Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. My in-laws come over to mind the bae, and my lovely handsome wife and I went out for a sushi dinner that we could not actually afford and then saw Straight Outta Compton in a nearly empty theater. It was approximately the best night ever.
I haven’t written much here about my feelings about marriage, gay marriage, and “marriage equality,” but I find myself reflecting on all of that right now.
Two years ago I married Chelsea. We made a decision to get married, even though at the time there was no legal recognition of benefit to us for doing so. Simply put, we felt that we weren’t marrying the state, we were marrying each other, so we didn’t give a fuck if the state didn’t want to be involved.
And that is exactly how we viewed it. It wasn’t that we weren’t “allowed” to get married. No cops showed up at the church to stop us. Hell, no cops showed up at our reception, and that was at an anarchist collective that’s been illegally searched more than once. But the state wasn’t involved. We didn’t sign any legally binding contracts. What we did do is make some promises to each other in front of nearly 200 of our closest family and friends, have our hands ceremoniously tied together, and then dance the night away. It was one of the most magical days of my life.
Marriage, as an institution both cultural and legal, is historically intensely problematic. There are many different forms of marriage throughout the world, but the one that has been handed down to us from western Europe is, well, pretty icky. Women have historically been treated as pieces of property, to be transferred from one man to another, and whether or not a marriage made the two married people happy was often an afterthought. In the modern, industrialized world, people are expected to marry for love and marriages have become more egalitarian. But echoes of the old form remain. I have attended weddings of liberal-minded, secular people, where the bride was dramatically given away by her father, and the couple was then announced as “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.” And in the subsequent marriages that happen after these weddings, so-called “traditional” gender roles, though they may be gradually shifting, are far from dead. I notice this the most in parenting, though that is certainly not the only area of life these gendered assumptions crop up in. Phrases like:
“Kids just prefer their moms, it’s the way it is.”
“They’re dad is babysitting them tonight so I can go out with my girlfriends!”
“Is being a stay at home father emasculating?”
all point to a basic level of inequality, a built in set of roles that are hard to escape from, even when people want to.
But even in the most egalitarian of marriages, the hypothetical perfect marriage where no one is pushed into a shitty role, legal marriage is still problematic in that it is about privileging some kinds of relationships over others. We give a special set of rights and privileges (I like to picture it as a gift basket!) in the case of relationships that are romantic, lifelong, apparently monogamous, limited to two people, and until very recently, heterosexual. Given all of that, it isn’t surprising that there are plenty of people who are in relationships that would otherwise fit the bill and qualify for the gift basket, who choose not to pursue legal marriage.
My wife and I could have been two more of those people. But as it turns out, we are not. We had a second wedding, a wedding that started out as merely a formality for legal purposes but turned into a beautiful reminder of our continuing commitment to each other, in July. There are many advantages to signing the paperwork and getting the gift basket, but there was one reason for us that really tipped the scales.
That reason is currently refusing to nap.
Ultimately, securing his legal right to have two legal parents was more important to us than everything else. And we are not there yet. Getting legally married only makes it possible, we still have to go through the potentially lengthy adoption process. Still though, it was the first step. When he is older, he will not remember a time when his Ma didn’t have the same legal rights as I do, and he will have pictures of two weddings (one of which he was part of!) to look at when he daydreams about the past he does not remember.
“Now you get to have two anniversaries!”
I loved our second wedding. I was more relaxed than I was at the first one, having already made the lifelong commitment. It was at a beautiful buddhist temple. We didn’t know everyone there, but everyone seemed happy to be part of a special day. Our kid spent part of the ceremony in my arms and part of the ceremony napping on a meditation cushion. We all (me, Chelsea, the bae) wore newsboy hats. I teared up a little. It was more special than I could have imagined.
But it was not the day that changed my life forever.
Right now, there are plenty of conservatives who are angry that people like me “can get married” now, even though they could never have stopped us. Meanwhile, liberals celebrate the triumph of “equality” and sometimes they want to use my recent legal marriage to celebrate that. But my marriage certificate is not a triumph of equality. Marriage remains a complicated, fraught, and deeply problematic, thing. Unmarried people remain at a disadvantage in a myriad of ways. Polyamorous, polyfidelitous, and polygamous, families remain left out. In most states, married name changes remain easy and standard only for women who are marrying men who wish to take their husbands’ last names. You cannot create true equality by simply widening a narrowly privileged group a fraction of an inch.
I am happy to have the legal paperwork. I’m looking forward to doing our taxes together (because I’m weird). I’m looking forward to having the adoption process out of the way. And yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the second wedding. It was so lovely.
But it was not the day that our marriage began. That day was two years ago yesterday, and that is the day we will continue to celebrate for the rest of our shared time together.
Possibly with movies about gangster rap. (Oh my gosh you guys I have so many feels about that movie but NOW IS NOT THE TIME.)
- Post Nuclear Era is on the twitter! @postnuc_mama. JOIN ME.
- Post Nuclear Era is on the facebooks! JOIN ME ALSO THERE.
- I’m currently working on a post (or maybe a serious of posts) based on reader questions. Have a question about this blog? About the name? About queer families? About my queer family? Leave it in the comments or send it through one of the social media tubes.
- Amazing photo by Rob Ritzenhein at robritz.com.