Married Even in Utah
We never thought marriage was important for us. Yeah, sure, we knew there were some financial benefits. OK, a LOT of financial benefits! (Some of them are listed here) But still, as far as our relationship went, we did not think marriage would make a difference to us. We’d been together for 38 years after all. We had kids together, several foster children as well as our own three biological kids. We were out and open. We had friends and our Unitarian Universalist religious community that treated us as a family. We were committed to spending the rest of our lives together. Who needed marriage?
As a minister, I have officiated at a lot of weddings. They can be truly wonderful ceremonies and it is an honor to bear witness to a couple’s love for each other. It is particular moving to me to perform a marriage for a couple that I know, when one or both are friends or members of my congregation. It is also a privilege to, on behalf of the state, declare them legally married. It has always bothered me that I could not perform a legal marriage for every couple whose wedding I performed.
Still, I didn’t really get what a big deal marriage is. I didn’t know what I was missing. It isn’t just the ceremony and the party. We could have done that at any time. All UU ministers perform same gender weddings and have done so for decades. I have a lot of minister friends. One of them did our legal marriage last month in California. I put up a facebook post asking for someone to do the honors and no less than 5 friends volunteered to help within 4 hours of the posting. We were married. We are married. We’re having a bigger religious wedding ceremony and reception later, but we are already married. The legal status matters. The financial advantages are just that, financial advantages. We got a few of those in California back in 1993 when we registered as domestic partners.
So what is the big deal about marriage? What have I learned that I didn’t know before?
I don’t have all the answers to those questions yet. I do know that a legal civil marriage is every bit as important as the religious ceremony. A legal civil marriage is recognized by everyone. A religious ceremony provides recognition by your faith community. If you are legally married, everybody has to recognize the relationship, not just the people that happen to approve of it. I think we all know a few married couples that have lousy relationships, ones we don’t really approve of in any way. It doesn’t matter if they were married in a church or temple or by a county clerk or by someone with a mail order ordination. We still recognize them as married, even if we might wish they weren’t.
That is what happened when we signed the marriage license and turned it into the county clerk to be recorded. Everywhere we went in California, our marriage was recognized. It was an incredible feeling, a powerful feeling. We can now visit Washington DC, Massachusetts, and a dozen other states and a score of countries and no one, not even the grossest bigot, can say our marriage is not valid. Ok, they can say it, but it wouldn’t be true.
Here in Utah, however, our marital status is in question. Things are not clear. It will most likely take court cases before our marriage is legally valid here. In a state where publishers refuse to print a bio for an author in a same gender relationship (see article) changing enough hearts and minds will likely be a long, slow, and tedious process.
It is not OK, it is hurtful and wrong, but that is the way it is right now. It will be different someday. Progress will continue. In the meantime, we’ll kept working on those hearts and minds. We are still married, even in Utah.