Last Friday afternoon Judge Barbara Crabb handed down a ruling that Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, opening the door for same-sex couples to start marrying in my home state of Wisconsin. Within a short time couples were gathering at the City/County Building in Madison and at the courthouse in Milwaukee to get their licenses and to get married.
I was on my way to Milwaukee for a Cher concert with Cyndi Lauper as the opening act. While the concert was great I couldn’t help but think that I should be with my life partner, Brian, and that I should be in downtown Madison celebrating with however many people had gathered at the City/County Building or the Capitol to mark the momentous occasion. It was an historic moment in Wisconsin history and instead of being in the middle of it I was at a concert. With a long history of fighting for queer rights I felt bad that I was unable to be there with my queer brothers and sisters (although being at a concert with two gay icons performing seemed somehow oddly appropriate also). I also desperately wanted to be with the one I love most.
Off and on throughout the evening tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of the significance of the court ruling and as I thought of Brian and our long and deep relationship. He and I met in the spring of 1991. Our first kiss was on my birthday on May 27 of that year. We mark June 1 as our anniversary date, which is when we figured we went from dating to being a couple. That was 23 years ago now. In the interim I have spoken about our relationship before the legislature, written about the issue of same-sex marriage, and attended protests and rallies in Madison, San Francisco, and in Washington, DC. I have done this because even if I do not want to marry I believe that I should have the same legal right to do so as my heterosexual counterparts.
This is important: We don’t need marriage to validate our love. It is its own validation. But we need the protection of the law in case one of us gets sick or dies and we need to be considered equal in our society where all are supposed to be created equal. In addition, marriage is one of those important life events that should be shared with friends and family. Weddings are for the purpose of celebrating love and making a public commitment to each other. This is something I’ve wanted to do, even though I know we are eternal partners with or without it.
Years ago, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage friends asked if we were going to go there and get married. We decided to be stubborn and wait until our home state of Wisconsin allowed it. In the last couple of years, with the Tea Party control of our state, we had figured the Badger state might be among the last holdouts. In the meantime I think we both did our best to convince ourselves that it wasn’t important to get married–just in case it never became legal.
At the concert I kept imagining getting home to Brian and on the same day as the historic court decision ask him if he would marry me. I didn’t want to rush downtown to get married. In fact, I didn’t want to rush at all. I was thinking that if we waited two years until our 25th anniversary that the appeals should all be done and the U. S. Supreme Court would by then have made a decision that would allow same-sex marriage in all 50 states. I also figured it would give us time to plan it and to truly make it a celebration where our loved ones could be a part of it. So, I didn’t want to rush out and get married in what might be a small window of opportunity, but I really wanted to ask him to marry me because of the court decision. It was the right time for it.
All through the concert I played out scenarios in my mind about how the proposal might work out and what Brian might say. I imagined walking into the house and just hugging him tightly and then asking, “Will you marry me?” Or maybe, “Do you want to get married?” Or, “Should we do this?” And I kept wondering how he might respond, fearing that he might actually say, “We don’t need to do that.”
As the concert ended I realized I might not make it home before the day was done. My friend Chris and I sat in the parking ramp for about 45 minutes before getting on the road. I knew then that we wouldn’t make it by midnight, but I still wanted to get home quickly so that Brian would still be awake. A couple miles into the trek there was suddenly a traffic jam, with lines of cars in all three lanes as far as one could see, an accident on one side of the road, a man taking a sobriety test on the other. A little further along I saw a sign that said that westbound I-94 was closed and I thought, “This can’t be serious. They can’t have the Interstate closed. And who the hell planned this to coincide with a major concert letting out?” Soon the far left lane closed and the three lanes of traffic funneled slowly into two. Several miles down the road the middle lane closed and traffic funneled into the right lane. A short while later all traffic exited the Interstate, which was indeed closed, and went through parts of Milwaukee, West Allis, Waukesha County, and Pewaukee before reconnecting with the Interstate somewhere near Pewaukee and an hour and a handful of miles after we had left downtown Milwaukee.
Once we got past the construction we were able to move at a good pace and finally we were almost in Madison. To take Chris home I thought the best route would be to take I-90 toward Wisconsin Dells and then take the East Washington Avenue exit and head toward Johnson Street. And, of course, with all the construction going on in Madison the exit ramp to East Washington Avenue was closed and I had to drive several miles up the road to the Highway 51 exit, then come several miles back down Highway 51 to get back to East Washington. By the time I dropped Chris off and got home it was 2:30 in the morning.
Brian was asleep when I opened the bedroom door. He woke up briefly when I entered and as I was still thinking about how to ask him it became clear that he had fallen right back asleep. I lie there wondering how I would approach it in the morning. Should I wake him up in the middle of the night and ask? Should I wait until morning? How should I ask? Is there a better way of saying it? What if he’s thinking of asking me and I spoil that? These things rolled around in my head for an hour and I think I fell asleep somewhere around 3:30 or so.
In the morning Brian and I woke up about the same time, or at least he was awake when I woke up. I couldn’t speak right away. I kept trying out various word choices in my head and when I finally was just about ready to say something the dog came crawling up onto Brian’s stomach demanding attention and petting. A few minutes later as I was about to say something Brian interjected with a thought before I could get my words out. I began to think I would never get to it. And why was I so nervous anyway? The worst that could happen would be that he would say marriage is not important and he didn’t want to do it, but that wouldn’t mean that he loved me any less.
Finally I haltingly came out with it. “So I have to ask you,” I began, and then the dog grabbed his attention again. I waited a moment, then started again, “So I have to ask you, do you want to get married?”
His answer was quick and concise and he didn’t have to think about it all night long as I had. “Of course,” he said, and that was that. And then he added that he was thinking that we should do it on our 25th anniversary. “Of course”, I thought. Of course he would have the same thought as me about it. We are always connected that way.
That morning I posted a status on Facebook that simply said, “He said yes,” even though he didn’t say yes–he said “of course”. I changed my relationship status to engaged, something I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to do and which was somehow exhilarating. Within hours a couple hundred people had already liked it. I got an e-mail from one of my more conservative friends noting that we don’t always agree on everything but that he felt that everyone should have the right to marry the person they love.
We have come so far. What was unimaginable when I came out in 1979 is now a reality in what feels like both a short and long 35 years later. It doesn’t change how I feel about Brian or him about me. It just allows us to be a little more secure legally and a little more comfortable in a society that is more accepting than it used to be.