“Who Needs Marriage?”
I was in Safeway last November, my young son perched in the front of my grocery cart as we waited in the checkout line. As I casually scanned the news rack, the usual sea of sensational tabloid headlines and glossy gossip rags touting the latest celebrity scandals, the cover of Time Magazine caught my eye: “Who Needs Marriage?” it asked, or rather, proclaimed.
Queers do, was my knee-jerk reaction. How easy it is to ruminate on the relevance of modern marriage when you’re straight and take the institution for granted, I fumed. When you’ve never been denied the basic right to marry your beloved. At closer look, I discovered that Belinda Luscombe’s Time article was, in fact, a thoughtful, well-researched (although hetero-normative) analysis of the changing institution. Nevertheless, the headline got my back up, as did Amy O’Brian’s series of columns that ran in the Vancouver Sun in the days leading up to my same-sex wedding, basically arguing that marriage is becoming an increasingly unnecessary institution.
If marriage has truly become unnecessary and insignificant, I asked myself at the time, then why are certain powerful factions still fighting so fiercely to ban same-sex marriage? That said, I recognize there are people in the queer community who would agree with O’Brian – who see marriage as an archaic, patriarchal institution and want no part in replicating or reinforcing it. The way I see it, queers should at least have the right to choose whether they want to get married or not – a choice that’s assumed a given in Luscombe and O’Brian’s hetero-takes on the subject.
Amanda and I met less than a year after the first same-sex marriages were performed here in BC. It was the first time either of us had been with a partner where marriage was an actual possibility. In the past, I’d often quipped that I was always the bridesmaid, never the bride. On three separate occasions, I’d squeezed myself into a froufrou gown and sported a ridiculous up-do to serve in the bridal party for one of my closest straight girlfriends. As honoured as I was to be there for these women on their special days, I always felt as though I was in drag. A queer interloper into this age-old rite of passage. While I wholeheartedly supported and celebrated the unions of my friends, I silently resented and grieved the fact that my own relationship with a life partner – should I ever be lucky enough to meet “The One” – would never be recognized in this way.
Even though I’ve had crushes on other girls since kindergarten, I grew up like most of my peers, assuming that one day I would get married. That’s what people did. I never had childhood bridal fantasies per se, but I was fascinated by my parents’ wedding photos and the 60s-era bridal dress my mom kept stored in a box at the back of her closet. When I first came out in my early twenties, I had to let go of any notions of marriage. The idea that same-sex unions could be legalized during my lifetime was unfathomable. I found myself inexplicably flooded with grief as I kissed goodbye some mainstream, hetero-, white-picket-fence image of marriage and family. An image that had never really fit, to begin with.
I didn’t meet Amanda until my early thirties, but I knew early on that our relationship was special. I fell for her harder and faster and more deeply than anyone I’d ever been with. We’d been together just a little over a month (which is, after all, well over a year in dyke time) when we had our first conversation about marriage – the first of many that led to our wedding two and a half years later. We wanted to get married for a whole host of reasons: because we were crazy in love. Because we wanted to grow old together. Because we wanted to throw a great party. Because we could, at long last. Because we knew this relationship was for keeps. Because we wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Because we are out and proud, and wanted to stand up and be counted as a queer married couple. But, most importantly, we were planning to have a baby together some day. We wanted our future child to know without a doubt that his or her family is like any other, a family who came together in love. True, you can most certainly be a loving family without the piece of paper; a child’s health and well-being aren’t necessarily tied to their parents’ marital status. But in a straight world that doesn’t always smile kindly on queers – a society which still regards marriage as sacrosanct, as the ultimate expression of love and family – we knew that this piece of paper would reinforce our legitimacy as parents.
The one thing neither of us could have predicted, however, was how powerful and affirming it would feel to say our vows in front of our gathered families and friends – and how this would profoundly transform our relationship with our respective parents, none of whom had initially welcomed our queerness with open arms.
This week kicked off with hundreds of New York gays and lesbians lining up to get married on the first day of legal, same-sex marriage in their state, and will culminate here on the west coast with Vancouver’s gay pride celebrations. This same week also marks five years since Amanda and I walked down the aisle and said “I do.” We have no regrets. Married life has been good to us. I wear my wedding ring with pride, and take pleasure in calling Amanda my wife. The euphoria of the honeymoon phase is long over, but our underlying love for one another grows deeper and more intimate with each passing year. We continue to ride out the highs and lows of our relationship, as does any long-term couple, knowing that we’re both on board for the long haul, and ever-loved and supported by a community of family and friends.
Our son – the baby we were dreaming about in those early conversations about marriage – arrived just over a year after we tied the knot. Now three, he takes delight in the triptych of wedding photos that are prominently displayed in our living room.
“I want to get married, too,” he tells us.
To whom?, we ask, playing along.
“To Mommy Sara and Mama Manda,” he announces gleefully, still at that age where he can imagine no other than his two moms.
We all laugh and hug, truly a family built on love.