Five years ago, my spouse and I legally married in Canada. The morning of our ceremony, June 3, 2006, we awoke to news that, in our own country, President Bush again called on the Senate to amend the Constitution to ban two people of the same sex legally affirming their commitment to each other. Thankfully, it didn’t. But, sadly, it didn’t need to.
Nearly 10 years earlier, that chamber joined the House of Representatives in passing the ironically named Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which President Clinton signed into law. For federal government purposes, DOMA defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman, and despite legal challenges, today it remains the law of the land. In addition to other examples of the discriminatory impact of this misguided law, I cannot be covered as a family member under my spouse’s federally-subsidized health insurance. More egregiously, same-sex partners and spouses of U.S. citizens cannot legally immigrate to the U.S. on the basis of their legal relationship. We know couples facing this excruciating inequity right now.
Ted and I met on September 13, 2004, at a monthly business meeting in Washington, DC, of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, an officially-recognized federal employee group. I was ready for a long-term relationship, having dated for several years in my early twenties and deciding that I was ready for a commitment. But I didn’t think I would meet my life partner that evening.
In the host’s living room, the chairs were arranged in a U shape. I noticed that a man appeared to be looking at me from across the room. It was initially a bit unsettling. Why was he looking at me? During a break, we ended up chatting. As we spoke, I began to feel that he was special, authentic and possibly the one. The meeting resumed, and he remained on my mind. After the meeting adjourned, I shyly kept an eye on Ted, conspiring to meet again. I found out later he had the same intention with regard to me. And so began our romance.
Four months later, we moved in together, and not long afterwards registered as domestic partners. Some months later, we decided to have a commitment ceremony the following summer with family and friends in Ted’s home state, Maryland. (At that time, Massachusetts was the only state that offered legal marriage, but we were not residents, a requirement then.) As we considered honeymoon destinations, we decided on a cruise starting from Vancouver. As we thought about it more, we realized we could legally marry there, just before sailing to Alaska.
We got in touch with a highly-recommended marriage commissioner, Johanna, and began to make the arrangements. We booked the carefully manicured Japanese Nitobe Memorial Garden on the campus of the University of British Columbia for our legal ceremony. With friends as witnesses, we vowed to give each other the love of our person, the comfort of our companionship and the patience of our understanding; to share the necessities and pleasures of life; to respect each other’s dignity and to recognize the need for communication and compromise in our marriage.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, we signed the wedding registry. Johanna, having performed several marriages for two people of the same sex, had helpfully crossed out the pre-printed “bride” and “groom” column headers and replaced them with the gender-neutral “spouse.” Soon, she said, the books will be printed like that from coast to coast. And while there has been some progress, I can’t wait for the day when my own country, from coast to coast, will recognize marriages like mine.