photo via flickr stream hebedesign.
I grew up next door to one of the smartest, kindest, most down-to-earth women I’ve ever known. In high school, I would get up extra early, leaving the house before 5:15 am, so that I could ride into Downtown with her, and we had many lively conversations driving along the Monongahela river as dawn crept up. I have a distinct memory of one in particular, in which she told me that when you got right down to it, marriage was a financial agreement. She believed that a piece of paper filed at the county courthouse was far less important than the way two people felt about each other, and I have no doubt that although she was legally married to her husband, they could have been quite happy just non-legally cohabitating for the rest of their lives. Throughout my adolescence and young adulthood, I agreed wholeheartedly that if you really loved someone, if you really wanted to grow old with them, you didn’t need to stand in front of a minister, rabbi, priest, or judge and declare it. The two of you just knew, and that was enough.
However, when Stacy went down on one knee and asked me to marry her, it was a defining moment. She and I have always loved each other, but we first got together as teenagers and we’ve been through quite a lot of growing pains over the last ten years as we tried to figure ourselves out as individuals and as girlfriends. There were moments when I wasn’t even sure we could be friends, much less a couple. And yet there was always something pulling us together, giving us the courage to try again, to find our best selves. Over time we learned a lot about how to treat each other and ourselves gently, what was worth arguing over, and how important it is to say what you feel. When she proposed, I said yes not only because I love her, but because I knew that we had laid a solid foundation to build a life together upon.
In the year and a half that we’ve been engaged, I’ve done a lot of thinking about why we’re having a wedding, especially when we live in a state that neither allows same-sex weddings nor recognizes those performed in other states. The financial agreement theory doesn’t apply to us. After the vows are said and everyone goes home, nothing changes in the way the world sees us. We’ll still have to check off ‘unmarried partner’ on the census form, we don’t get a tax break, and we’ll have to carry around a slew of costly documents prepared by a lawyer to protect whatever we can glean of our legal rights. So why spend so much time, effort, and money on something which has no bearing on how our lives in the Real World will proceed?
Well, for me there are two main answers. The first is that we deserve this. We deserve to formally commit ourselves to loving each other, and we deserve a day of joy and celebration with those we love in honor of that commitment. I deserve to feel beautiful, to wear a white dress and carry my favorite flowers. Stacy deserves to hear her parents’ embarrassing stories and their words of love and pride during their toasts. We deserve to smile every time we drive past the ceremony site in later years, and we deserve to laugh about the things that went wrong– the missing decorations that nobody noticed, the stumble on the way down the aisle, the spilled wine– and to treasure the memories of our friends’ faces as they danced with their glasses held high above their heads. It’s not even a question– we do deserve these things, and so we’ll have them.
The second reason is tied up in the fact that she and I are people who value our relationships with friends and family more than anything else. We go to them for advice, for support, and for the occasional much-needed break from each other. Every good quality in us has been nurtured by the people we keep near, and there have been times when Stacy and I wouldn’t have known how to carry on if it hadn’t been for their gentle encouragement. They have made us who we are individually, and they have helped us become the couple that we are together. So it makes sense that we feel they are the only ones whose opinion on whether our marriage is “real” matters. Knowing that they’re there to witness our vows, and that they’ll help us keep those promises to each other in the years to come, is what will bless and ratify our marriage with much more meaning than any document could ever grant.
In the end, though I came to it by a different path than what I expected, I’m in agreement with my neighbor: we know, and that’s enough. We’ll get married, and the government will just have to catch up with the paperwork. In the meantime, we’ll get on with loving each other inside the framework of the commitment we’ve made. I can’t wait.