Monday, December 22, 2008

(another chapter of The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage)

Do You Feel Any Different?

“So how’s married life treating you?”

It was a regular refrain in the days after our wedding, usually followed by, “Has getting married changed your relationship?” Traditional post-nuptial questions we’d never had the opportunity to experience before.

Some were just joking, moms at school taking the opportunity to rib us, dads getting to talk about our relationship in a playful way, which they might have felt was off-limits before. But some were deadly serious, as if suddenly, after seventeen years, we were more married than before. I realized that for them, saying “I do” was a distinct dividing line between the days before, and those that followed, in their own relationships.

Despite not having the chance to say “I do” all these years, we’d made the decisions that married people make every day: will I work to make this marriage succeed? Will I love you tomorrow, next week, next year, and in fifty years? Can we make it through this tough day as friends?
When asked, I replied that the relationship is the same. The love is the same. The commitment to working through troubles and staying together is the same. But, to more intimate friends, I admitted that it does feel different after saying the vows aloud.

I now understand why marriage vows are imbued with such ceremony. They do mean something beyond the words. Being asked, in a formal way, to state my feelings made me see my love for Jannine for what it was. Not just the everyday love that kisses goodbye in the morning, or snatches intimacy between sleepless nights and the latest birthday spectacular, but the something more that lies beneath. When I fell head over heels in love with her all those years ago, it stuck.

Luckily, we grew together—morally, ethically, in our vision of a life together—rather than apart. We are not the perfect couple, but we are good together. I was surprised and delighted to discover how much I love her, and to feel the same kind of love in return.

The kids feel different since our wedding.

Duncan has become the unofficial observer of gay and lesbian relationships wherever he goes, commenting when he sees a possible gay couple, in life or in the movies. He theorizes about the partnership of Timon and Pumba in The Lion King 1½, saying they are gay fathers because they sleep in the same bed and adopted Simba. He noticed the lesbian in Mona Lisa Smile, and agreed with me that the two male rhinoceroses in Ice Age are definitely a couple. He told me that he thinks the increase of gay characters in children’s movies is a good sign.

He enjoyed his middle school teacher coming up for a hug after she’d seen us on television, the woman in the school office smiling when she saw his note excusing his absence, and loves to tell the story about waiting in line to get our marriage license: the donuts, the protesters, the wall-to-wall reporters.

But, he was also harassed for having lesbian moms, for the first time. He was at a new school. He hadn’t known the kids since kindergarten. They had no long-term loyalty to him or to his family, and they were middle schoolers, full of the cruelty of their kind. He heard crude remarks about how we conceived him, was asked if we “make out and stuff,” and was treated to explicit sexual comments about his mothers. He told us, when we asked how he dealt with it, that he stayed cool, disappointing his would-be tormentors who were trying to get a rise out of him.
Jannine suggested that there was a time and place to just go ahead and slug someone.

The publicity around our wedding has also shown him that there are kids at his school who support our family. One girl in class has been extra friendly since she found out about his two moms, and even one of his tormentors chimed in during a group discussion of the mechanics of Duncan and his siblings’ conception, saying that we’d “gone and bought sperm from a sperm bank,” and I wondered if maybe, with all the attention on same-sex marriage, there had been discussions in that kid’s home that were changing his attitudes, too.

When his health class required a persuasive essay, Duncan chose to write his about same-sex marriage. His core argument being that same-sex marriage harmed no one, and made gay couples happy, and wasn’t more happiness in the world a good thing?

Anna admitted after we married that she had always just thought we were married, even though she knew intellectually that we weren’t. Her gay-friendly bubble wasn’t burst at our elementary school packed with liberal parents and their kids. Not only did her teacher, Mr. McElroy, high-five her and give us all a hug, the secretary in the school office practically broadcast the news on that amazing Wednesday morning. It was all over the school.

When our kids were younger, if they asked if we were married, we’d tell them, “Well…” explaining that legally we weren’t, but in every other sense of the word, we were. We considered ourselves married, explained about our rings, and the nature of a marriage commitment. We hope Graeme will grow up without the, “Well…”

For his whole life, he will know the story of how his parents went down to the County Building when he was one, and were married with him in their arms. Whether the courts let it stand is another issue. We got married. He can look at marriage photos, finger the wedding gifts around our home, read in newspaper clippings about the day his parents exchanged vows, and see our license on the wall. He is, I hope, just the beginning of a generation of kids whose gay parents will be married.

I know that for some asking, “How is married life treating you?” our marriage seemed unreal, because it was over in a moment and without the blessing of the voters. Local newspaper columnists wallowed in the idea that haste makes a marriage somehow distasteful, as if we were all shotgun brides or grooms, slipping through a window we had no business using. We, ourselves, joked that it was a shotgun wedding, but instead of being a baby on the way, it was an injunction.

Today, we know that we could have waited a couple weeks, invited people from near and far, made up a list, and ordered a dress. But, we’d have worried every minute that we’d made the wrong decision, that we’d waited too long, would miss this opportunity, then have to wait weeks, months, or even years for the window to open again. It would have been devastating.

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