block a few times. Perhaps the best feature was our daughter Norrie, thrilled beyond words to be a flower girl at her parents' wedding ("were you a flower girl at your parents' wedding?" she asked me a couple days before).

But our honeymoon was brief. Because shortly after we got married, the proponents of Proposition 8 -- the California initiative that would write discrimination against same-sex couples into the constitution, which will be voted on this Tuesday, November 4 -- unleashed a torrent of negative ads. The worst was an ad that sought to frighten parents by telling us that our children will be taught about same-sex marriage in schools. They used the Massachusetts case of a couple who objected to their son taking home the book King and King, about two princes getting married. The painful irony for us is that the Friday before our wedding, Norrie's preschool teacher held a special celebration for us. She read the kids King and King, then presented us with paper flowers decorated by all Norrie's classmates. My daughter, most excited that she had helped us pick out matching paper plates and cups for the wedding, brought in samples for her classmates. We felt loved, accepted, and indeed, celebrated -- and our daughter did too. That day, I vowed to do everything in my power to ensure that the rest of her school experiences are as wonderful and accepting.

You may ask, What's the big deal? Some people argue that California law at this point gives us most of the rights and responsibilities of opposite-sex couples. What's so bad, then, about Prop. 8? My answer: If the history of our marriage shows us anything, it's that piecemeal rights do not suffice. Having only some of the rights of straight married couples leaves our legal relationship insecure and open to interpretation. And interpretation. And interpretation. In fact, I've come to realize that one of the benefits of married life is not having to consider who would be able to visit me in the hospital, who would inherit the house, whose name is on the life insurance policy. Marriage delivers the whole package, and allows a family to move on and live their lives.

When we decided to take the plunge yet again last month, we had no idea how fierce the battle would become. We had no idea proponents of Prop. 8 would pull out all the stops, using hateful (and completely spurious) arguments against teaching same-sex marriage in schools to turn voters against our right to equality. I'm glad we didn't know. But now we do. So now we wait. And fundraise. And hold signs.

I suppose there's a small silver lining in all this repeated marrying. By standing up to declare our love again and again, we haven't been able to slip too far into the everyday routine of married life. We can't take anything for granted. We have been asked again and again to prove our commitment to each other. In so doing, we choose each other anew each time.

But I look forward to the day when our marriage is allowed to withstand the test of time -- when we, like any other committed couple, can be celebrated, accepted, and honored as we take the plunge once, and then move on.