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Stephanie Sandberg Headshot

She Is My Own Wife

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On September 18, 1999 my partner and I were married the way couples of our socio-cultural-economic-geographic background often are: by a minister, in a downtown Manhattan loft, with friends and family watching and excellent food and drinks following. We exchanged rings and said our vows as the sun set. We danced a lot. The photographer used both color and black-and-white film and told us to refresh our lipstick during family pictures.

There was nothing legally enforceable about our marriage contract, of course, but it was a great party and importantly, gave us the feeling that we'd joined the community of married people. For us, that mattered. It matters even more now that we have a daughter, who, though she's not yet four, is dreamily curious about weddings, rings, families, true love.

"So you married Mom, and then you had me," she says. "Because you love each other." "That's right," I say.

Does it really have to be any more complicated than that?

According to the New York Court of Appeals and all those other slowpoke courts and legislatures nationwide save for Massachusetts: yes it does. Reading the coverage of yesterday's Appeals Court decision I'm certainly disappointed but I'm also mystified:

What's with the It's been this way for so many years argument? George Pataki defends the ruling by pointing out that marriage between a man and a woman has been the law of New York "for more than 200 years." Would he have cited legal precedent when it was time to grant women or people of color the vote?

A specious variant comes from the spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference: "Marriage predates American history, even recorded history . . . " So does public nakedness, polygamy, polytheism and the eating of raw meat and twigs.

What is with the fetish of constitutional original intent? As if centuries-old thinking, which reflects contemporary mores, would automatically reflect our intentions today. I'm sure constitutional framers did their best, but they were limited by the limited imaginations and experiences of the day, from the rights of women to other minorities known and unimagined. Certainly New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn would've loosened their hairpins.

The original intent argument led the court to deduce that opposite-sex unions produce children, ergo . . . only opposite-sex individuals should couple legally? For starters, let me just say that 99% of the couples at the crowded fertility clinic where my partner and I became pregnant were heterosexual (don't tell the Catholic Church). And, well, we produced a child too. Can we get married now?

My favorite: the section of the ruling that suggests heterosexual couples need marriage to themselves as a way to shore up their own relationships. Really? Which part of my making a lifelong commitment of fidelity and stability to the love of my life threatens a heterosexual marriage? Which part of it sets a bad example to children of "broken-home" situations -- honestly? That it might occur to the child that if their parents had just married someone of the same sex this all might not have come to pass?

It might be true, by the way, that the legislature is the place to decide such laws, though courts have seemed more whimsical lately (see: George Bush named president by the Supreme Court, fall 2000). In which case I look forward to watching the case for a gay marriage law move forward through our representative state bodies toward a more positive, humane and logical conclusion than the court's yesterday. Then my partner and I will get married again, except this time our daughter gets to come.