Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Life More Ordinary: Blogging Against Proposition 8

I've only ever lived with one romantic partner in my life, but I've been married twice. Once in a big, celebratory ceremony on the beach in 1998, in front of almost a hundred friends and relations, in a ceremony that the Renaissance Woman and I wrote ourselves; and the second time, five years later to the day, on a different beach, in front of exactly eight guests (not counting the picnickers and rollerbladers all around us), with brief boilerplate state-issued vows, in front of a Marriage Commissioner we'd never met before.

The first ceremony, in legal terms, meant nothing. The second also meant nothing legally as soon as we got home to Seattle, but made us next of kin according to all authorities just a couple of hours' drive to the North.

We used to joke about it, or sort of joke, whenever we drove up to Vancouver to visit friends. "We're married now!" We'd cry, after crossing through Customs and handing over all our papers and the Mermaid Girl's birth certificate with both our names on it. And then, on the way home, as we passed the Peace Arch: "Not married any more! Hey, girlfriend!"

It wasn't that funny, though, to tell the truth.

One of RW's relatives, older than us, an established doctor with a great house in the San Francisco Bay area, flew to Niagra Falls with her partner, a lawyer, to get married at around the same time we did. They were so inspired by the ceremony that they up and moved to Canada a few months later. They live in the Okanagan now, in a house surrounded by vineyards.

Four years after our Vancouver wedding, we also moved to Canada. Now we're married all the time.

The prospect of legal marriage wasn't the only reason or even the main reason that we emigrated, but we've both been surprised at the depth of the difference we feel. It's a difference that makes it possible for me to shrug off the opinions of sweet old ladies on the street and even, to some extent, the prejudices of my child's teacher, because-- and here's the part I didn't think about much-- here, we are not different. We're not special, we're not the subject of battles over court decisions and legislative changes. We don't have to go to lawyers to make special arrangements and get special papers written up. We don't have to qualify anything when insurance companies and mortgage brokers and doctors ask for our marital status. We're married, period. The law is on our side.

Let me repeat that: the law is on our side.

This is a new concept for me, and not one I'd given much consideration before our move. After all, in Seattle we lived in a liberal bubble of tolerance and acceptance, taking for granted that under almost all circumstances-- except legal ones-- we'd be treated the same as our straight friends and neighbors. And just about always, we were.

But a bubble is just what it was. Underneath it all, recognition of our relationship was based on nothing but the good graces of our friends and relations. And while those good graces were pleasant and much appreciated, they still left us hugely vulnerable in the face of all the vicissitudes and disasters that could happen to any family. We were lucky that none of those happened to us. And we took for granted that dependence on luck and good grace, and the slight anxiety it brought with it.

Now, we don't have that any more. It's not just that we consider ourselves married, and our families consider us married, and our friends and neighbors and bosses and dentists consider us married: now, the Province of British Columbia and the Nation of Canada consider us married, too. And that has made all the difference.

Let me tell you about something that happened a couple of days before our wedding:

In Canada, you don't go to City Hall to register for a marriage license, you go to a big drugstore and wait in line with the people who are getting their auto insurance renewed, all the while shopper push past you in their search for Q-tips and deodorant and hairbrushes.

And so, a few days before our legal marriage ceremony on the beach in Vancouver, the Renaissance Woman and I found ourselves at a booth in London Drugs, with our passports in hand. The clerk who processed our paperwork was a bored-looking middle-aged guy whose first language wasn't English (not unusual in a city of immigrants). We filled our the required papers and passed them back to him, along with the payment, and he took them with barely a glance at us.

This was back in 2o03, and same-sex marriage hadn't been legal for very long in British Columbia, and we were anxious and wanted to make sure the papers were done right, so they wouldn't be invalidated in some unforseen way. So we pressed the point.

"We're both women," we explained carefully, ready for shock or disapproval or at least the need to fill out a whole other set of special forms. "We're getting married to each other."

"Yeah, yeah, okay," he nodded, filing and stamping and perforating and barely stifling a yawn. "Lots of people doing this. You sign here."

His shrugging matter-of-factness, the face of the machinery of bureaucracy chugging along on our behalf, was as sweet as wedding bells, as satisfying as the New York Times wedding announcement I'd wangled, as celebratory as the flowers MG tossed enthusiastically at the ceremony that weekend. It was the story we ended up telling over and over, in wonderment, after the ceremony. And it was one big reason that we packed up and moved four years later, and that we live here now.

I might live in Canada, but I'm still an American. I want everyone in my home country to have the chance at what I have now: an ordinary, boring, un-notable married life with the person I love. I'm seeing a chance of that, or at least a step towards it, in California. And like so many people, I'm e-mailing and reading and donating and watching and worrying about the prospects of Proposition 8: if it passes, that hope is so much further away.

And if not, if same-sex marriage stays legal in California, it's at least a bit closer.

August 30, 2003: The Mermaid Girl, held by Uncle Skaterboy, during our legal wedding ceremony, on the beach at English Bay.


Blogger Tall Kate said...

What a lovely, lovely post. And how beautiful your picture is!

6:21 PM  
Blogger susan said...

Looks like you had a lovely wedding (both times!)

6:39 PM  
Anonymous Arwen said...

The dislocation of how remarkable it is to be unremarkable is a fabulous primer on privilege. Wow.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Hi, I stumbled across this post today. I do live in California and blogged about this issue several days ago myself. I proudly display my No on Prop 8 sign in our yard. Your post was lovely, as is your family.

1:03 PM  
Anonymous MonkeyPants said...

Lovely post, and I am pleased and proud Canada offers so much, to you and MG and RW, and everyone who comes because they think they'll like it here.

7:48 AM  
Anonymous baggage said...

Such a great post.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Kaitlin Duck Sherwood said...

My husband and I (a woman) moved to BC three years ago from California. I have commented to my friends back home numerous times on how BC is post-gay, and how comfortable that feels.

I'm going to go to the Democrats Abroad election party (4pm, Yaletown Brewery); look for "Ducky" in a beret if you go. :-)

8:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Canadian-born Californian here. You note that when a doctor asks for your marital status, you're not qualifying for anything. But, in Canada, for more than 40 years you never were qualifying for anything because everyone has health insurance. This only appears to be a right granted by Canadian marriage laws because of the profound unfairness of the American medical system.

I voted against Knight and I voted No on 8. I support gay marriage to the bottom of my soul.

But I really hope that middle/upper-middle class gay people such as yourself and your friends (ie - NY Times wedding announcement, Okanagan vineyard) recognize the profound unfairness of denying medical care to so many people in the United States. It is also a human rights issue, and it affects a large percentage of the population, particularly children.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow...i'm sure you know this already...but you got linked to on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish:

beautiful post Els!

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Alison said...

I am a married American and Canadian lesbian living in Canada. My job prospects are tons better in the US.

But here we are married. We fought for it. We won it. We live it, and it means everything to us to be equal.

People say to me that NYC is a nice place to live for LGBT people, or Philly or Chicago or wherever.

Not so.

Here, the most right wing Federal politicans can't be against equal marriage, and there, the most progressive can't support it.

Here, no one would ever question our family's existence. There, it's always a threat to the theocracy.

I am not giving up that sense of security and entitlement to the same basic rights all humans share.

Oh, Canada. My home.

10:39 AM  
Blogger SmartlikeStreetcar said...

And your story brought tears to my eyes.

Found you from Andrew Sullivan... methinks you'll be getting many hits.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous madscipiper said...

I'm a Canadian married to an ex-pat American, who checked fedex online yesterday, and yes, her California vote made it to the polling station! (We think of it as our family vote for change.) We were married 5 weeks after it became legal here in Ontario.

We were watching the Vice-Presidential debates with our 10 year old son when Biden was asked about gay marriage---at his answer my son asked my wife, "What are they talking about?" When she explained that some people don't think two men or two women should be able to get married. His jaw dropped, he was gobsmacked. This is a boy who was teased at school when he was five for wearing glasses, but has never been teased for having 2 moms. We are post-gay :-) I can't wait till the whole continent is.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Kas said...

I'm another US ex pat, and my wife and I live up in the boonies of northern BC. We had our "Emotional Wedding" in 2001, and our legal wedding in 2004, and I know exactly what you mean about the feelings of inclusion, etc. that marriage brought us. I live in a very conservative part of the province, but no one bats an eye at us. It's wonderful.

1:11 PM  
Blogger shale watson said...

Got married? Go with easy name change at SimpleNameChange

5:03 AM  

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