When I was finally pronounced legally married, I wasn't in a church, nor a garden, nor at City Hall. I wasn't with any of my loved ones. In fact, I wasn't even with my wife.
I was on a conference call. My wife Angela was at work; our daughter Norrie was at preschool. That's when the California Supreme Court announced its ruling on Proposition 8, last fall's initiative to ban same-sex marriage. The court ruled that Prop. 8 is valid, but it also validated the more than 18,000 gay marriages that took place between June and November. What this means: Angela and I are legally married, and will remain so.
For us, it looks like the 4th time's the charm.
Angela and I met in 2000. I loved her honesty, her passion for nature, and her capacity for self-exploration. She fell in love with my strong sense of justice and wide circle of friends. And we both loved that we both wanted kids.
Our first foray into legally recognized status was in 2001. We were planning a formal wedding for 2002, but when we came upon a domestic partner registration booth at the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco, we jumped at the opportunity. I look back at the Polaroid from that day, and my first thought is how young and thin we were. Thanks to California's first domestic partnership law, passed in 1999, if I got sick, Angela could visit me in the hospital, but we had few other rights.
We exchanged vows again in 2002 on a warm fall afternoon in Sonoma. We had 85 guests and five bridesmaids in matching dresses; our parents walked us down the aisle to Canon in D. Dozens of professional portraits show us grinning broadly. This was our "real" wedding, but legally, we were in exactly the same place. The state legislature had added various benefits in 2001 and 2002, so we now had the right to sue for wrongful death and to inherit a portion of each other's separate property. Lovely.
The third time: February 13, 2004. "They're marrying same-sex couples at City Hall!" We agreed to meet up on BART. Angela stuck her head out of the train car and I leapt to join her. This was a week after we found out that I was pregnant with Norrie. The timing felt magical -- ordained, even. We joked that our child would one day look at the date on the marriage certificate and say, "Wait a minute...." Friends snapped photos of us beaming as we were pronounced spouse and spouse. A state law passed in 2003 had granted domestic partners not just rights but responsibilities -- but our 2004 marriage was about so much more: love, acceptance, and community celebration. Seven months later, it was ruled invalid. Thus began the battle that would lead to the state Supreme Court declaring same-sex marriage legal in the spring of 2008.
So last fall, surrounded by forty friends and their twenty kids in our backyard, we tied the knot. Again. As I primped, a four year old at my feet, Angela looked at me and with all seriousness said, "We're a lot older now." We don't have a single photo where we're all looking at the camera. And we admitted to each other that the whole thing felt like a largely political act. Call it marriage fatigue.
Soon after our wedding, pro-Prop. 8 protestors started showing up in liberal Oakland, right next door. People prayed for our souls on the front page of the paper and on TV. We fundraised, held signs, phone banked, but in the end it wasn't enough. For days after the election, I would look at people on the street and wonder, "Did he vote to take away my rights? Did she?"
There's another reason the months after our latest wedding weren't a honeymoon. Angela was newly pregnant and we had hoped our 2004 and 2008 weddings would have a certain symmetry: get pregnant, get married! But instead she suffered the 2nd of three miscarriages. Each time, we've convinced ourselves that it'll work for sure the next time. But I'm only starting to realize how much Angela has grieved every loss. She has a deep desire to bear a child, while I'm ambivalent about adding to our family. It's been hard for us to find common ground.
I suppose it's appropriate that we're finally truly married now. Because after the last rose petal has been swept away, isn't a marriage about everything that comes after, the joys and the struggles? Legal marriage softens the rough spots that make up a life together. If the worst happens, at least when you're married it's clear who will make medical decisions, who will care for the kids. Marriage also binds couples together, making it harder to throw in the towel.
I wanted Angela by my side the night of the latest ruling, as I marched in protest. But Angela has a tender heart. And we were in agreement that for now, we want to shield Norrie from the knowledge that some would have her family disbanded. Our marriage is now bigger than both of us.
Before the rally, I looked through our photos and chose one where we were all smiling, then printed the words "Our Family Values Love" above it. I carried the sign, and carried my family in my heart.
The next morning, I looked again at the sign. I felt a smile spread across my face. I had expected that after the ruling, I would feel a mixture of survivor's guilt and anger. Both are there, but there's another surprising element: pride. This is my family. In the photo, we've just spent a day at the tide pools. Norrie's wearing my jacket because all her clothes got wet. Angela's got a ball cap over her short hair. I'm wearing the floppy sunhat I love. My family comes alive at the water, and my love for them deepens every time.
So here we are, finally married. No one can tear us asunder except ourselves.
I am sure that just as our marriage will continue to have its joys and setbacks, the gay marriage movement will too. We have persevered. And we will continue to push for marriage equality until all same-sex couples have the right to do what we couldn't: get married at the first blush of love, and then move on.
Will we live happily ever after? We're sure trying.
A friend whose marriage is also one of the 18,000 held a sign at the rally: "Still Married -- Still Fighting." The meaning was lost on none of us.