The winter holidays, for many, is a time to be with and appreciate family. This year is especially meaningful to us and thousands of other LGBT families, as the first in which our family is fully recognized as a legal unit. Victories this week will mean extra celebration, but mostly relief. With this recognition, the ambiguity of a myriad of frightening "what ifs" is lifted. But to my own surprise, my deepest gratitude is for the simple joy of being able to refer to my partner of twelve years as "wife" without feeling like a fraud. It has been a long road to get here.
One could say I have married Fran nine times; that is, there have been nine formal, witnessed events that affirmed our commitment to each other: Buying our house together as non-married persons, estate planning with our lawyer, our religious wedding, legally changing my last name to Fran's, everything legal involved with having a child together as non-married persons of the same sex, registering at the County Clerk's office as "Designated Beneficiaries," getting a civil union and then officially married twice. Had it been available to us, a single wedding with marriage license would have sufficed, saving us literally thousands of dollars and carrying more protections than the entire patchwork of legal documents we have amassed.
As patriarchal and baggage-filled the word "wife" is, I had grown up assuming I would become one some day. The truth is, both Fran and I are really quite traditional. Some would call that ironic, but we wanted to be married before we had children. We didn't choose to be lesbians, but we do choose to be honest both with ourselves and others about who we are. And that meant pledging to each other, our families and community that we were committed to each other for life, even if it had no legal meaning. We had our wedding ceremony in 2005, officiated by Rabbi Jamie Korngold.
Notwithstanding our 100 guests, two white gowns and vows before G-d, we decided to still refer to each other as "partners." Emotionally we felt married but there were frequent reminders that we were not. Paperwork requesting marital status was always confusing and tax time demoralizing, not to mention the anxiety of lacking the basic legal protections marriage provides.
Thus, when the first civil unions bill was introduced to the Colorado legislature, Fran and I began our work testifying, speaking at rallies and being interviewed by the media. All of this talk about marriage was confusing to our 5-year-old son; we have many framed photos from our religious wedding, and our son sees us as no different from any other set of parents. He heard someone say that his parents were fighting for the right to get married -- but weren't we married already? And what is a civil union?
It was then that we realized that our second-class status was impacting our son on more than just a legal level. We didn't want him to internalize any concept that we were lesser than, even if the state disagreed. In the meantime, we would take whatever legal protections were available to us.
On May 1, 2013, just after the stroke of midnight when the law went into effect, we were the first couple to receive a civil union in Colorado, officiated by Mayor Michael Hancock. We both wore our gowns. Despite the hour, hundreds of couples seeking civil unions, the media and a crowd of supporters showed up. It was a triumphant occasion.
But were we married? Civil unions are not the legal equivalent to marriage, nor have the same meaning. We weren't done, and I told reporters that I hoped to wear my wedding gown one final time.
We were frequently asked why we didn't get married out-of-state. Our answer was that legally it would be meaningless, since the marriage would not be recognized in our home state, or at the federal level until very recently. Furthermore, why should we travel hundreds of miles to perform a basic civil right? It was about dignity.
On July 9, 2014 a judge in state court issued a ruling that Colorado's marriage ban was unconstitutional. We woke up the next day to a flurry of calls and texts to alert us that Denver County Clerk Deborah Johnson was issuing marriage licenses. We rushed downtown, becoming the first same-sex couple to be married in Denver, our 8th official union. The occasion was no frills but happy.
However, the journey wasn't over. The 10th Circuit Court ruling was appealed and a stay put on the county clerks against issuing more licenses. We hung in legal limbo waiting to hear what the U.S. Supreme Court would do. When it was announced in early October that they wouldn't hear any of the appeals, I both celebrated and mourned that the country would soon have equality in 30 of 50 states. Even with all of our recent gains, in many states we are still legal strangers, including when we visit our parents in Florida.
On October 8 we received an invitation to be married by the Mayor and to receive another marriage license, given that Colorado's Attorney General Suthers was saying that the licenses issued before the stay (including ours) weren't valid. With two hours warning, I pulled out my gown and Fran ran to get her hair done. When she showed up at Jeremy's school, he sighed, "Ugh, again?!?" but soon got into the spirit, insisting on bringing his violin and practicing signing his name in cursive as our witness.
When I heard the words, "By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you married," a weight was lifted. Jeremy, now 7, finally has married parents. Fran is my wife, and I am hers. Marriage is truly the greatest gift we have received this year, and we are grateful to all of the activists, elected officials and organizations who made it possible. Thousands more families wait with baited breath to see if they may share in this basic freedom.