Calif. Marriage Ruling: One of the ‘Lucky’ Couples

My husband and I are lucky. We're one of the 18,000 gay and lesbian couples who get to keep our California marriage certificate after the state Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Proposition 8, the voter-approved ballot measure restricting the state's marriage rights to heterosexual couples. But as the San Francisco Chronicle's Bob Egelko wrote: "The justices ruled unanimously that Prop 8 was not retroactive and that gay and lesbian couples who relied on the court's May 2008 ruling to get married before the Nov. 4 election will remain legally wed." (Article continued below...)

I trekked from Seattle to Los Angeles with my guy of seven years to tie the knot in September 2008. We did this because we love each other and want to spend the rest of our lives together, but also because we really wanted to see Dolly Parton's 9 to 5: The Musical, which began its pre-Broadway run in L.A. soon after the state approved same-sex marriage. "It's a sign from God," joked Jake as we set about planning "the gayest weekend ever!"—an event that might've stayed awash in wryness if not for our parents, both sets of which greeted news of our upcoming nuptials by hopping on cross-country flights to join us for an impromptu Beverly Hills wedding dinner, where between the fully legal license on the table and the teary-eyed toasts from our fathers, Jake and I came to understand that we were actually truly, finally married.

Then came November and the passage of Prop 8—a surprise that stung, of course, but all hurt and disappointment was overridden by the outpouring of support that followed. Watching crowds across the nation protesting the measure, fielding phone calls from sorrowful friends and relatives (some of them beside themselves with indignation), I realized that marriage equality had made the long-awaited leap from fringe concern to mainstream civil-rights issue, with Prop 8 galvanizing a common-sense empathy among equality-cherishing Americans that was—and is—thrilling to behold.

But Prop 8 also came with messy personal ramifications, due to Jake's family's lifelong relationship with the Mormon church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' involvement in the passage of Prop 8 is well documented: Current figures put the Church's pro–Prop 8 donations at $190,000, with an additional $2.7 million coming from individual Utahans (of which 60 percent are Mormon). These facts were supplemented by tales from Jake's relatives, some of whom had received home visits from church leaders, who'd calculated a "suggested Prop 8 donation" based on the family's annual tithing (which, as good Mormons know, constitutes 10 percent of a family's gross income). For Jake's mother and father, such iffy maneuvers constituted not just a troubling use of church influence but also an active attack on their son, and the church's insistent support of Prop 8 ultimately forced them to make one of the most difficult decisions of their lives: Did they want to be good Mormons, or good parents?

Heroically, Jake's parents chose the latter, embarking on a crash course in personal growth and religious skepticism that found them marching in protest outside the Salt Lake City Temple and speaking out as Mormons for marriage equality on Utah news broadcasts. As they well understand, these actions have the potential to gravely complicate their relationship to the church they both still love, and the courage Jake's parents continue to display is an amazing thing to behold.

What's more, the evolution of Jake's parents demanded a reciprocal stepping-up from Jake and me. One of the souvenirs of growing up gay in an oppressive environment—the Mormon church for Jake, 1980s Texas for me—is an almost reflexive drive to cast yourself as an outsider and withdraw without compunction from the people who just don't understand you, man. This phenomenon played out for Jake and me in take-it-or-leave-it engagements with our families, whom we'd lazily continued to cast as the confused authority figures of our childhoods. But with Jake's parents doing their damnedest to rise to the gay-marriage occasion, we were required to do the same, and throughout the wedding and its aftermath, we found ourselves forging deeper and more spontaneous relationships with both sets of parents, in that "creating a family" way that traditionally accompanies marriage.

Which brings us back to Tuesday's decision, which did nothing to my marriage other than render it a novelty item, one of the 18,000 same-sex weddings performed during 2008's 18-week window of legality, the ridiculous arbitrariness of which will figure into all legal challenges to Prop 8 forever. I'm happy to be part of this klutzy march toward equality, and I'll be happy to watch it struggle onward for as long as I need to. But I'll only feel truly married when every committed same-sex couple in the U.S. can wed, and not just those lucky enough to go see a Dolly Parton musical at the right time.

David Schmader is an associate editor and columnist for the Seattle
newsweekly
The Stranger.