Friday, February 29, 2008

(This continues the posts of chapters of my book, The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage)

The Grooms Get the License
When Jannine, Chris, and Terri tumbled out of the van at the Multnomah County Building, the door was locked, even to the lobby. No forms were available. There was no one inside the building and no one else there, except a conspicuous line of news vans jockeying for position at the curb, staking out their spots for the next morning. When the first reporter saw Chris, Terri, and Jannine standing at the door, wondering what to do next, she bounded up with a microphone.
“Are you the first ones in line?”
They glanced at each other, smiled, and answered as one, “Yes, we are.”
Chris shared her cell phone all around as “the brides” were called (apparently grooms get the license, an arcane piece of wedding etiquette I had no previous opportunity to learn), and when Jannine had her turn, her first words were, “I’m staying.”
She went on, “Call Marty and Lisa, they’re bringing down sleeping bags and supplies, you can send stuff with them. Maybe the big kids can come, too? Could you find the port-a-potty? Chris thinks we’ll need it, you know, three middle-aged women… and can you remember my camera?”
Stunned at the turn of events, I shifted Graeme to my other hip and made a list on the nearest scrap of paper. “OK, I’ll call them,” I assured her.
She hung up, only to call back a moment later. “By the way, in case I didn’t ask you earlier, will you marry me?”
“Yes,” I told her, “I will.”
She had asked me before, months earlier. When same-sex marriage in British Columbia was announced publicly, within minutes, a ripple of matrimonial momentum swept through our circle of friends, partners phoning each other to propose at the first opportunity: at lunch breaks, via e-mail, by text message on pagers. Jannine skipped that romantic component and went straight to making potential travel plans, not bothering to ask. When I chided her about it, she went down on one knee and asked me to be her wife.

I think, in my heart of hearts, I’d wanted a wedding from the moment I knew she was the one, but only dared acknowledge it when we had a track record to back up such an audacious desire. Somewhere during these years together, we could have found someone to perform a ceremony and rustled up some folks to attend; we even had our own ring-bearer living in situ, and later a flower girl (who would have grooved on the whole thing), but it wouldn’t have been a real wedding, with sincere support and the blessings of friends, family and community.
At least, that’s what Jannine said, and I never convinced her otherwise (and I tried), possibly, because I knew she was right.
If you bring home your true love of the opposite sex, there’s a good chance that your family will welcome him or her with open arms, glad either that you are happy, or to finally get you off their hands. With a same-sex true love, there’s a good chance that ten years into the relationship, one of you will be getting that “are you still here?” look when both of you arrive for any family function. Jannine didn’t want to celebrate our union when the guests might arrive with serious reservations about the whole thing.
And Jannine has wedding issues. The fuss about minutiae (cream versus ecru, bridesmaid shoes dyed to match, effigies made with marzipan) and the sexist rituals (the garter bit, the crude jokes about the wedding night, the “me, me, throw it to me” bridal bouquet toss) do nothing for her. Over the years, with friends or family, she’s heard too often how many dollars each catered meal costs, seen one too many photographs of piled up wedding plunder, and attended more than her share of weddings which ended in divorce before the wedding debt was paid off .
I guess it took all the romance out of it for her.
But I’ve yearned. I’ve cried in the silver section of department stores, and I’m not especially fond of silver. For years, I couldn’t look at a bridal registry sheet without misting up, glanced avariciously at the window of the wedding boutique on Northwest Twenty-third, and yes, I’d have almost converted to some sort of religion just to be able to marry. Heterosexuality, however, wasn’t among the religions I was willing to join.
The years rolled on, social and family tolerance became acceptance, acceptance became celebration, and by the time we had a circle of family and friends who might sincerely cheer at our nuptials, it had been a long, long time. As my father-in-law, Jon, likes to say about his married years, “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Without a specific reason to marry—like the hundreds of rights and privileges legal marriage offers—the whole thing seemed pretty moot. But then, legal marriage started being an option, first in British Columbia, and then Massachusetts was moving fast in that direction, and suddenly, Mayor Gavin Newsom was marrying same-sex couples in San Francisco on Valentine’s Day. It was tempting to fly down and take part in the celebration. But, it didn’t seem real. Lisa put it best when a friend asked her whether she and Chris were going to get married in Canada, and Lisa said, “No!” with emphatic hand gestures, if she were going to get married, she wanted to do it in her community, in her church, in her country. Jannine and I hadn’t thought it out so succinctly, but we hadn’t made a move to marry elsewhere, despite initial urges to emigrate north. We had been holding our breath, I think, with a hope and a prayer that it could happen here, rather than in Canada, or San Francisco, or Massachusetts. And it was. We had no idea this was coming. But, none of us hesitated. As Jannine said later, “Who would have expected three middle-aged women to be the first on that dime?”

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