Who Marriage is For: A Tale of Two Weddings

Who is marriage for now?

And what is it, anyway?

I want to tell a story. Two stories, I guess, about two weddings, that show how radically the answer to that question has changed in just the past few years.

In front of CIty Hall 2004

The first time Ingrid and I got married at City Hall, the whole thing had a very different feel. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision in 2004 to authorize same-sex marriages in San Francisco came totally out of left field, and everyone knew that it would probably be overturned by the courts. (Which, of course, it was.) So underlying the exuberant joy was a feeling of urgency: a knowledge that there was an axe hanging over our heads that could drop any time, and an almost panicky feeling of needing to get your joy in under the wire.

Licenses on City Hall steps 2004

There were huge lines out City Hall doors. Dozens of ad-hoc officiants who had been specially deputized to perform weddings. A dozen or more weddings happening all over City Hall at any given time, all day, every day. It was a lean, mean, fast-moving wedding machine. We couldn’t even get very dressed up, because we didn’t know if we’d have to wait in line in the rain all day (we got very lucky and got a dry day for our wedding); we signed our papers on the steps of City Hall.

Kissing on City Hall steps 2004

And, of course, the overwhelming majority of those weddings were same-sex. If you were a straight couple wanting to get married at City Hall that first week, and you hadn’t already made an appointment, you were out of luck. It was a happy, joyful mob scene… and it was all about the queers.

So the whole thing was less like being welcomed into society as first-class citizens, and more like a massive act of queer civil disobedience. (Improbably led by the Mayor of the city.)

In front of City Hall 2008

Last month’s wedding, the second time Ingrid and I got married at City Hall, was different.

There was no mob scene, no line out the door. There is a possible deadline — the court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in California could be overturned by a ballot initiative in November — but November is a ways away, and nobody was feeling that if they didn’t get married that day they might never get the chance.

Vows 2008

There were certainly a whole lot more weddings happening than there would normally be on a Thursday at City Hall, with extra officiants on hand and a host of volunteers there to shepherd everyone through the process. But it was much calmer, much more business as usual, than the weddings in 2004. It still felt like history in the making, and everyone there was aware of it… but it was a much more peaceful joy, a gentle folding of a new flavor into the batter.

And here’s the thing, the point I want to make:

It wasn’t just same-sex couples getting married that day.

There were plenty of opposite-sex couples getting married at City Hall the day we were there. In fact, when we signed in for our appointment to get our license and have our ceremony, the schedule listed the couples as “Same sex” or “Opposite sex.” And just from a quick glance, it looked like it was running about half and half.

So there we were in City Hall: a City Hall dotted with women marrying women, and men marrying men, and women marrying men.

And it struck me:

This is huge.

This is the change: the change we’ve been working and fighting for.

This is exactly the way it should be.

Licenses 2008

In California at least, marriage has changed. It’s not longer a relationship and contract between a man and a woman. It’s a relationship and contract between two people. Any two people.

In California at least (and Massachusetts, and Canada, and Spain, and a few other places around the world), marriage is no longer about maleness and femaleness; the man’s role and the woman’s role in the family; the husband and the wife. It’s about two people. Spouse 1 and Spouse 2, as they put it on the forms we filled out.

Ingrid is my wife, and I am hers. And that means essentially the same thing as the fact that our friends Tim and Josie are husband and wife.

I think this is what I was getting at when I wrote How Gay Marriage Is Destroying Normal Marriage — No, Really. Same sex marriage is changing what marriage is — for everybody. For the men and women getting married in City Hall the day Ingrid and I got married, marriage won’t be the same. The fact that Ingrid and I were getting married the same day that they were means that their marriages won’t be the same. They won’t mean the same thing.

The 2004 weddings were about the queers. June’s weddings were about everybody.

Equality california

Important note: The deadline is a few months off, but there is a deadline. In November, there will be an initiative on the California ballot, asking voters to amend the state Constitution and ban same-sex marriage. If you think this issue and this movement are important, please consider supporting Equality California. If you donate through their Love Stories program by July 31, your donation will be part of a matching program which will make your donation even more valuable.

Oh, and to any polyamorists reading this: Yes, I think it should be available to more than two people. Hopefully that change will come someday as well.

Who Marriage is For: A Tale of Two Weddings

7 thoughts on “Who Marriage is For: A Tale of Two Weddings

  1. 1

    Heh, finally something on which we disagree! I agree that gay marriage is progress, but when did marriage stop being a tool of the patriarchy? I mean that in both the literal sense and the “when did we stop considering it so” sense.
    I don’t think the State has any business setting out rules about what sort of relationships it plans to recognise, and I think it does so for wholly bad reasons. I’m sorry that so many people seek the State’s approval; I think it sends a message that its judgement in these matters is valuable. I’d like to see it get out of that business altogether and abolish the distinction in law so it doesn’t have to care. Then we can have gay marriages, poly marriages, “marriages” for sex that last an hour (which some of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence already have specific ceremonies for) or what have you, and no-one has to campaign for it – they just have to do it.
    You can call this privatising marriage or abolishing it, whichever makes the best/most outrageous slogan…

  2. 2

    Well, this married (to an opposite sex partner), straight (mostly), long-time polyamorist sends you and Ingrid her most heartfelt congratulations! If nothing else, I would hope that poly people would see gay marriage as an obvious step on the way to opening up the whole institution of marriage to new forms of family. This is not a zero sum game.

  3. 3

    Paul: I’ve seen the “there should just be no such thing as marriage, the state shouldn’t be involved in people’s relationships” argument before. And here’s my argument against it. (Apart from, “it’s never, ever going to happen.”)
    Without marriage, the only legally recognized relationships we would have would be those of (a) blood family and (b) business contracts. And I don’t want that. I want it recognized, not just by society but by the law, that Ingrid and I are family — every bit as much family as our blood relatives, and in fact more so.
    Without marriage (or something like it, like civil unions or domestic partnerships, which by your argument I assume you’re also opposed to), the single most important relationship in my life would have no legal recognition whatsoever. Inheritance, hospital visitation, custody (a moot point for us, but not for a lot of couples), power of attorney if one of us becomes incapacitated, etc. etc. etc…. all of that would automatically fall to my father and brother. And while I am reasonably fond of my father and brother, with all due respect to them, I do NOT want that stuff going to them. I want it going to Ingrid.
    Without marriage, or some form of legal recognition of romantic relationships, there is no way for that to happen. There is no way for us to have family that we choose — just the families we’re born with.
    And with all due respect, the “marriage is a tool of the patriarchy” argument is more than a bit oversimplified. That’s one of the points I made in my pieces How Gay Marriage Is Destroying Normal Marriage — No, Really and I Do — And Why. Marriage is an incredibly ancient and complex human activity, and while “tool of the patriarchy” is one aspect of its history, it is only one aspect.
    To quote myself, “The history of marriage, and its growth away from ownership and towards equal partnership, is the history of the human race’s maturation. Participating in it means participating, not just in the history and the ritual, but in its growth and change.”
    And same-sex marriage is, IMO, a huge part of that process of change.
    Now, what I *would* like to see is a change in the law that makes it easier for people to designate their chosen family… other than just in marriage. (To some extent we can do that now — you can give your friends power of attorney, etc. — but it’s very piecemeal, and it’s easily trumped by blood relatives if they want to be assholes about it.)
    I’m all for expanding our definitions of “family.” But removing the legal status of marriage doesn’t accomplish that. In fact, it’s a step backwards from it. It wouldn’t expand how we define family — it would narrow it even further.

  4. 4

    How many times are they going to marry and un-marry the people of California? When will the madness end? It’s about time we all realized what needs to be done: marriage for everybody in the nation, or nobody. Anything else is discrimination.

  5. 5

    Did I mention I love you? I just sent everyone, even my wife, an email announcing this deadline and asking them to donate. She told me not to spend money this week, but I did. Thanks for the head’s up!
    (pun intended…)

  6. 7

    This is almost a year late, but…
    What I found interesting is the number of gay couples who traveled to California from out of state during the time that gay marriage was legal there in order to get married, knowing full well that it wouldn’t matter once they returned to their solidly non-gay-marriage-friendly state. (In this case it’s Ohio, whose voters pushed the marriage-is-between-one-man-and-one-woman clause into its constitution a while back with much less overall notice from the rest of the nation. Maybe because it was a red state for so long?)
    The reasons for this are likely the ones you already talked about in your other post about marriage. Part of me, however, thinks, if a couple is going to go to all that trouble anyway, why not move to the state in question and get the legal rights as well as the emotional impact?

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