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Marriage Matters — Marie Alford-Harkey


People say that our wedding was one of the most moving events they’ve ever attended. Now of course, people are supposed to say that about their friends’ weddings. But, at the risk of bragging, I’m pretty sure our wedding was something special.

It wasn’t just because two women were getting married, although that was part of it. It wasn’t just because a black woman and a white woman were getting married, although that was part of it. For us, the religious part of our wedding was the most important. As seminary graduates and religious professionals, we were concerned with all the liturgical and theological details. As people of deep faith, we wanted the liturgy to reflect our beliefs and aspirations about marriage.

April and I crafted the liturgy to be an experience, not a spectacle. Our guests were involved: they moved around, they laid hands on us and on each other for the blessing, and they gathered around the altar for communion.  These elements made our wedding very memorable.

The legal part was secondary, although welcome. We were grateful to live in a marriage equality state, but the civil benefits of marriage weren’t our focus. Until it all changed at the moment in service when we were pronounced “a married couple.” The energy in the sanctuary had been growing throughout the introduction and the vows, and I could feel it coalescing during the pronouncement. At the words “a married couple,” the voices of our guests swelled into a cheer. Applause broke out.

Before that moment, I hadn’t considered the political implications of our marriage beyond the fact that as long as one of us had health insurance, the other would too. But in that moment (pictured), I had a sudden realization that for us and for the people in the room, this was a victory of sorts.

As we’ve carried on with our lives over the last year and a half, we’ve seen the implications of being legally married stretch far beyond the sound of applause.

When I went to the DMV with my brand new social security card and my brand new hyphenated last name, the woman behind the counter looked at my old license, looked at my social security card, and then said, “You can’t hyphenate your name like that. You have to put your name first and then your husband’s.”

“Wife,” I replied, not even addressing the fact that I could hyphenate my name any way I damn well pleased thankyouverymuch.

After she talked to a supervisor—who assured her that if the Social Security Administration was ok with my name, the DMV was satisfied as well—she moved on with the process.

When I went to our new nurse practitioner, I checked off the box that said “married” and I wrote “April” in the blank for “spouse’s name.” The receptionist didn’t blink when she entered that information into the computer. “And is April your primary emergency contact?” she asked. “Same address then?” Ho hum.

When I meet people, I say “we” pretty freely. And then I usually drop “my wife” somewhere in the conversation. Even though I’ve never had anyone react negatively, I always hesitate. I’m aware of the privilege I have in reclaiming this most patriarchal of labels. I’m aware that a few hundred miles west or south, I wouldn’t speak so freely. I’m aware of the privilege of having a gender identity and sexual orientation that fit into society’s boxes. I’m aware of friends with children who live in non-marriage-equality states. For these families, navigating the legal system is burdensome and never quite “equal” to the benefits of civil marriage.

And although we have it good here in Connecticut, when we filed our taxes last year, we were hit with a $1200 federal “gay tax” because we couldn’t file jointly.

All this could change in 2013. Last Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases that could lead to marriage equality throughout the United States. It is exciting to think that the US might join our continental neighbors in Canada and Mexico in making marriage equality the law of the land.

Recently someone asked April why she uses the phrase “my wife” so much. “Because I never thought I’d have the privilege,” she replied.

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