Just-ly Married

marriageequalityIn my previous column, I noted that I was about to get married. I hope you’ll forgive my ongoing self-indulgence as I write about my nuptials once more. One’s own wedding, after all, doesn’t happen every day. Admittedly, given California’s roller coaster history regarding marriage equality, some of us have been married multiple times to the same person. Jeff and I even had a post-Prop 8 commitment ceremony that we called a wedding, in defiance of the amendment’s unconstitutional claim that we weren’t legally entitled to the term.

But Jeff and I legally wed just once. At 2:00 p.m., Thursday, September 26 –four years to the day from that non-legal commitment ceremony – we made our vows to one another at San Francisco City Hall. Originally, our congresswoman Jackie Speier was slated to officiate. However, due to the ongoing budget crisis in the federal government, the House of Representatives was called back from their recess scheduled for the week we were to marry, and Rep. Speier regretfully had to cancel.

With one week to go before the wedding, our very dear friends and my fellow Bay Times columnists John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney generously agreed to step in as co-officiants. We knew that John had officiated other weddings, and that he and Stuart were going to be there at our wedding – just as they’d been with us at City Hall after Judge Walker’s decision in August, 2010, when we hoped the stay would be lifted and we would be able to marry. We’d asked John if he would be willing to officiate in the event the congresswoman was called back to D.C. We had planned to ask Stuart to be our witness.

When John and Stuart arrived at City Hall on the 26th, however, they surprised us by asking if we’d mind if they performed the wedding together. We were touched by the suggestion, thrilled by the possibility, and particularly moved by the symbolism of having these two men stand together to pronounce the words that would make Jeff and me husbands. Four years ago, we knew John and Stuart largely only as fellow marriage equality activists, heroes of the California marriage equality movement, and plaintiffs in the court case that first established the freedom to marry in California, and set the stage for our own wedding this year. In the intervening time, though, they’d become our mentors, our comrades-in-arms, and our brothers. John and Stuart brought a deeply personal touch to the ceremony, and Jeff and I consider ourselves to be so very fortunate that, in the end, our two friends were the ones facing us on the balcony at City Hall.

Two days later, we hosted a reception at the Cliff House, the location of our 2009 commitment ceremony. Four years ago, about 65 friends and family members had joined us. Last month, over 110 of our friends and family were present; there were several dozen additional people, including at least a half-dozen more kids, who might have been there but for other commitments, distance, or last-minute illness. Four years ago, there was one teenager present and no younger children. Last month, nearly a dozen infants, toddlers, and pre-teens, along with a couple of teenagers, attended our reception. Several of these children call us “Uncle Thom” and “Uncle Jeff,” even though we have no biological connection, just a loving one that recognizes family ties beyond those of blood.

We live in a world where love and legal marriage between two men or two women increasingly is not something to hide or to “protect” kids from, but rather something to celebrate— truly a family affair. We live in a world where these kids will grow up to be able to marry whomever they love, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Honestly, not too many years ago, I would have said I wouldn’t expect to see that world in my lifetime. But, at the Cliff House last month, I saw that it’s already arrived.

The increase in the number of people celebrating with us was due almost entirely to the new friends and allies we’ve made in the past four years through our marriage equality advocacy; we considered our reception, in fact, to be as much a day of celebration for the hard work of so many to return the freedom to marry to California as it was specifically for the two of us. To that end, we asked that, in lieu of gifts, attendees consider making a donation to Marriage Equality USA.

I’m overwhelmed by our friends’ generosity and very proud to note that our equality registry to date has raised nearly $2,700 to help MEUSA in its efforts to win the freedom to marry for the 37 remaining states where couples like Jeff and me still are denied this important civil right. That includes states like Virginia, my birthplace and my home for over 35 years. Jeff and I left Virginia for California, his home, in no small part due to the extreme homophobia of Virginia’s government and the absolute lack of any protections there for LGBT people in public accommodations, housing, employment, or relationship status.

It remains legal in Virginia to fire an employee, even a state government employee, to refuse service at your place of business, and to refuse to rent or sell a home, for no reason other than that you disapprove of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The current attorney general, once (though thankfully no longer) the front-runner to be the next governor, has called LGBT  people “destructive” and “soulless,” while the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor has made homophobic comments that make “destructive” and “soulless” sound almost like compliments in comparison.

Still, things are getting better, even back there in the Commonwealth, if more slowly than we might wish. Recent news that the legal team headed by David Boies and Ted Olson that defeated Prop 8 is now challenging Virginia’s refusal to treat loving gay couples as anything more than strangers under the law is particularly welcome and heartening. Someday, Jeff and I may be able to visit my birth family – his in-laws – with pride and optimism rather than the worry and dread based on the state considering our marriage invalid that so often accompanies our visits back there now. Thousands of couples like us, we hope, will before long have their own relationships treated with the legal recognition that is their human and civil right.

It would be fitting, certainly, if the state that in Loving v. Virginia fought anti-miscegenation laws all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and lost, thereby resulting in bans on interracial marriage being overturned nationwide, were to provide same-sex couples our own version of Loving and the same end to all laws banning same-sex marriages. It’s long past time for the Commonwealth fully to live up to its motto, “Virginia is for lovers,” without the invisible disclaimer, “Void where gay.”

Thom Watson, a leader in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA, lives in Daly City with his newly wed husband, Jeff Tabaco.