(another chapter of The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage)
The First Wedding Anniversary
March 3rd, 2005, fell on a school day, much to our children’s dismay.
There had been talk, when we were giddy with marriage and anything seemed possible, of all the kids celebrating our anniversary, too, of them gathering for laser tag, sumptuous feasts, maybe a day off from school? They’d been jazzed about our marriages, which were, in part, about them: to protect them, to celebrate them, to make them “legitimate.”
As the day approached, it became clear that all the other mothers had reneged on this arrangement except us. We might still have been mavericks and let them hang at home that day and party the night away, except that Anna had missed two weeks of school for an undefined illness, and someone had to baby sit Graeme while Jannine and I celebrated… So Duncan and Anna had school as usual.
The Brides of March, as we came to call ourselves, all went out to dinner together, ten friends who had married that Wednesday at the First Unitarian Church, five couples who, in the joy, turmoil, and heartbreak after, had forged stronger friendships and appreciation for both our differences and our commonalities.
As moms, none of us get out much, but we’d had a trial run of sorts on New Year’s Eve, going en masse to a lesbian dance and fundraiser. We’d brought with us a spirit of joie de vivre which had all of us dancing: Chris and Lisa two-stepping all over the floor, Jeanna and Ellen disregarding the beat in favor of slow dancing, and Marty and Terri doing an impromptu Waltz. Later, Chris cleared our table and patted it, urging me up. When Lisa told me to take advantage of this rare opportunity, “Come on Beren, it must be fifteen years since you’ve danced on a table,” and the whole group urged me on, I did as I was told, and another couple of women followed suit on their own tables, since it really is fun up there, and something everyone should try.
I even got tips.
For our anniversary night, we booked a long table at a restaurant owned by a woman who offered us a free champagne toast when she was told the occasion, and announced to us (and the whole restaurant) that she’d just gotten engaged to her girlfriend. It was posh, dark, savory scented, and had stupid food, but it was good to be there with nine other women who understood what it had taken to reach that day.
At the table behind us, a group of straight moms from our daughter’s school were having drinks and discussing their book group selection (allegedly), while taking a break from the home fires. When she saw our long table, one of the moms, our friend Christie, asked us what miracle had brought us out on a school night? When Jannine told her, they toasted our marriages, smiles all around.
What Christie and her book group couldn’t know, was that it had been both the pinnacle of joy, and bitterly painful, to have married amid the support and disdain of a bipolar nation.
In the days before we gathered for pan-seared pork and prime rib, Bill Graves, from the Oregonian, had called many of us to ask us how we felt as the anniversary approached, and what benefits we’d received from getting married. Some of the moms had given him examples of small benefits offered by businesses, or stories about announcing their marital status.
I’d waffled about calling him back after he left us a message (and Jannine was done talking to reporters), and never did. He knew there had been no real legal benefits. Despite our marriages being registered with the state, they were in an unprecedented legal limbo. Did he wonder if we had married membership at health clubs? The zoo? Or had to pay more on our taxes as a couple? Obviously there were no social security benefits, automatic inheritance, or any of the other perks married heterosexuals got gratis with a license to wed.
I’d been burned before after being quoted in the paper, and didn’t need more ribbing from people who saw our marriage, and others like them, as publicity stunts, attention seeking, or as Barney Frank put it (regarding the marriages in San Francisco), “spectacle weddings,” proving that he simply didn’t get it about wanting to marry the one you love. My skin felt too thin.
Even the many people who did “get it,” suddenly seeing what we’d been denied, were ready to move on, feeling that the same-sex marriage issue was over, not realizing that it was far from over for any of us around that table eating slices of first anniversary wedding cake from Helen Bernhard’s and remembering that morning in March.
Long after the ten of us had finished eating we stood outside the restaurant in the warm spring night, talking about the miracle we shared, until our bodies demanded to be put to bed, even if our hearts were on emotional overdrive.
Has being married made a difference? It’s hard to know. Is it a coincidence that we have come to a place where Jannine and I seem to love each other, care for each other, and work hard to be the best people we can be, more than ever before? Is it from being married that we have resolved old pains, rediscovered old joys, and forgiven ourselves and each other for past mistakes? We seem to look with more open eyes at daily miracles, at the beauty of clouds in a bright blue sky, at the startled laugh of a tickled child, at the calm of a weekday morning. Could a wedding do all that?
March 3rd, 2004, was our wedding day, come what may.