06/11/2013 12:32 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

When We're Wed

My 10-year anniversary was Sunday. My husband's was Saturday.

We met at the Tony Awards, a fact we proudly describe as the gayest story ever. Naturally, I mark our anniversary on the day of each Tony Awards, the second Sunday in June. He marks the date of that particular Tony Awards, June 8. You see our conundrum.

On his anniversary, he sends me flowers with the card "It's Today." On mine, I send him the same.

We joke, but we're not the only ones.

For so many gay and lesbian couples who've been denied the right to marry for so long, when to start counting is not an easy question. First meeting, first date, first kiss, first sex, first "I love you"? For some lucky lovers, those all may be on the same night. But for most, they're not. So the question remains: How long have we been "we"?

The definitiveness of marriage is one of its most essential qualities. There is no question what to call a married person -- "husband" or "wife" -- whereas the unmarried wander in a thicket of "partner," "lover," "spouse," "boyfriend," "girlfriend," "significant other," "other half." A couple may resolve this uncertainty for themselves by just deciding what to call each other but notice the fumbling of others reaching for the right word, that momentary pause of the well-meaning that admits, "I don't know what to call you. I don't understand you."

It's the same pause, nearly imperceptible, that comes from so many white Americans right before saying "African-American" or "Hispanic." A breath of unknowing. And distance.

But the marriage definitive on my mind this anniversary day is the when. My husband and I got married nine months ago. We know -- and yes, agree -- that on this coming Sept. 8, we will celebrate our first anniversary. Yet somehow that doesn't clarify as much as the definitiveness of the words.

To say we are celebrating one year is to miss the other nine years of life we have built together. Reporting the number of years we've been married will never capture the entirety of us. Too much us came before.

But then, isn't that true of all couples? I always wondered why this never seemed to bother straight couples. Despite the fact that most were together at least a few years before marriage, the wedding date is still The Beginning. Did all that time not count? Was it somehow not really real? All those surprise gifts and irrational fights and hand-in-hand strolls and sweet nothings and spontaneous movies and private jokes -- were they all just practice?

In some ways, yes. It's different, imperceptibly and yet epically different. I didn't know how different until I felt it for myself. I couldn't know. And that's why we need marriage equality. If you don't count your relationship as really real until you got married, and I can't get married, you'll never count mine.

But then, in other ways, no. All that came before doesn't go away, doesn't even get relegated to "less than." All that came before counts. Because it got us to "us." It got us to here, this day of anniversary.

Both of them.