12/04/2012 05:05 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Let the Next Generation Marry for Love

Since the same-sex marriage win in our home state of Maine, our friends and family have been planning a wedding my partner Ramona and I haven't asked for.

We've been together 21 years. We consider ourselves "married" already. A wedding feels uncomfortable, an engagement just plain silly.

So the day after the election, amidst a flurry of emails and Facebook posts congratulating us and offering venues, ministers, caterers and flower girls, Ramona asked an important question. "Why are we getting married?"

"Benefits, protection, and to be ready when the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed." My immediate, unsentimental reply.

"Do we need a wedding, then?"

"I think not."

Same-sex marriage wasn't something anyone talked about when Ramona and I met. We had to find our own path. We had been inseparable for several months when she asked, "Will you be with me forever?"

"I can't promise that," I said, fearful and untrained like most everybody else who attempts to forge a life with another human. "I can promise you that one day at a time, I hope to get to forever. With you. One day at a time, we will pay attention to each other. One day at a time, we will not take each other for granted."

Ramona looked down at our combined hands.

"I can live with that."

We stumbled through the first year, skittish, each afraid the other would run. But we made the time to connect each day, scheduled around Ramona's changing work shifts. Sometimes, rarely, our contact was limited to a brief exchange of "I love you."

Every day, Ramona would ask, "Will you be with me today?" Every day, growing more confident in our ability to keep loving each other, I said yes.

I don't remember how we decided to invest in "significant jewelry." We referred to the gold rings as a "B.T.I.", Big Ticket Item, like the new computer and car. We were in our third year together, and we knew they symbolized permanence, but told everyone they were "just rings."

Hers has a raised bright sapphire surrounded by filigree waves. Mine is a flat band, traditional-looking, small diamonds floating between the same waves.

Ramona surprised me with a new question, "Will you marry me today?"

I laughed, and said yes. Each day after, we asked each other, "Will you marry me today?"

Ramona wears her ring on the left hand ring finger. Eventually, I moved mine to the middle finger, tired of the question, "What does your husband do?"

When I received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2003, our daily "marriage" ground to near hourly recognition of what we meant to each other and what we might lose.

We were forced to acknowledge our lack of legal status and started to think about "real" marriage.

We didn't possess a single piece of legal paper to document our 12-year relationship. Our mortgage would not count as proof if something went wrong in surgery. Ramona would not be able to make medical or life decisions for me and my future would default to my divorced and feuding parents.

I spent the day before surgery in a lawyers office.

Self-employed, I paid health insurance out-of-pocket. Ramona worked for the post office. Her federal job prohibits insurance coverage for me as her partner. As a healthy person, the inequity had seemed like a manageable indignity. Like being asked, "What does your husband do?"

Throughout my treatment and successful recovery, Ramona did not qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act. I was not family.

Extensive research preceded the marriage campaign in Maine. Focus groups revealed that straight voters were turned off by the arguments for equal benefits and legal protections. They felt that gays and lesbians were being selfish.

As a result, the campaign was all about love and commitment: Everyone should have the right to stand in front of friends and family to make a lifetime commitment to a partner. Everyone should have the right to be a family, and to be able to protect that family.

Ramona and I fully supported the campaign, but it was the last, trailing "able to protect that family" part we were interested in. It isn't romantic, it's even a little cold. I guess I can see why, in such stark language, we can appear selfish.

But as Ramona and I approach our 22nd anniversary, it doesn't feel like marriage is just an affirmation of our love. Given our experience, it feels like a political act.

Many gay and lesbian folks, like Ramona and me, found and maintained love without legal marriage. We surrounded ourselves with friends and supportive family. We did this during a time when a rallying cry of the GLBT civil rights movement was "keep the government out of our bedrooms."

Perhaps this explains some of the underground ambivalence expressed in the gay community about the marriage campaigns. The irony that we are now asking that same government to sanctify our (monogamous) bedroom relationships has not been lost on us.

We are looking forward, hoping the Supreme Court will do the right thing and strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the Obama administration will allow GLBT federal employees to claim their same-sex partners.

Passing the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would be nice, too. Americans can still be fired in 29 states for being gay and in 34 states for being transgender. In more states than not, it's unsafe to come out of the closet to go to work.

We are lucky in Maine.

Our friends and family would like us to throw a long overdue party to celebrate our one day at a time love affair turned marriage. We may do that -- after Ramona and I make a quiet, private trip to the city clerk's office and she asks me, as she does almost every day, "Will you marry me today?"

We'll leave it to the next generation to seek legal marriage simply for the joy of love.