Thursday, June 2, 2011

Marriage Equality

Since getting married, I’ve begun feeling the weight of marriage inequality even more than when I was engaged. It strikes me in strange ways. It seems obvious that I got indignant when filling out married customs paperwork on our way home from the honeymoon or filling out new insurance paperwork at the office, because the inequity was thrown in my face. But it somehow hit me harder when we were having a quiet night at home. I was basking in the newly-married glow and realized that yes, this is different. For us, being married matters in an emotional way I hadn’t anticipated. There hasn’t been any giant change in our life together, but saying “husband” is a lot different than “partner,” which is the term I’ve been using for the last few years. And I started crying out of anger and sadness that our gay family and friends can’t use the legal term “husband” or “wife” for themselves. That they get left with partner, when I now know how different it feels to have our family, friends, and legal system all legitimize us as a unit.

For us, it was important to talk about marriage equality and inequality in our wedding. There are many ways to do this, and we talked a long time about what felt right for us. We made private choices, public choices, and symbolic choices that worked for us.

We decided to share our wedding day with people who respected and agreed with our values. We didn't have a ton of onsite vendors, but those we worked with, mattered. They were explicit in their progressive beliefs, which was important. While we chose Kelly Prizel as our photographer because we love her art and clicked with her immediately on the phone, it felt doubly good to support a woman who co-founded So You're EnGAYged, where we started many of our vendor searches. 

We purposely joined a family-oriented, open, and fiercely progressive synagogue that believes in tackling social and political problems head on. Of the four clergy members, two are women, one is a married gay male, and one is a straight man. We feel at home here, and we feel inspired and welcomed by the clergy. As we worked with our rabbi on ways to incorporate issues relating to gay marriage, she told us that she donates money to the Human Rights Campaign for each heterosexual wedding she officiates. Finding an officiant who shared our perspective on marriage, religion, and marriage equality was imperative for our wedding.

We made several donations in honor of our wedding. Even though our wedding cost a lot, we felt like we were privileged to be in the position to celebrate like this, and a percentage of our budget went towards four charities. After a lot of research on which gay marriage organization to support, we decided to donate to Equality California, which is working on the local Prop 8 fight,. We included the following language in our program about this donation:

With gratitude for a life that has enabled us to celebrate our legal and spiritual marriage with family and friends, we have made several donations in honor of our wedding:
  • Equality California works to achieve equality and secure legal protections for LGBT people. EQCA is an organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit asking the California Supreme Court to strike down state law that bars same-gender couples from marriage and has successfully defended California’s domestic partnership laws and related state policies

During the Ceremony
For us, it was important to acknowledge the injustice during our ceremony itself. We found a ritual that resonated on So You're EnGAYged, which talked about adapting a tradition from the Jewish holiday of Passover. On Passover, Jewish tradition celebrates our freedom from slavery by drinking wine. However, at the same time we also acknowledge the pain and death that occurred to achieve that freedom by spilling ten drops of wine from our glasses, thereby lessening our joy. We used that same symbolism during our wedding, by spilling ceremony wine prior to drinking from our glasses:

“Before drinking from this cup of joy, we acknowledge that our cup is not quite full. We spill out drops of wine in hope that someday all unions will be fully recognized as a marriage by the civil authorities with all of the rights and benefits of marriage, and none of the discrimination that faces these brave souls today. As we raise the cup, we affirm the joy that it does contain, the gifts of this union, the blessings of this love, and the delight of everyone here to celebrate this simcha (joy).”

We had three readings during our wedding, one of which was an excerpt from the Massachusetts court decision that allowed the first legal gay marriages in the United States. Not only does the moment matter, but the majority opinion outlined so many of the important concepts behind marriage that resonate most for me:

In 2003, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts held in 2003 that people of the same sex are entitled to be married according to that state's constitution. The following reading is an excerpt from Chief Justice Margaret Marshall’s majority opinion in "Goodridge Vs. Department of Health"

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations....Without question, civil marriage enhances the "welfare of the community." It is a "social institution of the highest importance." ... Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.... Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life's momentous acts of self-definition.


  1. I totally support marriage equality. But I often wonder why we ever allowed the government to have a say in who we marry anyway! And why should some religiously-biased citizens get to decide our private lives with their votes?

    I'm with Ron Paul on this one when he says government should stay out of marriage.

  2. Damn right, Becca. Also, after paying my first round of married taxes, marriage inequality can also be theft. Let's end this, yall.

  3. @Julie - I can support your position, in theory. However, there are important legal reasons (and benefits, which are different) to support civil marriage. Hospital visitation rights, rights to inheritances, joint taxation (which can hurt or harm but makes sense irregardless), and if you're having children - the equal recognition of parenthood without adoption... the list goes on... are critical partnership rights. These are rights that the general public WANTS to share with a life partner, and the general public would NOT be happy is we started calling these domestic partnership rights because domestic partnerships are currently "less than." Even if we expanded domestic partnership rights to simply encompass what society deemed reasonable to support stable families and legal units (and that can include a childless couple), we'd have to expand many of the rights and responsibilities associated with current domestic partnerships and then have them recognized at every state and the federal level. I definitely want the rights and responsibilities of a legal marriage. I don't care what they're called, but I want them. ALL. And if I have them, I want everyone who gets married (including homosexual couples) to have the same access to those civil rights too. I don't believe the government should step out of the "legal benefits for legal family units game." There are important reasons we have these benefits and responsibilities. It's pie in the sky to assume the government will (or should) get out of the civil marriage game. So in that case, let's just give everyone the same civil rights.

  4. Becca, thank you so much for this post. I definitely, definitely will include language about marriage equality in my ceremony--it's been on my mind a lot lately, because I am a queer woman marrying a straight man. Because of that, we're able to enter into marriage legally--but had I fallen in love with a woman who had all of his amazing qualities, then we'd be going a completely different route. So it's really lovely to see specific examples of what you used!

  5. Becca, would you mind sharing what synagogue that is? We're still looking for one that works for us in LA (not necessarily closer to home, since I won't be going every week by a long shot, but one that just... works).

  6. @A Marigold - I just sent you a message.

  7. We're doing a few similar things for our wedding. It's so good to read about the specifics you did.

    We have to keep fighting for marriage equality. Our weddings are great opportunities to do so.

    I already feel so much privilege as an engaged woman marrying a man. I can only imagine how that increases once you are married.

  8. I love you a little more with each post.

    Because of amazingpants people like you, I am looking forward to the future when I can move back to CA with my wife.

  9. Totally stealing the wine drop thing.

  10. Well, I didn't elaborate very well. See, I don't believe in marriages licenses whatsoever!

    David Harsanyi wrote about the concept and the impact on LGBT people in Reason Magazine below.

  11. You are more than just a birthday mate; you are a kindred spirit. Now that we've moved back to AZ, I feel the need to raise awareness of marriage equality more than ever. Although we're not Jewish, we are including passages about marriage equality in our ceremony, we purchased white knot kits and have made an effort to support gay-friendly businesses. This last part is now much more difficult than it was when we were planning a San Francisco wedding, but also so much more important.


I love active conversations, including (civil) disagreement. I don't love spam or people who use internet anonymity to be rude and disparaging. Spam and rudeness will be deleted.