In 1988 I fled my former life in a trauma induced flight, running away from too painful memories. I came here as a numb, shell shocked person in need of anonymity and isolation. I met Martha at work and she very quietly and gently extended her hand and then her heart. I was in no good place for a relationship but she was patient and kind and I eventually allowed myself to lean into her.
Although I have only vague memories of our beginnings, we gradually began a life together. She suffered through the worst of my PTSD and stuck with me through some intensely scary and shitty times. We found ways to overcome the obstacles. Eventually we made a commitment to each other and exchanged rings to seal it.
A few years later we had children, but marriage was not an option available to us. Or any gay couple. Although we felt strong in our bonds the reality was that if we had broken up, she, as the biological mother, could have kept me from seeing our daughters. And on the other hand, I would have had no legal obligation to financially support our children. Laws were not on our side at the time, nor did they do anything to protect the children of gay couples.
In 2011 New York State passed the Marriage Equality Act and suddenly, after 20+ years together we had the option to marry. However, our daughters were now about to go to college and it was to their benefit that my income was not included in financial aid packages, so we didn’t.
College years ended and we thought about marriage but decided that we really didn’t need it after more than a quarter century together. We were happy and didn’t want or need anything to change.
But then Trump. What will the Trump/Republican administration mean for gay folks? We have no idea but decided it was probably time we protect ourselves from a very iffy future. And so we decided to get married to hopefully protect what we have built together.
We had hoped we could just sign some papers to make it legal. But no. My friend the Town judge explained that in New York State you need to get a license, make at least one promise to each other, have two adult witness it, and have an officiant oversee the whole thing. And then she begged to do the ceremony. (Fortunately you do not have to exchange rings because we have worn commitment rings for so long, and have gained so much weight since we put them on, we doubted if we could ever get them back off to exchange again) We then found one possible night that she was available, Peachie would be visiting from Boston and Beaner could get home from work in time. It was a court night so we knew we would just have to wait for court to be over for the judge to come to our house. And then we had a snow storm. We were a little panicked that it might not all come together. But Beaner left work early to beat the snow and traffic and the storm cut court short so the judge arrived by early.
She had given us some sample ceremonies to choose from but they were all written for newlyweds, so we wrote a new one to better reflect our long term relationship. This is a small part of our ceremony:
You two have been together long enough and have been through enough challenges to know about loving with your hands and heart wide open, making space for one another to be the person she is and needs to be. Your commitment to each other is further evidenced in the love and lives of your daughters.
Please take each other’s hands so that you may know the gift that they hold for you. These are the hands of your best friend, strong and full of love for you as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow and forever.
These are the hands that will give you strength when you need it, support and encouragement to pursue your dreams, and comfort in difficult times. And lastly, these are the hands that years from now will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just one touch.
8thday, do you accept Martha as your partner in life, to honor and tenderly care for her, to cherish and encourage her, to share your life openly through your years together, and in all the joys and sorrows that life may bring you?
Martha do you accept 8thday as your partner in life, to honor and tenderly care for her, to cherish and encourage her, to share your life openly through your years together, and in all the joys and sorrows that life may bring you?
And with that we were officially married.
Nothing felt different.
A couple of days later we got a congratulations card from Beaner’s best friend, my bonus daughter since they were 3 years old. Inside her fiance wrote this:
While I’m sure being married on paper won’t change much about your day to day lives, your relationship is one I could stand to learn from. As I’ve grown to know you better over the last few years, I always leave your home smiling. Your home is always filled with laughter, love and joy. You are a role model for me and I hope to share the love and kindness you have shared with us with our kids one day. You two being together makes the world a better place.
People say that marriage changes you. I really hope that, for us, it doesn’t change a thing.