This is a story of love, yes, a love story, and one I believe deserves telling.
Most people ask us, as people ask of couples who have found each other despite bad odds, how did you two meet? Blind date, we always respond in unison. This gets a laugh or a loud what? and we pause, because here our two memories diverge. Remembering before we were a we is not easy after two decades through life’s bumps and bends, those close calls and those definitive calls too.
Twenty years ago. I hadn’t come out. She hadn’t either. Bars were smoky and just about the only place for gals like us to meet. Somehow we were lucky enough to avoid that thanks to the auspicious suggestion of a mutual friend. Immediately, we affixed like two clouds during a summer storm and ran the sky with booming thunder and flashing lightening. Six months later she packed up her place and moved into mine. Combined we were five, two moms and three kids, with cats, a dog, various fish, and another kid during the summers (a longer story). Old walls came down. New walls were built. Beds got shuffled. A family was born anew.
In 1991 a public marriage seemed beyond imagination, regardless the desire to sanctify pressed us, so with the help of a kid-sitting friend we drove to Maine to stand in All Soul’s by the Sea chapel and speak vows. We bought thin bands to signify this un-named union, yet when we blessed them in the cold ocean a visible ray shot down from the sliver of blue between clouds and filled us with golden hopes. Face to face, alone in the chapel, the silence became a palpable affirmation.
The glint from those thin bands felt so conspicuous for months afterwards I tucked my fingers away in public. Then life caught hold of us as we filled the squares on our washable oversize calender with life: piano recitals, soccer championships, violin lessons and orthodontic appointments. Days became months which became years, going along despite the lack of official paperwork, instead joined by the divine. As our children grew and flourished no one in our sleepy Vermont town thought it not a working marriage, although no one said that word.
The Civil Union debate of 2000 in Vermont brought much to the surface. Our familial bubble certainly got a few knocks during that public discourse. Radio on either in the car or while preparing dinner, we made a point to listen to the hundreds speaking at the Montpelier State House for their alloted minutes. Equal time was given to both sides of the argument and we heard stories that either moved us or horrified us. But as we were no longer living with small children, but pre-teens and full-fledged teens, we used the debate to move their childhood notion of who we were into a politicized discussion of civil rights and the prejudices still defining our family.
With the triumphant passing of Civil Unions in Vermont, we waited only days before we stood in our local Justice’s good parlor and pronounced, once again, that we do and that we will. This time, the State of Vermont backed what we had known for over a decade, that this union with all the confetti and champagne, the solemnity and sacrifice, had clear and undisputed authority. Well, except, not the title or countless privileges granted to every drive-through Las Vegas marriage.
Skip to 2011. Same-sex couples in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Washington, D.C, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont can now obtain the same marriage license as traditional couples. Despite the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), these states worked hard to create equality for same sex couples, and in this we can rejoice. Next week, on our 20th anniversary, we will once again stand together to pronounce vows and sign a marriage license. But my spouse and I wonder when DOMA will be recognized as unconstitutional and we will possess that lofty federal sanction, for until then, these state licenses only offer a nod toward justice.
Our union began under a forbidable sky in a darker time, and unlike Shakespeare’s timeless warning, we did not “die, like fire and powder,” instead, somehow, perhaps miraculously, lasted out the tempest. I believe we will endure until the blue sky opens wide enough for all to call this love story a marriage. I believe in marriage. Not the Bridezilla version that clouds TV screens, all sugar and spice but clearly not nice; instead a marriage where you view the stormy and superb world, together, through the parlor lace.