The Queer Issue
Washington State Supreme Court justice Barbara Madsen owes me a few thousand dollars.
If it weren't for her—and the four other justices who opted to uphold a ban on same-sex marriage in Washington State two years ago—we wouldn't have put $6,195.17 in wedding expenses onto our Visa, a bill we've been chipping away at for more than a year.
Let me back up a bit. In July 2006, my girlfriend, Sonia, and I had already moved to Portland, but we were still eagerly awaiting a decision in Washington's Anderson v. Sims case, the one challenging the state's same-sex marriage ban.
Ever since Sonia and I had played a minor role in sparking the case back in 2004—that's a long story involving my first marriage, to Dan Savage, and some panicky, misinformed gay-marriage activists in Seattle who've never heard of the telephone—we'd been ready to get hitched. Not long after attorneys argued the case at the state supreme court in Olympia, we'd picked out two wedding rings and tucked them into my top dresser drawer so we could dash to the King County building on a moment's notice.
It was the perfect scenario, we told our friends: Neither of us wanted a traditional wedding, with all of the expenses and the guaranteed family drama. Dashing downtown in whatever we happened to be wearing that day, surrounded by whoever could join us on a moment's notice, and following it up with dinner wherever we were in the mood to go that night was way more our style. We just had to wait for the court's green light.
The decision came down on July 26 that year, but the news wasn't good. There'd be no county-building-steps ceremony for us. And where we lived, in Oregon, there was a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Shit. What were we going to do with those rings? We'd had them engraved, so we couldn't return them. And we refused to do a consolation-prize commitment ceremony.
By the end of the year, we had a new plan: We'd slip up to Vancouver, BC, for our seventh anniversary in April 2007 to take advantage of that country's enlightened marriage laws. While we wouldn't be able to smuggle our Canadian marriage rights or responsibilities back across the border, the government-issued certificate made the whole thing seem, well, real.
But by the time we arrived in Vancouver in April, our quiet, impromptu little ceremony had morphed into a wedding—with the bills to match.
Perhaps because we'd be returning home to a place where our Canadian vows wouldn't legally count, we overcompensated by making sure the parts that would count—the meaningful-to-us stuff—were perfect.
That meant renting out an entire bed and breakfast for the weekend, to host a dozen friends. Then there was dinner for everyone after the ceremony, at a lovely restaurant called Delilah's—they even printed up menus with our names on the top. Add two new outfits, gifts for our guests (including M&M's printed with our names and our wedding date), and a pink cake. Back in Oregon, we'd shelled out $104 to legally change my last name, and we'd also hired a local letterpress company to crank out beautiful wedding announcements. If we weren't going to invite our families, I reasoned, we had better break the news in the classiest way possible. (I think it's just possible we were overcompensating for our second-class status.)
The night before our friends arrived, we broke out the credit card again, treating ourselves to massages, manicures, and pedicures at a chichi spa downtown. It's our wedding, we reasoned, as we looked at the pricey menu of services. I gulped when they handed me the $556.40 bill. Even with the exchange rate, that's a lot of money for nail polish and aromatherapy oils.
Here's the irony: Within a month of returning to Oregon, our state legislature adopted a domestic-partnership law—one that gives registered same-sex couples in Oregon all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage that the state can bestow. (Unfortunately most of the really important rights are bestowed by the federal government, which refuses to recognize same-sex relationships.) The law took effect this past February, and we were one of the first couples in line at the Multnomah County building to file our paperwork and pay our $60. There was no visit to a spa, no cake, no announcements, no vows—and no Visa bill to deal with for the next year.
Like Oregon queers, Washington State queers have the option of registering their domestic partnership with the state. The domestic-partnership law in Washington doesn't include as many rights as the law does in Oregon, but state senator Ed Murray and state representative Jamie Pedersen are committed to adding to the domestic-rights package in Washington every year until it, too, offers same-sex couples all the rights and responsibilities that the state can possibly offer.
Until you can reverse the supreme court ruling in Washington State and secure full marriage rights, broke and cheap queers might want to stick with a nice, simple domestic partnership in Washington and avoid the temptations of California or Canada. Taking on credit card debt when you marry—for real, legally—is just too tempting.