Gay Marriage? Whoa, Pardner!

I know you're in love. DOMA is dead. And in California, the nation's most populous state, they no longer spit on you when you show up at the registrar's office to claim your marriage license. But hold on a second. Are you sure you want to do this?

Once upon a time, the only marital recourse available to LGBT folks was a ceremony officiated by an Internet-trained Universal Life Church minister or one of the few progressive religious institutions that sanctioned same-sex couples. But these unions were symbolic; they were not civil contracts. I was present at many nuptials in those antediluvian days. They were sweet and loving. And when the relationships ended, I got the news second-hand at the gym, over a latté at the local coffee shop, or via a terse email from the newly single party. Sometimes endings were cordial. Often they included dialogue like, "I told that bastard to pack his bags and get his things out my apartment." Shit happens.

My late partner and I were together for almost a quarter of a century without the benefit of marriage. When the gay marriage window opened in California the first time, we decided to take a pass. We talked about it, but what was being offered wasn't full equality. And frankly, after pioneering a new way of being in the world -- professionally successful and openly gay -- marriage didn't seem very creative. It seemed like our parents; and if there was anything we didn't want to resemble, it was our parents. So we created living trusts and avoided filing four tax returns every year, as was required of gay married couples in California. We also avoided the intrusion of state, national, and local government into our relationship.

Now we have a horse of a different color: marriage as a legally binding contract. Before you saddle up, there are some things to consider. If your relationship hasn't stood the test of time, give it a few years. Cohabitate. Share expenses. Travel together internationally. My partner and I were friends for four years before we had sex with each other. I've never met another gay couple with this kind of restraint. (Actually, it was just hesitancy on my part; I didn't want to lose someone who was already a good friend to a potentially disappointing sexual encounter.) But those years served us well. I knew what I was getting into by the time we got into it. There were still rocky times ahead, but we began with a foundation of shared values and experience.

In order to dissolve the new gay marriages -- the ones that come with government sanction -- you're going to need an attorney. I've come to think of gay marriage as "the attorney's full-employment program." Your retirement pension, your life savings, and all your personal property are at stake. Are you certain enough of this relationship that you're willing to give up half of it in a community property state like California? The option of "no-fault" divorce will still be available. In this instance, your attorney, for a reasonable fee, will work out the details and file the dissolution documents with the courts. But when there is betrayal, blame, and ill will, you can forget "no fault." These marriages end in expensive wars. There will be blood. And if it's a lesbian couple co-parenting a child or a cat, well, do you recall the old adage that begins, "Hell hath no fury..."?

No one can predict the course of a relationship. Will it last, as mine did, until death parted us? That was certainly not the idea I had when we got together. I thought I would give it a try until it stopped working. And when it stopped working, I would move on. It just didn't stop working. I should probably share a few things I learned along the way. Since I have some experience in these matters, I ask you indulge me for a moment. Here are questions you might want to ask yourselves before you take that walk down the aisle.

A couple's sexual expression usually evolves over time. Ask yourself: Am I willing to allow this to happen? Is this person my best friend? Do we travel well together? Does my intended speak well of former partners -- or at least non-judgmentally? Do we share similar moral or religious values? Do we have similar intellectual pursuits or shared interests? Do we have complementary skills and a willingness to let the other take the lead in areas where we are weak? If you can't answer "yes" to all these questions, then hold off on entering into a legally binding contract; there's a strong possibility that this isn't "the one."

And if you've decided to move forward with your gay marriage plan, I'm now going to impersonate the Grinch who stole Christmas by insisting that you do something crucially important before you sign that contract. It isn't romantic, and it doesn't involve the opinion of your friends or family, but you must pull each other's credit report. Sit down and review them together. Understand how you each approach bill paying and financial responsibility. If you see some red flags, for God's sake, don't ignore them. And if your intended refuses to agree to this, Houston, we have a problem. And it won't get better in the settlement conferences for your divorce.

Otherwise, I wish you happy trails.