08/11/2014 06:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Same-Sex Marriage - 10 Years Later

Ten years ago in May, 2004, Massachusetts had its first legal same-sex marriage. The ceremony was also the first of its kind to be held in the United States. My partner -- soon to be called my spouse -- and I were married a few months later on the advice, from a friend who was a judge, that it was a good opportunity to do so. He told us that even though the decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court might be repealed (it wasn't), we would probably be able to keep our legal status.

We decided to combine a short holiday and have the wedding on Nantucket. We contacted the Justice of the Peace there and she agreed to August 17th. We'd been together over 40 years, so there was nothing emotional about our decision. It also wasn't going to do us much good legally since it was only valid in Massachusetts and not recognized in any other state, or by the federal government. Still, we wanted to help swell the ranks of same-sex married people to show the world that we all have an equal right to love and to express that love in a permanent relationship under the law.

We approached the August date with trepidation. Why were we doing this? We began to wonder. Maybe we were better off the way we were for so many years. We'd never been legally bound and yet we'd stayed together. Would we now feel the constraints of being tied for life?

When the time came, we flew to Nantucket, got our license, and dressed for the occasion (white pants, dark jackets and open white shirts which was as formal as we ever got) in the hotel across from the beach where we had chosen to be for the ceremony. We had decided not to invite any friends, just to be alone with the woman Justice except for a photographer -- we did want to keep a record of the day. The sky was overcast and I suppose out of our anxiety, we had been bickering all day. I kept thinking, "why should I marry this man who's so impossible?" and he later told me he was thinking exactly the same about me.

We grudgingly trudged across to the beach with the Justice, who wore a long gown and was barefoot, and found a spot where the photographer thought he could get good pictures. Then the woman began. She asked us to hold hands and look into each other's eyes. I did as she said thinking this is part of the ceremony, but as I looked directly into my partner's eyes, I saw all the years that we had been together when we had to hide our love for each other, and how we had suffered as a couple not accepted by the world. I began to cry, uncontrollably. I wasn't embarrassed by the tears; I felt as if they were purging all the times that we felt excluded and every hurt that had been done to us. My partner led me down to the edge of the sea, He waited until I pulled myself together and we went back and finished the ceremony. When the Justice pronounced us spouse and spouse, she directed us to kiss which we did for the first time ever in a public place. Almost as a benediction, the sun came out. I felt like a house that had been closed up for years but now that the windows were opened, the fresh air was pouring in.


We're about to celebrate our tenth anniversary, though, in reality, we've already been together so many years that it should have been more than our fiftieth. But how things have changed in 10 years. In 19 states we no longer have to carry a power of attorney to show a hospital that we have the right to act for each other. When my spouse had cancer last year, from which he's totally recovered, I was welcomed without question as his caregiver. I was able to be with him every minute in chemo and radiation. Now we can at last pool our money like other married people and have the tax advantages they have. Estate taxes up until now have been a frightening prospect for gay people. This is so important, just in terms of financial survival as we witnessed with Edie Windsor in her case before the Supreme Court. But when people ask us what the greatest difference is between our 40 years together unmarried and our 10 years married, our answer is simple: we are now able to be open and free in the world. It's as if the lights have been turned on. There will always be a few who don't approve of our lives, although our lives are very little different from their's; but at least now we can walk out into the air (the fresh air that I can still feel embracing us on our marriage day), and feel as free as anyone else in the world.

We wrote a book about our relationship, Double Life: A Love Story, several years ago. Once it was in print, I suddenly realized how revealing it was and that anyone could now read it. What would the people in our little town in Connecticut think of it? We had lived there off and on since 1968. We were always treated well. We lived quietly and never imposed our lifestyle on anyone else. What would they say? We were asked to sign copies in the local bookstore. We went there on the appointed day fearing the worst. We saw long lines of people waiting. The town had turned out and the bookstore sold 250 copies that day, even though there are less than 4000 people who live there. One woman said she was buying three.

We have had a happy life, made happier by watching state after state find bans on same-sex marriage to be illegal. We hope now to live long enough to see every state in our beloved country join in the fight for happiness and equality for all.