On a hot morning in the summer of 2015, my partner, our newborn and myself piled into a friend’s car and headed for our local Zen temple. We weren’t going for the usual Sunday morning service, though it was at the same time. We were headed to the temple to get married.
What made this a little unusual is that we had already gotten married, two years before, in a huge old church, surrounded by friends and family. We didn’t split up and get back together, but we are a queer couple, and our home state of Michigan didn’t legally recognize same-sex marriage until the Supreme Court forced them to.
Heading to my second, now-legal wedding to the same person, I felt exasperated and ambivalent about the whole ordeal. As far as I was concerned, it was just about paperwork.
As soon as we’d gotten engaged before our first wedding, the questions started rolling in from well-meaning straight people in our lives. “So how does that work, legally, in Michigan?” was the most common one, a question that was either a polite way to ask “What is the point of this wedding if you won’t really be married afterward?” or, more often than not, portrayed just how little people knew about the legal realities of being gay.
Apparently, while I might have sobbed my eyes out when in 2004 an amendment was added to our state constitution declaring marriage to be between “one man and one woman,” the enormity of that hadn’t really registered for a lot of straight folks. I answered their questions by pointing out that most straight people viewed their wedding, and their marriage, as something much larger than a legal agreement. It was important for us to have a wedding, legality be damned, because we wanted to commit to sharing a life together. And so we did.
While my partner and I are now both out as transgender ― my partner is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns and I am a trans man ― at the time of our first wedding we weren’t even the slightest bit out. We read to the world as a lesbian couple, and we both wore lace dresses to tie the knot. I even borrowed my mother’s veil. It was a beautiful day, and we made our promises and then danced the night away with our loved ones. It was everything I could have hoped for, except, you know, the legal privileges afforded to married people.
At the time, many people assured us that eventually the tides would turn and we would get that coveted legal status. I wasn’t so certain. As the gay marriage issue made its way through the courts, we were treated to the same tired old arguments again and again; namely that people like us weren’t suitable to be parents, and therefore shouldn’t get to file our taxes together either.
Meanwhile, our lives moved on. We decided to have a baby, and after a miserable pregnancy and grueling labor (I carried the pregnancy, my dedicated spouse carried basically everything else while I was too sick to function), we had one. We were flat broke, exhausted and trying to adjust to life with a newborn while my recovery got more and more complicated.
I was in the hospital, again, this time to have my gallbladder removed, when the news broke. We could finally get married… even though we were already married. All of a sudden, people were congratulating us all over again.
And so, like so many other queer people that summer, we rushed to get married. We certainly weren’t the only ones who lacked the excitement that the media romanticized. This wasn’t about finally getting to declare my love for someone, I had already done that. This was about legally binding our already combined lives. Annoyingly, the state didn’t see it that way.
You can’t get married just by signing a piece of paper. The government requires that you have some kind of ceremony, whether religious or civil. Lots of people that summer chose stripped-down courthouse weddings, but even those cost money. It was a relief when the lead teacher at our temple offered to perform a small ceremony for us, nothing major, for free.
It was only in the week before the wedding that we realized what we were in for. He wanted a copy of our vows, which we had to dig out of storage, and then he wanted to know what flowers might be suitable. I hadn’t even invited my family, on the basis that it was just a technicality, but suddenly it was something more. The night before we picked out somewhat matching outfits: newsboy caps and jeans and vests.
And so, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived from new parenthood, we got married. We passed the baby back and forth between us, at one point setting them down to sleep on a meditation mat. We stood in front of a room of people, about half of whom didn’t realize they were about to be at a wedding at all, and re-read the vows we had written two years, and a lifetime, before.
And that was when it hit me, the enormity of the promise to be with someone for as long as you live. In one very small way, it was a gift, to have that chance to slow down and remember that we were in love with each other. How many people would take the time to reaffirm their commitment to their spouse while caring for a brand new baby? I know I certainly wouldn’t have without prompting.
Being forced to get married twice, while unjust, turned out to be a little bit of a blessing in disguise.
That baby is three years old now, and our lives have changed in a million ways. But that second wedding reminded me that change is actually the whole point of marriage ― you change together, you carry each other as you grow and shift. We have, like most people, become busier than we’d like, and most of the time our marriage is the background again. We often joke that we’ll just keep getting married, every so often, just for the excuse to throw a party. Somedays I think, maybe we really should.
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