Monday, June 16, 2008

I was a conscientious objector, but I couldn't beat the draft.

Chris and I are married. We have been for two years and thirteen days and an hour or so. We got in the car on June 3rd, 2006, with our witness, Christina, all of us looking trashy and muttering, and drove down to Madera to get a marriage license (Merced's office was closed, that weekend), and get hitched in a civil ceremony.

Let's back up a bit, now, to explain.

Chris and I never wanted to be married. All of my life, my perception of marriage had been that it's the excuse people in bad relationships use to stay in them. It's expensive to divorce. Everything is owned together, so everything has to be divided up. It often comes with houses and children and other things impossible to split up. So a lot of people who are bad to one another, who are unhealthy for one another, stay together in spite of it, because they're married.

I figured, I want to stay with him because we should be together, not because there was a hell of a large legal tangle there to get through to get out.

I understand that that only comes into play if one does want to leave, so I'm starting to mellow on the idea, but it just always had such a poisonous connotation for me, I wanted nothing to do with it, myself.

Chris didn't want to be married because he'd just come out of a nasty divorce, from a marriage he hadn't really wanted to enter in the first place. It wasn't something that spoke volumes of joy to him, either.

And neither of us, frankly, really liked the connotations of the "traditional" marriage and wedding; the transfer of woman as property from one male (father 'giving away') to another (the husband that 'takes' the bride), or the whole bit about obeying. Whatever proponents, "defenders" say, the tradition of marriage has been an economic one, not a romantic one.

And the so-called tradition of one-man-one-woman is recent, too; how is it that people toting the Bible as their defense of that idea don't remember Jacob's dozen simultaneous wives? Marriage to the widow of your brother? The not-quite-married but clearly deeply devoted and bonded pairs of male saints in the middle ages? What about the countries around the world that do, now, allow same-sex marriage? What about the ancient civilizations that did?

The idea that there is some sanctity of marriage, when heterosexual marriages have a 50/50 chance and things like "Who wants to marry a millionaire?" encourage strangers to gold dig and hitch up, let alone a sanctity that could be harmed by allowing devoted couples to be Official, has always been appalling to the both of us.

We didn't want to be apart of an institution so hypocritical, an institution that was being used to separate out ways of loving into legitimate and illegitimate.

We tried to get a domestic partnership, instead. Marriage Lite™, we said, Marriage! The Home Game™, is the thing for us. There's solidarity with those whose beloveds don't happen to be of a different sex than them, and there's an easy out--either person can sign a piece of paper to dissolve a DP, and it's over, so none of the staying together for the sake of avoiding a legal mess. And DPs confer insurance benefits, in California.

I desperately needed insurance. (Aye, there's the rub.)

See, my teeth were starting to give out. Half of them had cavities, and now, three root canals, plus of a dozen fillings, and three crowns later, they're in order. But you can understand, I suppose, why leaving me without insurance (after I'd been without it for 5 years already) would have been a problem. Plus, my mother chided me, what if you get hit by a bus? What if you break your arm? What if something happens?

So we looked into DPs. But we discovered a certain problem with them.

In California, DPs are only recognized between same-sexed couples, much the way marriages were only recognized between different-sexed couples. We managed to get one in Berkeley, on January 3rd, 2006, and Berkeley, Long Beach, and San Francisco will recognize it, but no one else does. So it didn't do to get me onto the insurance. If one of us had been arrested in Long Beach, we'd have had visiting rights, though. That's something.

But anyway, this further confirmed to us that we didn't want to be married.

The ONLY reason I can imagine that different-sexed couples would be barred from domestic partnerships the way same-sexed have been barred from marriage is because, whatever the anti-gay-marriage crowd says, DPs ARE a weaker institution, and same-sex couples were being ghettoized to them. "Stay over here, heterosexuals, this is the real thing. Leave the play version for Them."

But I'm not het, and I don't appreciate being muscled towards patriarchy in any case. "Separate is inherently unequal," remember that, folks? Forty years ago, we figured that out. We had rules, then, too, about which consenting adults could marry which consenting adults, it was just divided over a color line, instead of a gender one.

We Did Not Want to Be Married.


But... we adore one another. We use terms like "life partner," and "lover," and "beloved" to connote one another. And a lot of sillier things, too. We don't intend to come apart, we don't intend to ever stop being together, we hardly even spend any time apart. Four years later, and we still brush our teeth together and go to bed at the same time, and eat breakfast together, and take walks together, and don't even bathe separately. We do the shopping together, and moon doe-eyed at each other, and kiss, and profess love, and hold hands when we walk. There is nothing worse in my world than the spectre of separation from my beau.

So that meant we need to be healthy, so neither of us fell apart.

So that meant I needed insurance.

So that meant that we went ahead and drove down to Madera, with our witness, who was sworn to secrecy. And the ceremony was actually very pretty--no religion (we're not religious), no "obey," no gender essentialism, no condescension, just love and respect and cherishing. It was perfect for us. Christina's cell phone went off during the vows, which felt fittingly undermining to the severity and weight of the whole thing. We laughed a lot about it. We took pictures in front of the cannon inexplicably sitting in front of the court house ("shotgunned" into marriage, see?) and signed the papers and got me protected by the state. I didn't--and won't--change my name. I told my mother. Chris told his parents.

We wanted to boycott marriage, we wanted to remain in solidarity, but we didn't have much choice, so we at least weren't going to admit to it. Not without the long explanation of why it was we weren't open about it, and a discussion of guilt and the inequality of the institution. Between those occasions and loose-lipped family, it's spread further than we'd like. But we've tried, damnit.

So. Why are we coming out now?

In the state of California, until 5 pm this afternoon, you could only be married if you were a different-sexed couple. And as we've thought more about the institution, and the fact that, once you divorce it from all that "tradition," it doesn't have to be as patriarchal and economical and stifling as it has wanted to be, the segregation of it has become the central issue in our avoidance.

And right now, at least for a few months, at least in our corner of the country, it's not an issue, anymore.

I love my state. I love my judiciary. I love San Francisco and West Hollywood and all the courthouses staying open after hours to help people who love one another get the same recognition, responsibility, and protection as everyone else has been entitled to, at the first possible moment. (I don't love Kern County, but that's not surprising, or the ballot measure set to come up in November to write "one man, one woman" into the state constitution. But otherwise.) I love New York for recognizing the new marriages. I am full of love, right now.

I love Chris. My conscientious, wonderful, beautiful love.

I'm still not sure I can call him my husband, except to quiet down confused salesmen and telemarketers, but maybe once in a while I will. My spouse, for sure. My partner for always. My love.