I’ve worked a long time for this, and it’s been a bumpy ride along the way.
I remember the very first time I heard the phrase, “Gay Marriage”. It was the last weekend in June 2002, and I was registering voters for a mid-term election at Twin Cities Pride. It was a good crowd that year, full of high spirits. As I was cajoling passersby to sign up, a young woman shook me off because she was already registered, then turned around and said, “But I won’t vote for anyone who won’t vote for gay marriage.”
It was one of those moments when time changed, everything slowed down as I tried to reconcile her words to the world I knew. Her companion, who I don’t remember clearly at all, added something to the effect that until we could marry, we’d never be equal.
My mind went blank. It was a true paradigm shift. My world tilted to the side and shook cobwebs from my brain. I had never thought of it before, why would I? We were barely tolerated as couples. The idea of gay marriage was completely out of my realm of conscious thought. But the seed was planted.
It took root because my sweetheart/partner/special friend (as we were labeled) had developed heart disease earlier that year in a medical event that included a smug clerk safe behind a shield of glass telling me that since I wasn’t ‘family’ I would not be allowed to see her in the ER. Once I knew my sweetheart was going to survive I realized the depth of anger in my heart towards my own country. I’d been terrified, and the witch behind the counter had taken a cruel delight in adding to my torture. That was one reason I was so politically active at Pride that year, an event I’d always enjoyed as a casual participant.
We also had a beautiful granddaughter born that year who quickly became the light of our lives. The idea she might know me not as her grandmother’s ‘special friend’ but rather her wife filled me with hope. The idea wouldn’t stop playing in my mind. What if? What if?
On Thursday, February 12, 2004 I turned 47. (I see you doing the math, there.) My Beloved and I were in Fresno, CA visiting my mother. During the news that night we saw the funniest thing; a beautiful couple of elderly women had been legally married in San Francisco. How quixotic I thought. Talk about tilting at windmills.
When the marriages were still taking place two days later we looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it.” It was Valentine’s Day after all. So we quickly packed an overnight bag with the nicest clothes we’d brought with us and took off.
A very long story later (ask me nicely and I’ll tell you all about it) we’d weathered the Phelpsians, two days of waiting in lines, a nasty night outside in a raging Pacific storm, and stood on the San Francisco Courthouse steps, waving our brand new marriage certificate at a crowd of cheering strangers.
They invalidated us six months later (not even the dignity of an annulment), but we’d known the thrill of being legitimately married in one place in our country, if only for a handful of days. When our home state of Minnesota legalized Gay Marriage, followed swiftly by recognition by the Federal government, we were finally married in 2013, surrounded by our daughters and grandchildren. It a transcendental day.
But the fear of finding ourselves facing an emergency in a hostile state that would not recognize our marriage haunted us. We travel a lot, and some of the local governments of some of our favorite places would have happily added to our anxiety and grief during an emergency. I carried a photo copy of our marriage certificate with us everywhere.
Today I finally took it out of my purse. I won’t need it anymore. My family is now recognized in every state in the Union, and I’m no longer at war with my own country.