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Tom Dolby Headshot

Even After Proposition 8, the Fight -- and the Party -- Must Go On

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Last month, my fiancé and I got married in the state of Connecticut. Even though we are a same-sex couple, the day was mostly extraordinary in its ordinariness: my fiancé, Andrew Frist, and I met up with our families in the town of Salisbury, Connecticut, having filed our marriage license at the town hall the day before. After taking the requisite pictures on the porch of the inn where we were staying, the nine of us drove to the next town, to the campus of the boarding school I had attended. After the reading of a few poems by our siblings and reciting our vows with the school's lake in the background, we were pronounced married by a justice of the peace, and that was that.

What was unusual about the situation was that because I am from California, Drew is from Indiana, and we both live in New York -- all states that do not permit same-sex marriage -- we were forced, like refugees, to go to Connecticut to file our marriage license. We had gotten engaged nearly a year earlier, on May 1, 2008, in Paris. Two weeks later, the ruling on same-sex marriage was announced in California. We set about planning a celebration in northern California for fall 2009, a location that was predicated on my family living there and that gay marriage would be legal.

Or so we hoped. On November 4, those hopes were crushed by Proposition 8, and we had to make other plans. We still wanted to have a ceremonial wedding, a larger event, so that we could celebrate with family and friends. We thought that by the fall of 2009, our union might be legal again in California. But we were prepared for the worst, and so, as a backup, we planned our simple Connecticut wedding.

What was also unusual about our union was the week leading up to it. Earlier in the year, we had connected with the Courage Campaign, a Los Angeles-based group that, among its many activities, hosts training camps to help grassroots activists educate the public about marriage equality. The Courage Campaign, modeling itself on the Obama Campaign, had been enormously successful with its camps in Los Angeles and Fresno, and it needed funding for a camp in the San Francisco Bay Area. Because my family lives in San Francisco and believes firmly in equal rights, I was able to organize a $25,000 matching grant.

When the Campaign announced the challenge, it had ambitions of making the match, perhaps exceeding it by a little bit. Within three hours of the initial email blast, they had already surpassed the match, reaching nearly $75,000.

On the following Tuesday, a follow-up email went out from Drew and me, asking Courage Campaign members to step up to the challenge of raising $100,000, enough to fund two training camps. What was unique about the appeal was that it featured our own story, complete with a picture of the two of us. When contrasted with the absurd advertisements that had run recently from groups like the "National Organization for Marriage," featuring actors spouting off lies about the non-existent relationships between gay marriage and the civil rights of doctors, educators, and the clergy, our appeal was simple and direct.

Most importantly, it was personal.

What I realized during the whole process was how much we all needed to tell our own stories and not resort to abstract rhetoric. We told our story, and the money is still coming in -- to date, the appeal has raised more than $150,000.

All that happened last month. Now, this week, on Tuesday, our rights were taken away again in California, this time by the California Supreme Court, which voted to uphold Proposition 8. Until 2010, at the very earliest. Until a ballot measure brings back same-sex marriage to my home state.

As I heard the news on the radio, I wanted to cancel the celebration we are planning for the fall in Sonoma, California. Sure, we already have our marriage license, but why celebrate that in a state that won't grant us one of its own? I was embarrassed for California -- particularly considering the recent developments in other states -- and I wondered, why should its economy receive our dollars when it can't make our union legal? I wanted to call off the caterer, the invitations, the flowers, the band, the tent rental. What would any of it mean, after all?

I realized, though, that no battle was ever won by cowering in a corner, by dismissing the idea that we deserved a wedding celebration as jubilant as that of any heterosexual couple. As an older and wiser friend said to me recently: "Don't feel guilty that you're having a big wedding. You guys have to do it bigger and better. You have to show all those people that a gay wedding is just as important as a straight one -- maybe even more so."

We're not having a big wedding in California to show anyone anything. We're doing it for ourselves, for our families, and for our friends. We're doing it so that someday, we will have beautiful pictures to show and memories to share with our kids.

But we are also doing it because we are saying, California, we trust you'll make this right. I believe, if we keep working at it, that it will happen in the fall of 2010. Just one year after our own not-legal California wedding.

I also know from our experience in Connecticut that same-sex marriage may simply take some getting used to. On that Friday morning, before we went to the town hall to file our marriage license, we were served breakfast at the inn by an older waitress, a woman with hardened features who fit a classic New England archetype. When she asked us what we were doing in town, I motioned to Drew, explaining that we would be getting married the following day.

Her face went blank, and she nodded slightly, as if the mere notion of this was something she would need to think about further.

The next morning, the day of our ceremony, she served us again. By then, we had struck up a rapport, though we hadn't spoken any more about our impending nuptials. She didn't seem like the kind of person who knew any gay people or who believed in same-sex marriage -- or at the very least, she hadn't given it much thought. What she did have, however, was common sense and decency.

When we signed our check, she said goodbye to us with a simple farewell, a note of grace that I believe the rest of America would do well to follow the next time they are at the polls: "Have a beautiful day today," she said. "I wish you both all the happiness in the world."