My husband and I got legally married because we were knocked up. Ok, that's technically impossible, but in some ways, it was true: we had decided to start the adoption process and wanted to do all we could to safeguard our future family. Little did we know when we said our vows that we really were expecting: Our daughter was born less than five months later.
This was 2005, when it was legal for us to marry in exactly one state -- our own. When the adoption was finalized, the names on our daughter's birth certificate were ours. There was no chance of us ever moving, leaving the safety of this tiny bubble of equality. The idea of living somewhere else, where I would have to unhusband my language, even while constantly explaining that no, the ring on my finger did not imply a wife, had little appeal.
Over the following years, other states joined the pride parade of marriage equality. New York, I expected; Iowa, not so much. It's the Iowa victory that makes the potential for great progress seem real: American media may constantly emphasize the lifestyles of city-dwellers on both coasts, but nothing changes without the heartland.
I began to see signs of welcome for families like mine in somewhat unexpected places. When I spent a year following small town festival queens in Louisiana on their royal duties for a book, I was nervous about how a gay guy from the North would be received south of the Mason Dixon line by a largely Catholic population. Granted, this was Cajun Country, which is less "the South" and more like an Extended Zydeco Dance Party, but I was still relieved to find myself immediately embraced and invited in. Festival after festival, my new friends asked when I was going to bring my husband and daughter to join in the fun.
I came to feel so at ease in Louisiana that it felt like a second home, except for one not insignificant issue: Home for me means family, and mine was pretty much outlawed there. As much as everybody treated me with love in my visits, the state not only bans gay marriage but adoption by gay couples. There are, of course, gay folk who raise children there, but I knew I'd stay put where I was. After all, if I could live somewhere my family was on equal footing with all our neighbors, why wouldn't I?
In the nearly eight years my daughter has been alive, the meaning of "somewhere" has really evolved. In addition to the District of Colombia, there are nine states with same-sex marriage already legal and states number 10 and 11 have approved it to begin this summer; it seems increasingly likely that Minnesota will be number 12, having only months ago narrowly defeated a constitutional amendment that would have made such a thing impossible.
When I told my daughter that Delaware passed gay marriage this week, she was puzzled. "Why don't they already have it?"
I reminded her that some people don't think gay people should have the same rights as they do, and that a lot of states don't let us marry. She thought for a minute and then asked if we had gotten married in the state in which she was born. She was worried that it we had, maybe our wedding didn't count. I assured her that we'd married in Massachusetts first and then went to get her. "That's smart," she said (a sentiment about her dads that doesn't often cross her lips).
I thought the conversation was over until she asked how many states we could be married in. She seemed satisfied at first; 12 sounds like plenty to a kid who has only ever visited 8 or 9. "We could be a family almost anywhere!"
But then she had a thought: "How many states are there?" When I reminded her that there are 50, she furrowed her brow. "12 is a lot less." A moment passed as she considered the unfairness. "That's stupid. And mean." I know that many marriage equality opponents would take offense at her characterization of their motives, but, really, girl's got a point.
By the time she's of marrying age (a concept that makes me want to reach for Kleenex and Xanax all at once), I think this subject will feel like old news to her and that most, if not all, states will offer protections to same-sex couples. That means no matter where she moves, we can comfortably hound her to let us live in her in-law apartment or at least find ourselves a place so nearby that she'll be dead sick of us, just like bad straight parents. Now that will be equality -- no one said it would be pretty.