There is such a sweet light in the face of the straight people who want me to get married. It starts with that sparkly, conspiratorial smile. They squeeze my arm, leaning in like a favorite auntie. "So," they say, "are you going to Massachusetts?"
I can barely stand the kick to the curb I'm about to deliver.
I would love nothing more than to marry my partner. I love this girl. I want the dinner and the dance and the promise of her Social Security check if, God forbid, she dies young. I want a joint tax return and the family discount at the health club.
I also want some return for the years I've spent giving straight people wedding presents. I want everyone at the office to gasp at my engagement ring and pitch in for a bad bakery cake to celebrate. I want the magic of the day I was conditioned to hope for.
That's not going to happen by going to Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2003. Sure, I might get the cake and a little slice of symbolism, but any legal or financial advantage would dissolve once we left the state. For gay couples like us, marriage is about collecting paper.
Our commitment is measured by the size of our legal files, which grow each time we move to a new state or accumulate property or struggle to ensure that one person's retirement account will go to the other.
Say my girlfriend and I did take what would be an unquestionably romantic trip to Massachusetts. We'd have to start our married life off with a lie, since you have to declare your intention to live there. We'd have to wait three days for a license, then get a certificate saying we don't have syphilis and listen to a lecture on AIDS (a nice bit of equality with our straight brothers and sisters). For the drive, we'd stock the glove compartment with our medical powers of attorney and hospital authorization forms. That way, if we got in a car accident and one of us needed to get into the other's hospital room or make some hard decisions, we wouldn't get shut out while doctors tried to reach our parents.
Then there's the general power of attorney, which is good, all-round backup. We'd also tuck in the New York City domestic-partnership certificate we got at city hall. It cost us $1 more than the license straight people buy, for reasons I can't suss out. (My girlfriend says it doesn't really give us much except the right to visit each other in Rikers. Still, it might work in a pinch.) All this, on top of the regular pressures of finding a hall, someone to do the ceremony and a florist.
Even if we did decide that one more piece of paper might actually make us married, the government wouldn't care. Consider, for example, our medical insurance. She is covered by the domestic-partnership benefits of my job. That's great, until you run headfirst into the federal tax law. Because the Feds don't think gay weddings are real, even if we did get married I'd still have to pay taxes on an extra $9,370.20--what her medical coverage is worth.
Don't get me wrong. I applaud the right-thinking folks in Massachusetts, Vermont and Canada. I appreciate the recent battle in Connecticut, where we get something that looks a lot like marriage but isn't called that. This is a civil-rights battle rooted in love, and it's moving quickly.
I'm grateful that in the Blue States and some of the Red it's not cool to fire me from my job based on my sexual orientation. Except for one incident at a weird resort near Kansas City, Mo., my girlfriend and I have never been hassled when we've asked for a double bed. Even high schools have gay-straight alliances now. The only gay-straight alliance at my school was when the straight kids called me a lezzie.
I understand the emotional draw of a legally sanctioned ceremony. We were living in San Francisco when gay marriage started breaking out all over city hall one Friday afternoon in the winter of last year. My girlfriend was covering it for the daily paper, and she called me to come watch what was a historic moment.
I saw people on the steps of the beaux-arts building, weeping and kissing. On that glorious day, it felt as if I could have what all my straight friends had. I hadn't known how heavy the oppression was until it was lifted, even for a moment.
We didn't get married. My girlfriend believed that as a journalist, she couldn't be a part of a story she was writing about. (The old journalistic-objectivity excuse--like I haven't heard that before.) She didn't buy my argument that straight, married people shouldn't be able to cover it then, either.
The truth was, we didn't want to rush it. Isn't the whole point of getting married to have your brothers make stupid toasts and your mother cry and your friends swear to help keep you together when you're falling apart--to craft a public sharing of love? Marriage is not about driving to a place where you don't live or settling for a ceremony that will be recognized only there.
It's my wedding, damn it. I don't want the crumbs. I want the whole cake.