Our decision to marry in 2011 was baffling to our biological families. It wasn't baffling that we actually married; after 15 years they recognized our coupled commitment. It was baffling because it wasn't clear why we'd chosen that particular moment to marry. My wife and I have been together since the mid-1990s; we have presented ourselves as "married" since before such a notion was fathomable to most people in the United States. We have been partnered, committed in word and deed, before any legal conjugation.
Basically, we were living our lesbian lives until queer-family recognition changed. In 2004 those crazy judges in Massachusetts decided that gays and lesbians could marry. Some of the couples we knew made pilgrimages to Massachusetts; others went to Canada to achieve legal recognition of their relationships. Then the District of Columbia legalized gay marriage. It wasn't quite a house of cards but a steady drumbeat of states recognizing gay couples.
Still we didn't marry. Were we resisting? Refusing? Neither, really. We weren't waiting either, just watching, wondering. Then there was something about New York. New York inspired us to legally wedded bliss, or at least to be legally married people.
What brings a couple to marriage, particularly a couple with a history prior to legal marriage? The answers are different for everyone. My wife would tell our story differently. Every couple tells their own stories. Increasingly, what interests me is not how we come to marry but what happens after marriage. What stories do we tell about being married, and being denied marriage, and living in a country where our marriages are recognized unevenly?
We queers are living in a period of enormous transition. We can marry in a handful of states, but if we move, we may find ourselves in a relationship recognized by the federal government and not by the state. This patchwork of recognition may last for several years, or it may be over in the next year or two. No matter the length of this period of transition, there is a new set of questions around marriage for queers to discuss.
What does marriage mean to us? How is it different from what we imagined? How is it the same as what society presents about marriage? Can we live queerly in marriage? How? Why? Is marriage good for our sexuality? For our sex lives? Is marriage good for our sense of happiness? Or does it bring new layers of misery?
What marriage means is different to every person; what marriage means is different for every couple. Campaigns to secure marriage equality rely on the idea that marriage is a value shared by a majority of Americans. These campaigns promote the notion that marriage is singular, uniform, fixed, unchanging. While we need to sustain that idea until the legal recognition of marriage between two same-sex partners is the law throughout the land, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Marriage will change and evolve through our participation in the institution. Let's start those conversations now. Let's have serious and sustained conversations about how we are living. Let's talk about what marriage means to us. Queerly.