04/08/2014 02:17 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

My Invisible Honeymoon

She wouldn't hold hands with me, my newlywed wife, unless we hid our interlaced fingers under an airline blanket.

Tracie and I had just spent the weekend celebrating our wedding -- a very public rehearsal dinner at our favorite restaurant, a ceremony and reception in our backyard with sixty-something friends and family members, most of whom followed us -- still wearing our white gowns -- to an after party at our local gay bar.

To revert to covert displays of affection on our honeymoon flight to Maui felt out of sync with the overt joy we'd just experienced. I didn't like it, but I understood. This was 2001. We'd heard stories about same-sex couples harassed on airplanes. Tracie felt uncomfortable, and I loved her, so I complied.

We have a name for this kind of self-policing: internalized homophobia.

I'd struggled with it, too, while planning our vacation. Looking for accommodations, I chose not to book a condo at the resort where my parents had vacationed for years. I thought of that place as straight people's territory, and couldn't imagine feeling anything but self-conscious while trying to relax poolside with my bride. Instead, I picked a condo I'd found on an LGBT travel website, a lesbian-owned property that had looked good online.

When we arrived near midnight, Maui greeted us with soft rain, a marriage blessing according to some traditions.

The condo, however -- not much blessing there. Grimy walls, stained carpets, a mildewed shower and an inexplicably creepy aura in the master bedroom, as if it were haunted by someone who had died there. Recently. Perhaps the gecko Tracie had accidentally run over with our luggage when she wheeled it into the foyer.

Refusing to let our half-star accommodations ruin our honeymoon, Tracie sealed off the back bedroom and transformed the living room, turning the futon into a palace mattress, lighting candles and decorating the otherwise bare space with the wedding cards we had received.

Vowing to spend as much time as possible outside the condo-from-hell, we explored Haleakala, boogie boarded at Makenna, hiked through a bamboo forest, wandered upcountry and gorged on multi-hued sunsets.

On our final night, we splurged on a candlelight dinner at a seaside restaurant. Lingering over glasses of wine, we noticed another pair of newlyweds -- a straight couple -- a few tables away. We noticed them because their waiter had brought them a complimentary split of champagne.

"They have no idea we're newlyweds, too," I said to Tracie.

We could have told the waiter. We could have risked rejection and asked for our complimentary champagne. But that would have felt like asking someone to buy us a wedding present, and it would have turned what had been a romantic evening into a political statement. We chose to keep the romance in place.

All week, Tracie and I had been invisible honeymooners. Back then, outside of our community, we simply did not expect recognition -- not legal, not social -- for our relationship. Back then, we would have told you that what mattered to us was not someone else's acknowledgement of our relationship, but our own commitment to each other. But watching that couple enjoy their complimentary champagne and the waiter's glow of shared celebration, I wondered how our honeymoon might have been different, if.

In the thirteen years since then, Tracie and I joined the marriage equality movement and celebrated two more weddings -- in San Francisco in 2004 (invalidated) and in 2008, in our home county in California, with our two children as witnesses (still legal).

Our family has benefitted greatly from the past decade's legal gains, and we have benefitted just as significantly from the simultaneous social changes. We are no longer invisible. Thanks to ongoing, prime-time LGBT rights battles and the growing lot of LGBT characters on mainstream television, the general public now has a context for who we are.

As same-sex marriage bans teeter and fall in courts across the nation, the era of invisible honeymoons is slowly coming to a close. My family witnessed evidence of its demise last summer. DOMA had just been defeated, the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8 had just been upheld, legal marriage had just returned to California when we flew to Maui for a family vacation.

While we waited in line at the car rental office, anyone paying attention could see we were a family -- how the boys referred to us as Mommy and Mama, how we responded, equally parentally, to their requests for treats from the vending machine (no), piggyback rides (yes), screen time (no) and emergency trips to the restroom (yes!).

By the time we reached the counter, the customer service agent, Lea, had us pegged. As we handed over our driver's licenses and filled out forms, she asked, "Are you celebrating anything special during your visit?" She may as well have winked and nodded, along with that knowing smile.

A 13-year-old want sparked up in me. I wanted to beam a smile back at Lea and gush, "Yes, this is our honeymoon!" I wanted graciously to accept the car rental company's equivalent of a complimentary split of champagne. But I wouldn't lie for it.

I wanted to tell Lea how good it felt to be recognized as honeymooners, even thirteen years after the fact. But our squirrelly kids had been clamped down in plane seats for five hours, and out of concern for their flagging patience and my thinning sanity, I needed to speed this through.

So I told the simple truth, "Yes. We're here to celebrate my dad's 70th birthday."

Lea's smile dimmed a few watts. "Well, that's great," she nodded. Then she offered us a ridiculously deep discount on a convertible.

Wind in my hair, winds of change -- that convertible kept me smiling all the way to our condo at the resort I used to think of as straight people's territory.