01 October 2014

My Big, Fat Gay Marriage Issue, Resolved

        The minister signed our marriage certificate with a flourish, then said, “One of you needs to sign here as ‘husband’ and and one over here as ‘wife.’” It was 2005. Dave and I were wed in Canada on our ninth anniversary as a couple, soon after Ontario legalized same-sex marriage—so soon that gender-neutral forms were not yet available.
    When we returned to the U.S. our marital status lodged in the Twilight Zone. It’s still there. We believe we’re married. A whole vast country north of us believes we’re married. But what happens in Canada stays in Canada. According to those with saying power, Dave is married to nobody. Guess what that makes me.
    Being nobody wears on a person. Researchers have long documented the negative effects of the stigma of homosexuality on gay people. Recent studies show that residing in a U.S. state that outlaws same-sex marriage has a direct adverse effect on the mental health of lesbians and gay men.
    It makes me sick to live in Indiana in a marital state of perpetual confusion. Here’s my marital history: Not married, 23 years. Married, 14 years. Not married, seven years. Married, but not according to my state or federal government, nine years. Married and recognized as such by the state, 36 hours. Back to married-but-not-married, two months, followed by 10 days of being married. Then back to yes-but-no, then over to yes-but-not-really, not until the Supreme Court says it’s okay. (Did you follow that?)
    In June a federal judge ruled Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. As gay couples lined up to obtain marriage licenses, Dave and I marveled. We could sip coffee at our own kitchen table as a bona fide married couple. For all of three days. The court ruling was stayed, pending appeal. For us, it was back to life in limbo.
    Our summer vacation offered a breath of fresh air. We spent 10 consecutive days touring several states and two provinces where marriage equality is the law of the land. “This is the longest we’ve been married since we got hitched,” Dave said.
    Toward the end of our trip we visited Niagara Falls, took in the view from the Canadian side, along with a thousand or more other spectators. So much water rushing over the brink made me have to pee. When I returned from the rest room I soon spotted Dave among the crowd. It’s not all that difficult to recognize someone you care about.
    At the same time it’s easy to dismiss those you refuse to see. Experience has taught me this. My three children have severed contact with me over my having come out gay. As has my brother. As have former friends and fellow church members. No place at the table for the likes of me.  
    Where am I welcome? Life keeps me guessing. This past weekend I attended a college class reunion. I almost didn’t show up. I often encounter judgement and rejection from people who knew me before I came out of the closet. I feared more of the same should my classmates learn I am gay. I tested the waters. The first time a fellow alumnus asked about my spouse, I mentioned Dave by name. I was peppered with questions, taken to task for believing homosexuality cannot be changed, and charged with a lack of religious faith. Sheesh. Thereafter I mostly dodged questions about marriage and family. I avoided some conversations altogether. I shut down, hung back, withdrew. I was present but not present—off in limbo land again. This is familiar territory; I check in there frequently to visit my marital status.
    Not long ago, the federal court of appeals ruled against Indiana’s gay marriage ban. The state has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But I’ve been thinking: Dave and I could settle the matter now. As our state government is so antsy about keeping marriage between a husband and wife, we should send the folks in Indianapolis a copy of our Canadian marriage license. It’s there in black and white: on March 12, 2005, Dave took me to be his lawfully wedded wife.

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  1. Oh Bryn I am so sorry that your brother and your children have deserted you, not to mention church friends who should have been the most supportive when you bravely went public. It is a disgrace to the gospel of Christ that so many Christians are so mean to gays. Talk about "othering"!! I'm grateful that you joined in on the SheLoves synchroblog. My life could hardly be more different from yours (my post is titled "What Do You Do?" but I stand in solidarity with you and Dave.

  2. Thank you, Donna-Jean. Curious you're writing about people saying to you, "What do you do?" and I'm writing about Dave and I saying to each other, "I do." I found no place to leave a comment on your post. What came up for me is how I've learned not to ask people about their jobs—they are so endlessly more than that, and so endlessly more interesting than that, too. May we each one find common ground to stand in solidarity with each other. May we do the work, take the steps that will move us toward the world we envision on our best, most hope-filled days.

  3. What a story... It makes me so sad that you have to wait and that your marriage is so politicized. We go to a church here in Denver that affirms all relationships and people. We reflect that, when it started five years ago, deciding to be part of this community seemed like a "big deal." Now, I'm embarrassed that we had to even discuss it. I love raising our daughter in a community that shows ALL sorts of loving, committed relationships. I hope that when she is an adult, it will be the norm...

    1. Sounds like you're thriving in your faith community—good for you! And for your daughter and other children blessed to be reared in a religious setting that values a wide array of relationships. It's affirming to hear of such spaces. Thank you for sharing.
      Since I posted this piece, the U.S. Supreme Court's by its action (or inaction) on Monday, October 6, officially recognized Dave and I as a married couple. It's been over a fortnight now and I'm still getting used to the idea. It feels like a big deal. Maybe someday we as a nation will feel collectively embarrassed that it was so important to parse relationships, decide whose is valid, whose not.

  4. Bryn, it's horrible to hear about your rejection by your family, friends, and former classmates. Your description of your class reunion is particularly powerful (finding myself in such a situation is a deep fear of mine ...). I hope that our laws will stop exacerbating the erasure that you already deal with in so many other arenas. Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece.

    1. Your comments are appreciated, Marie. Thank you.
      Erasure . . . shunning . . . exclusions . . . excommunication . . . covering (to cite the title of a book by law professor Kenji Yoshino) . . . dehumanize . . . demonize . . . othering . . . willful ignorance . . . . It goes by many names and none of them feel good. The changing legal climate I hope reflects a changing social/emotional heartscape, as well.

  5. I'm so glad that the SheLoves table includes you.

  6. Thanks, Erin! I wasn't sure what my welcome would be, and find myself engaged by the community, the writing, the energy at SheLoves.