Two months ago, while attending a formal dinner party, the hostess asked each guest to write a couple unusual facts about themselves. The others would try to guess who fit which fact — a good game for a dinner party of 12 strangers. My first fact — always my first and most unusual fact — “I went to school with Ted Bundy.” Having gone to school with Ted Bundy always leads to tales of my impressions of Ted — that is before he was arrested and we realized he was a serial killer. My second fact, one that does not seem so unusual to me, seemed to wow people even more than the Ted Bundy story: “I’ve been married 8 times.”
“What?!” people exclaim. “How is that possible? Who here is masquerading as Elizabeth Taylor?”
No one guesses it’s my fact. I don’t fit the over-sexed or crazy images that come to people’s minds when they think of the type of person who might get married 8 times. Now, a few weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court has finally declared, once and for all, that gay marriage is what I’ve always felt it is — marriage — it feels like a good time to reflect on the memories of all those marriages.
Act I. Wedding #1 Salt Lake City, Utah. June 1974.
A hot sunny day at the First Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City. Friends present: check. Family present: check. Bridesmaids at the ready: check. Spouse present: yes, but wrong check. Wedding attire: formal long white dress with veil (looking back that was really not me). The rings: A diamond solitaire picked out by his mother and me at a suburban mall in New Jersey. I long ago forgot what I did with it after the divorce.
Throughout the entire wedding and the months of preparation leading up to it, the groom was an afterthought. All of my fun memories center around the women who helped me celebrate — the sorority sisters with whom I got to “pass my candle” to announce my engagement and the bridesmaids with whom I spent so much time, two of which became lifelong best friends. Even after the wedding, trips with my girlfriends where I could share wedding stories and plan more activities were the highlight. I had no clue I was a lesbian until a few years after wedding #1. Looking back, I chose a groom who was quiet, not demanding and a safe person to hang out with while I came to grips with the fact that I was gay.
Act 2. – Wedding #2 Isolated mountain pass, Utah. July 1983.
At dawn on a sunny day, we hike to a waterfall in Utah’s Uinta Mountains. Spouse present: check. Family and friends present: no check. Wedding attire: Levis, turtleneck, down vest (appropriate camping gear, but not so much for a wedding). The rings: We gave each other simple gold bands — pretty but we didn’t dare wear them on our wedding ring fingers. I wore mine on my left hand middle finger, next to the wedding ring finger. I was a little more out than she. My spouse wore hers on her right hand middle finger if I recall correctly.
This time I chose an appropriate spouse (my correct gender) and we had many years of good times. Eventually however, 15 years of trying to be an invisible couple and an invisible parent as I helped her raise three children took its toll on both of us. Every marriage hits hard spots, but lacking the external feedback and support to help you stick it out and solve the problems is hard. For us, it became impossible. In hindsight, I learned a lot and developed much emotional maturity, which helped me become the person who attracted the woman waiting behind door the spouse I’d been getting ready for all of my life, Tami.
Act 3. Weddings #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8
Spouse: check. Friends and Family: check by wedding #4. The rest: no check, check. Check! Wedding attire: Armani pants and a sleeveless blouse — now we’re talking! In addition to finally finding the perfect spouse, I was on my way to the perfect wedding(s). The Rings: we bought them in at Tiffany’s (in California, a safer choice than Utah). Richard, our salesman, gave us a video to watch about choosing wedding rings. We told him we liked the video, but mentioned that all the couples they showed were heterosexual; we were getting bold. He smiled, said he was sorry and we went on our way with beautiful rings he sold us. Then the wedding(s) began!
Scene 1. New Fane, Vermont. July 2000.
Trish, the Justice of the Peace, stood between us in the courtroom and officiated the ceremony. Tami and I were nervous and I cried while saying my vows. Vermont had just that month legalized “civil unions” for same sex couples. While we felt empowered by our civil union, it gave us no particular legal rights.
Scene 2. River Horse Restaurant, Park City, Utah. August 2000.
We walked out to Pachelbel’s Canon and “the guest list” was really there. It was amazing. We had the time of our lives and I finally got it — this was the feeling people have when they marry the right person and celebrate with family and friends. We had a religious wedding officiated by our Unitarian minister, but there was still no legal recognition.
Scene 3 – City Hall, San Francisco, California. February 2004.
National news was breaking and the world descended on San Francisco and thousands of LGBT couples ran to express their love. What I remember: the lines, the news cameras, Tami’s pink rain coat, and the thrill of finally getting through that door right before they closed for the day. For the first time, we had an honest to goodness marriage license. It lasted for about 5 months, until the California Supreme Court declares all 3,955 marriages invalid.
Scene 4 – Vancouver, Canada. March 2005.
Our wedding was an afterthought since we were there for our straight friends’ wedding the next day. But then we remembered we could get married (really married) in Canada, so we did. This is the first time we had a dong present at our ceremony (the justice of the peace we found on a moment’s notice was named “Mr. Dong”). We left with an honest to goodness marriage license. Sadly, two days later, at the U.S. Customs border, we needed to enter as two single people as the guard tells us that we are not a married couple in the eyes of our country. He even says “Not as long as George Bush is President.”
Scene 5 – City Hall, New York City, New York. June 2012.
It is time for a real U.S. marriage certificate. Marriage equality had come to New York State and we decided we need a U.S. license. Our friend Dan Karslake, a director, surprised us by being our witness and videoing the wedding. Though we thought we looked awful, we loved the experience. Now we had an honest to goodness United States marriage license. How long will it last?
Scene 6 – Farmington, Utah. December 2013.
Judge Shelby made national news overturning Utah’s gay marriage ban. At this point, we didn’t think we needed another certificate — then we read that the Utah Attorney General might not recognize out of state marriages. It seemed superfluous, but we decided to go to the county clerk’s office and get married in Utah. It turned out to be fun, and we got a bonus lecture from an older Mormon guy officiant who tells us the importance of being willing to share the remote control.
And then, after our final wedding, we watch and debate the twists and turns of 18 more months of legal arguments — in state courts, federal trial courts and appellate courts. Finally, as we are leaving a tour of the Vatican, we notice that our phones are lit up with texts from friends — “the U.S. Supreme Court has issued its marriage decision!” We read the ruling. Justice Kennedy writes:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were… (The couples) ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
Gay marriage finally lost its adjective. It’s marriage. We are elated, shocked, humbled, grateful and pissed we had to wait so long, but excited that people now coming of age will not endure our trials.
After all the weddings and all the trouble, some may ask, “why marriage anyway?” I went to high school in the 60s. Women were starting to keep their own names and many couples fell in love (with the socially determined “correct” gender) and formed long-term partnerships while never marrying. My own parents divorced while I was in college, and while that was difficult, they both led amazing lives and taught me the values of loyalty and of providing for one’s family. Despite any of these things deterring me from marriage I knew I wanted a spouse, I wanted to make the commitment and prove I could do it. I wanted to be recognized, psychologically, morally and legally, for being a member of a married couple — though it took a few tries to get it right.