To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really realize that we’re coming up on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s historic decision about same-sex marriage. You’d think I would have been more aware, but I’ve been pretty preoccupied. My wife and I have a totally awesome 1-year-old, and we both work, which means that I hardly know what day of the week it is, let alone where we are on the calendar. We married in front of a crowd of friends and family in 2013, back when same-sex marriage was still legally not an option for us. When the ban was lifted because of the Supreme Court’s decision, we had a second wedding, this time with our young son in attendance. So now I’m thinking about all of the ways that my life has — and hasn’t — changed since the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling went down.
My wife and I live in Michigan, and when I proposed to her, the possibility of legal marriage wasn’t even on the table. There was a constitutional amendment on the books in Michigan specifically banning same-sex marriage, and it had been passed in the first election I was old enough to vote in. I had been told that it would certainly eventually be challenged and struck down, and maybe if I thought real hard about the long arch of history, I could imagine that yes, probably one day, we’d all have the rights and privileges that went along with marriage. But that wasn’t why I wanted to get married. I wanted to get married because I was in love with this absolutely incredible person, and I knew I wanted to spend my life with her, and I wanted to make a promise. So we went ahead and planned our dream wedding, much to the confusion of straight people, who kept asking us “now how does that work in Michigan, exactly?”
It was, as clichè as it sounds, the most magical day of my life.
During our engagement, a case started working its way through the courts challenging the ban. There was a brief moment of excitement — how cool would it be if we managed to get a marriage license just in time? — but courts are slow and full of people who wanted to make it even slower. Our wedding went on as planned, with absolutely no paperwork to speak of. It was, as clichè as it sounds, the most magical day of my life.
We’d already been married for almost two years when the Supreme Court finally ended state bans on gay marriage. We’d also just recently become parents for the first time. Because of the lack of legal rights surrounding our relationship, we’d traveled to a hospital 45 minutes from our home to have our baby, in large part because we knew it was queer friendly. They accepted my wife’s role in our family without question, and even apologized to us that we couldn’t have her name on the birth certificate. Then, I was in the hospital again, this time because my gallbladder had run amuck, when the good news broke. Despite already knowing I was married, I cried with happiness.
Very little has actually changed since the Supreme Court’s decision.
About a month later, we had a small wedding ceremony at our local zen buddhist temple, and then went out to brunch. It was more emotional than I expected, and it was a beautiful day. We reaffirmed the promises we had already made, and looked forward to a lifetime together sharing not only love, but also legal marital status. Especially since we had just become parents, it felt like a pretty big deal. Despite our lack of interest in what the state had to say about our relationship, I found myself excited about being legally married, and enjoying the many rights that would come with.
But, from a practical standpoint, very little has actually changed since the Supreme Court’s decision. What differences there are are small, and in some cases, completely imperceptible. Emotionally, it feels exactly the same. My wife and I are married, we’ve been married for nearly three years, and while it did feel different to be married right at first, all those changes happened over two years ago now. I thought that logistically it would simplify our lives, and I guess I did enjoy that we got to finally file our taxes jointly, but other than that it’s hard to think of a thing that’s easier. But I can still be turned away from medical treatment, housing, or a job because of my orientation. And since our son was born before we were legally married, my wife still has to formally adopt him in order to be legally recognized as his parent. So even though the abominable ban has been struck down, it continues to affect our lives every single time we take our kid to the doctor’s office.
I still don’t think that legal marriage is quite the game changer that many people expected it to be.
I'd also say that we encounter homophobia — both the subtle kind and the not so subtle kind — at about the same rate that we did prior to getting a marriage certificate.
The one difference that feels at all sizable is actually small, yet cumulative. Now that gay marriage is perfectly legal, I’m less likely to get a string of questions when I say “my wife” to a stranger. Whether folks like it or not, most people accept that I do, in fact, have a wife. Similarly, whenever I have to fill out any kind of official paperwork, I no longer feel angst over being asked if I’m single or married. The question doesn’t have one answer in the real world (in which I share a life with an incredible person whom I'm very much married to) and another according to the government, and that’s a bit of a relief.
I do think that the right to same-sex marriage is important, and it's ridiculous to ban people from receiving the benefits of marriage due to nothing but the sex of their partner. And I think that ultimately, we’re much better off with the legal protection that being married affords us (hey, now I can’t be forced to testify against her!). But I still don’t think that legal marriage is quite the game changer that many people expected it to be.
I know many many people would rather have an uplifting story about how much better our lives are and how much happier we both are now, but the truth is that our lives have been more dramatically changed by our son than by anything the state or the Supreme Court has done. If there’s a lesson in here, it’s that maybe we were right in the first place. If “love is love” regardless of the gender of its participants, than that also holds true regardless of the legal status of the relationship. Marriage is about commitment and partnership, and I find it somewhat comforting that this is a right the state can neither grant nor take away.