Same-sex marriage was made legal in Massachusetts on May 17th, 2004. We were the first state in the U.S. to legalize it. I was just about to graduate high school at the time. I had a few gay friends but as far as I knew back then, marriage was the furthest thing from their mind. For me at the time, marriage was something Matt and I talked about on occasion, but as our relationship was on and off again at the time, it definitely wasn’t something that was at the forefront of my mind. At least it wasn’t until fall of that same year, when my church was closed down by the archdiocese of Boston.
Suddenly my wedding, which would turn out to be 11 years in the future, became a vastly different occasion. Everyone in my family up until that point had gotten married in this church. All of my other sacraments had taken place in that church. The one sure thing I knew about my wedding back then was that it was going to be in that church. To this day I’ve never gotten over the devastation of losing the place I had always dreamed of saying “I do” in. I occasionally still dream of it even though I know that that ship has long sailed; Despite the neighborhood putting up a fight against it, the church is currently being renovated into luxury condos. All that’s left of the church I grew up in is the front facade that apparently gives it real estate “charm.”
These two scenarios are mutually exclusive, but thinking back on that year I can’t help but look at them together. Suddenly, people that had grown up thinking they could never get married had that opportunity. Suddenly, the wedding I had always dreamt of having was gone forever. The introduction of same-sex marriage to the state didn’t cause me to lose my church. My church was shut down after being slated to be closed (before the marriage equality decision came down) because of a declining priest population, a decline in church attendance across the city, poorly managed funds and a need to pay for the sex scandal that had just recently rocked the city and the church. And even with the loss of the building, I was still perfectly fine to go out and get married anywhere I wanted.
At the time, I hadn’t given a lot of thought to marriage equality. It was discussed in school but like I said, none of the gay friends I had seemed to really care about whether they could get married some day or not. In retrospect, I think this was in part because up until then they had always just considered it a part of life they’d miss out on. Nowadays you hear a lot of people say how when they realized they were gay, they also realized it meant they’d never be able to get married. Until it became a national issue, I always assumed it was legal honestly (especially since the show “Friends” had two lesbians getting married in an early episode). In my first semester of college, I had to write about same-sex marriage for my Moral Theory class and dissected it to talk about the ways different philosophers would approach a discussion on it. I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what stand I took on it. For the most part, I think I was confused with other people’s opinions more so than forming my own. People told me they were all for equality but they felt offended by the term “Marriage” being used in a non-religious sense. Others talked about the slippery slope. They said pretty soon the churches would be mandated to perform gay marriages whether they liked it or not. This would open up the door for people to marry their best friend to give them their benefits. Other people would marry their pets because they loved them. Families would erode … etc., etc., etc. I didn’t really go for most of these thoughts.
In the end, I think the stance I took on it myself was a very wishy-washy “Most gay people don’t even want to get married anyway” … based largely upon the high schoolers I knew who were more interested in what college they were going to get into in the fall than I was in the fact that the church I had always planned to get married in had just gotten closed down.
Eleven years later, many of the early fears people had have been proven to be unfounded. Nobody here is married to their dog. No church has been forced to marry anyone against their will. I’ve never heard of a fraudulent same-sex marriage arrangement for benefits outside of an Adam Sandler movie. Families still exist, now in an even more diverse and rich way than they did before. The term “marriage” is used by gay couples just like it was used by non-religious straight couples for years. Along with the lack of development in these areas, my own understanding of same-sex marriage has evolved. My own broke-ass engagement has helped. Matt and I have felt like we “couldn’t” get married for the majority of our engagement due to monetary problems. Sometimes putting off the actual wedding has felt almost physically painful as we’ve wanted to move on with the rest of their lives for a really long time now. At any time, we could’ve put all of our wedding plans aside and taken a trip down to city hall, even if it was just to get each other’s benefits. We’ve had the luxury of picking and choosing when and where we get married. I can’t imagine an engagement that spanned decades and was totally outside of our control. Even more unimaginable is an engagement that never ended, except in death.
Weddings aren’t just about nice decor or where they take place. People get married because they are looking to share their lives with one another. I’m marrying Matt to start a family and because I want to be by his side for everything the world can throw at us. I want to take care of him with my health benefits and he’s the person I want beside me if I ever find myself in the hospital. It won’t be in the place I always wanted to get married, but it could be anywhere else in the world. The idea of anyone else being denied that right is heartbreaking to me. That’s why I think that instead of going on about the challenges we’ve faced as an engaged couple, it’s important to take a moment and pause to recognize the far larger challenge others have faced for generations.
On the day the Supreme Court was set to hand down their decision on marriage equality throughout the country, Matt wore rainbow shoelaces in his Chuck Taylors. When I noticed, I said “Hey, it’s really fitting that you’d do that today of all days!” I was expecting him to ask why, but instead he said “I know.” I had completely underestimated him but I was so happy to know that I’m marrying someone who values the love of others as much as we do our own. Later in the day someone asked him if he was gay. He responded with “No, I just believe everyone should have basic human rights,” and my heart swelled three sizes when he told me.
Now that same-sex marriage is legal all across the country, gay people can move freely across state lines and still have the same status as they have here in Massachusetts. They receive the same tax benefits as straight couples do for their state and federal taxes. They’re able to make decisions about one another’s care. They can be with their spouses as they lie on their deathbed. Besides all of this there is also a certain joy in knowing that no matter who you love, you can be with them and become a family. 2004 may have been the year that changed the course of my wedding, but it was also the year that started the change in the course of marriage in this country forever.