Jen Bauer, who blogs at Adventurous Moms, files the ninth in our Lawfully Wedded Life series. She lives in Massachusetts, and thus has a number of years’ experience with lawfully wedded (lesbian) life. But she and her wife chose, after a Massachusetts marriage, to have a South Carolina wedding. Read on to learn why, and what it all felt like.
Do you have a story to tell about marriage, marriage equality, or the lack thereof? Submit yours here. We’ll be running the series through the SCOTUS marriage equality decision(s), expected late June 2013.
Kendra and I were good friends when the Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on November 18, 2003. Though excited, like most gays in the state, we were cautiously optimistic. We all held our collective breath during the mandated 180-day wait before the state could begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
I will never forget standing outside of Cambridge City Hall the night of May 16, 2004. Kendra and I were with a group of friends – we all wanted to be there for the historic moment. Though I remember a few protesters standing far off behind a barricade, for the most part, the atmosphere was one of exuberance and love. As the clock struck midnight, the clerk inside began accepting the state’s first marriage licenses applications from same-sex couples. I had tears in my eyes watching, as people who had been together for years finally were able to gain access to legal rights and recognition of their relationship.
Flash forward almost a decade after the original court ruling, and Kendra and I have been married twice (both times to each other). We refer to these ceremonies as our “legal marriage,” and our “real wedding.”
Two major life events prompted our first marriage. When we got engaged, anti-marriage equality activists had already submitted enough signatures to introduce an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. The trepidation we felt in 2003 resurfaced – we decided to take the leap and get legally married before our wedding day with the hope that if the constitution were amended, our marriage rights would be grandfathered. Additionally, Kendra returned to school full time, so we decided to get hitched privately by a justice of the peace in 2006 so I could add her to my health insurance plan.
Though it was a beautiful moment – we said our vows in the Mayor’s office at City Hall in my hometown – we did not exchange rings, nor did we don dresses. Our friend Janet was our only witness, and our post-nuptial celebrations were at a local café where my friend Eric joined us.
After basking in the reality of our legal marriage, we got right to planning our “real wedding.” Leading up to it, we followed a fairly conventional and traditional path. My extended family threw us an engagement party, while our bridesmaids followed suit with a wedding shower and a “wild” bachelorette party that included dinner and a drag queen show.
Almost a year after our legal marriage, we got married again in 2007. Our “real wedding” was held in South Carolina with family and friends, and had no legal consequence or validity. This one was for us – an opportunity to express our love and commitment to each other in front of the people we loved most.
Though it would have been far easier for us to get married just once, here in Massachusetts, we chose to get married in Kendra’s home state of South Carolina partly as a political act. Many of our southern friends are not out – they fear harassment, losing their jobs, or worse. Getting married to their significant other in a public ceremony is not a risk they can take, so we took it for them. By getting married in the south, we made gay marriage a visible reality for a number of people in the wedding business.
That is not to say everything was rosy. There were many tears as vendors hung up on Kendra, telling her we were an abomination to God. Only two venues would even consider our request to host the ceremony and reception. The night of the rehearsal dinner, the bus driver we hired to transport my family and out of town guests to and from the event angrily kept asking about the groom, and the limo driver who took us to the ceremony would not look at us or open the vehicle’s doors.
There were good moments too – the lesbian baker who, upon realizing we were a couple, not friends or sisters, made us an incredible cake for next to nothing. The DJ who, after I revealed that we were a gay couple, replied that he would be honored to play music at the reception. The folks at our venue were awesome – we weren’t even their first lesbian couple – we were their second!
The wedding itself was magical. During our ride to the ceremony, my entire body shook as I dreaded the thought of so many eyes watching us. Of course, all my fears melted away as we walked down the aisle. Kendra’s uncle Doug, a Presbyterian minister, performed the ceremony. The reception involved a lot of dancing, a lot of eating, and a lot of love. Outside of the fact that we were two brides, it really was not different than any other wedding. (Though I did have one moment of breaking from tradition – on our ride home to Massachusetts, I singlehandedly ate the entire top of our wedding cake.)
As we have watched more states legalize gay marriage, Kendra and I feel the same sort of excitement and joy we did when Massachusetts became the first state in the union to embrace marriage equality. This past fall, we celebrated on election night when Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the seventh, eighth, and ninth U.S. States to legalize same-sex marriage. Each time another state grants marriage equality, we read the stories of couples that have already committed their lives to each other finally gain legal recognition and protection for their relationship. And each time, I find myself with tears in my eyes, because I know how valuable and affirming those rights are, and how wonderful it feels to get married.
[PHOTOS: JEN BAUER]