Marriage Licenses for Everyone

For more than 17 years, I've had the most wonderful job. I hand out marriage licenses to loving and committed couples in Clark County, Wash.  Over the years, I have given thousands of marriage licenses to couples, but for most of that time, I had never been able to get one myself.

That changed on Dec. 9, 2012, when same-sex couples in Washington could marry for the first time. I made sure I was first in line to apply for a license, and at 12:12 p.m. on 12-12-12, James and I married in our home. Dressed in tuxedos, surrounded by friends and family, we exchanged rings and made a public promise of love and commitment. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. We had been waiting for that day for 40 years.

It's now the one-year anniversary of our marriage and of marriage winning at the ballot box for the first time. In the time that's passed, I've seen how much difference marriage makes -- and how much more work needs to be done, especially in Oregon, the state right next door to mine.

Oregon right now it is a focal point for the marriage movement. It's the last state on the West Coast without the freedom to marry, the only state slated to have marriage on the 2014 ballot, and the first state to make a serious attempt to overturn a constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples. There are 29 states that have such bans, and overturning one is the next frontier of our movement.

The stakes, however, are higher than marriage in a single state. For the opposition, the campaign in Oregon is one of their last credible chances to stop the freedom to marry. So far they've been able to claim the victories last year were demographic flukes and note that they'd beaten us every time at the ballot box by substantial margins.

But if we win, we finally have a chance to show the balance of opinion as decisively changed -- even when we have to modify a state constitution. Such a win at the ballot box would propel us closer to securing a national marriage victory at the Supreme Court by creating a political environment where the justices can more easily go further.

I've gotten involved with the Oregon United for Marriage campaign because I know firsthand -- from my own marriage and from the couples I see getting marriage licenses every day -- how much marriage matters.

James and I are a lot like any other couple. We festoon our house with Christmas ornaments, enjoy brunch on Sundays with extended family, and send each other cheesy cards that say "I love you."

We've been doing the hard work of marriage for four decades, but actually getting married has made all the difference. Marriage provides us with the tools and security to take care of each other as we grow old. It says "family" in a way that no other word does. When I describe James as my husband, I don't have to explain what that means. I know we'll be there for each other, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.

At work, I have so much joy when issuing marriage licenses now that I have one myself. But I feel conflicted when gay and lesbian couples from states like Oregon come to Washington because they can't marry in their home state. Nobody should be told it is illegal to marry the person they love in the community they are part of. But in Oregon, loving and committed same-sex couples are excluded from marriage.  

I hope others from all around the country join me in helping the campaign in Oregon. Oregon could well be the "make it or break it" state for the movement. This is our moment to win.

Paul Harris oversees the marriage license office in Clark County, Wash. He and his now husband James have been together 40 years. Reach out to him at