Seven years ago my wife Lynne and I were married in Atlanta, Ga. Two of our closest friends, Linda and Kathryn, who had been together for a long time, performed the ceremony and hit every right note. They made the guests feel as if they were part of the evening with warm welcoming hugs and inviting them to share their thoughts and wishes with us. It wasn't lost on many that, although Linda and Kathryn could legally marry us, they could not tie the knot themselves.
I had met Kathryn and Linda through Lynne who had long benefited from their counseling, friendship, and love. They have a strong, stable and communicative relationship perhaps helped by their experiences as life coaches. But, more than that, every time I was in their presence I felt they were meant to be together. Well before same-sex marriage was legal anywhere, they had done all they could to show their faith in each other and held a commitment ceremony in front of friends and family.
Kathryn and Linda moved back to California a few years ago from New York before that state recognized same-sex marriage. A few months ago they announced they were having a big bash for Linda in Sonoma to celebrate a "significant" birthday. We had been to several of their parties in the past and they had traveled far to attend several of ours.
The problem, however, was that Lynne had important business in Lake Placid, N.Y., on the Friday before the Saturday late afternoon party, and we absolutely had to be in Cape Cod the Sunday after the party. We sent our regrets hating to miss this important milestone in Linda's life.
Then, just a couple of weeks before the party, everything changed. The Supreme Court of the United States struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and dismissed the appeal of Proposition 8, making same-sex marriage legal again in California. Soon afterwards, Kathryn called to say the birthday party was now going to be an official marriage ceremony although they were going to keep it as a surprise for most of the guests including Linda's mother who was planning to attend. Kathryn asked us if there was any possible way we could make it to the wedding.
We didn't know how we could be in Lake Placid Friday night, Cape Cod Sunday, and still find our way to Sonoma, Calif. in between. But, the more we thought it about it, the more we realized we simply had to attend the now official wedding of two of our dearest friends (who also had married us).
We checked into flights and learned that if we drove the five hours from Lake Placid to New York Friday night, we could take an early morning plane to San Francisco where a good friend would pick us up around 10:00 a.m., and take us to Sonoma. We could then be at the wedding and fly back on a red eye to Boston that night in time to make it to Cape Cod on Sunday.
When we told Linda and Kathryn we were coming, they asked Lynne to be an official witness for the ceremony.
After arriving at their house in Sonoma, we found out that many of the friends and family who were there had also attended the couple's commitment ceremony fifteen years earlier. But no one in the couple's beautifully decorated backyard missed the enormous significance of a state sanctioned wedding and the couple's now complete equality. Kathryn and Linda spoke in the bright California sun about the importance of the government finally giving its formal blessing to and official approval of their relationship. They gave thanks to the judges who made the event possible and talked about all the ways their lives would be changed by governmental recognition of their marriage. They said that for the first time in their lives they felt seen as a couple in the same way as everyone else. Financially, emotionally, and legally, their relationship would be different and stronger. Before the wedding was half over, Lynne and I were holding the other's hands tightly and tearing up. Looking around, we saw we were not alone.
At the end of their ceremony, they exchanged this vow when asked if they took each other's hand in marriage:
After they finished the ceremony, I could not help putting on my law professor hat because the happy couple had asked me to write something about how the Supreme Court made all this possible. That was the moment the issue of same-sex marriage hit home to me in a way it never had before. Although I have always been in favor of gays and lesbians having the right to marry, it really struck me that official recognition of Kathryn's and Linda's wedding not only would have no possible effect on the sanctity of marriage for heterosexuals but, if anything, their public celebration of their vows would add to the special nature of any two people's commitment of their lives to each other. How could anyone seriously think that Kathryn and Linda's special relationship would threaten traditional ideals of love, matrimony and monogamy? How could denying them full recognition as a couple not be a blatant denial of the "equal protection of the laws" in the most literal sense?
That night on the red eye, exhausted and emotionally drained, I wondered about the toll this excursion had taken on my young daughters who we left in the Northeast and on Lynne and me. But this wasn't about us and neither is this essay. Kathryn and Linda love and need each other in the exact same way Lynne and I do and should be treated the same way. That is what equality means.