UU gay and lesbian couples reflect on life after Massachusetts marriage ceremonies.
They crowded into city halls in Boston and Cambridge and elsewhere on May 17, the first day they could marry. Later in the day they stood in front of church altars and on beaches on Cape Cod and recited the vows that had long been denied them.
Throughout the spring and summer the couples kept on coming. And they still come. Two years later more than 9,000 couples have been married, among them Unitarian Universalists. And now, in 2006, what do some of these couples remember and consider most important from this turn in their lives?
Unitarian Universalists Carlos French and Anthony Gomez were among the first to get a license. When the Boston City Hall doors opened just after midnight on the morning of May 17, they were there, along with a crowd of people who were there to applaud all of the couples that showed up. “We walked up the stairs into city hall, and it was one of the best moments of my life with everyone cheering and applauding,” said French. “And then we walked out again with our license. It was the first time for society to say ‘Hey, you’re accepted. You’re part of the greater good.’ This was a defining moment of people saying it’s okay to be who you are.”
French and Gomez live in Boston’s South End. They had been together six years when they married May 22, five days after getting their license, in First Church in Boston. French, an information technology consultant, refers to Gomez, a college student, as his husband. “It just feels comfortable to do that. It fits.”
The marriage ceremony gives their relationship deeper meaning, he said. “Before, we had no binding agreement that kept us together. This makes us work just that much harder to keep things working.” Their neighborhood is very accepting of gay couples he said, and they’ve had no negative response to being married.
French said the couple hasn’t had occasion to use any of the rights that come with marriage. That is partly due to the fact that they already had family health insurance through French’s company. When Gomez had an operation they made sure to sign the right papers in advance so that French could visit and make decisions on his behalf. “Now we don’t need to worry about having those papers on hand,” Gomez said. “We’re married.”
Did the marriage ceremony make a difference in their lives?
“Having the ceremony,” Gill said, “raised awareness about our family with neighbors and friends. The reaction was mostly positive.”
The rights that are most important to them as a result of their marriage are the right to hold property jointly and to have hospital visitation rights. “By being married we’re considered next of kin,” Gill said. “That’s a huge thing.”
In 2005 they filed state taxes jointly for the first time. “I thought that was very cool,” Hartley said. “But there was definitely a sense of irony,” added Gill, “because we still couldn’t do that for our federal taxes.”
The couple had a ceremony of commitment in 1997. “That was really when we got married,” Hartley said. “I woke up on the morning of the 19th this year thinking, ‘Oh my god, I forgot our anniversary,’ but really it’s the one in 1997 that’s important to us. And other ones, like the anniversary of our first date.”
Marriage conferred some “little rights,” in addition to the big ones, Gill said. Before marriage they each had to pay $20 to get their names listed together in the phone directory. “And I had to say that Marie was my sister. Now we can get both our names listed for one fee and without having to lie about it.”
The marriage ceremony did feel important as a public statement, Hartley said. “In other peoples’ eyes, having our marriage sanctioned by the state makes it more real.” They acknowledged that most people have been supportive of their marriage. And that’s partly a factor of geography, Hartley said. “We chose this town (Brewster) because people are open minded.”
The Rev. Keith Kron, director of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns, said that most of the married couples he talks with “are pleased to the point of being ecstatic just to have had the opportunity of marrying. They just want to be able to say they’re married and get the respect that that carries in our larger society.”
Tim Temple and Jerry Carden are Unitarian Universalists from Urbana, Ill., who have been together for 25 years. Temple is an interior designer for a furniture store. Carden does human resources training.
They were married July 23, 2004, by Kron at the UUA headquarters in Boston. Since they were living in Illinois and had no plans to move to Massachusetts, getting married gave them no rights. Nor did they expect any. “For us it was more of an emotional thing,” Carden said.
Added Temple, “It reconfirmed our relationship and what we meant to each other, and we did it in a place that was special to us and with two wonderful UU friends.” The wedding gave the couple a really good story to tell, Carden said. “Also in the back of our minds was the thought that maybe someday other states would approve same-sex marriage or the Supreme Court would allow it and we’d be grandfathered in.”
The ceremony was also an opportunity to make a point to friends and family. Said Carden, “Our families were very supportive. And we feel lucky to be associated with our UU church where we’ve gotten a lot of support.” Both are members of the UU Church of Urbana-Champaign.
The wedding gave Carden a chance to be the recipient of wedding gifts for a change. “I used to kid others at the office about having to contribute to wedding showers and baby showers and never getting anything in return,” he said. “So my coworkers threw a wedding shower for me.”
Elenita Muniz and Judy Fenner had been together 15 years when they had a “legalization ceremony” last October 15 at First Parish, Brewster. The pair prefers not to use the term marriage for gay and lesbian relationships.
The ceremony was unconventional. Both are longtime social justice advocates and have always sought opportunities to help people understand each other. They invited people from all areas of their lives––college, work, church, community, etc., to the ceremony.
During the ceremony they did something people are still talking about. “We had a check-in,” Muniz said. “We asked everyone to find someone they didn’t know and tell them how long they’d been with their partner or spouse and to learn something about the other person. A lot of people who came to our ceremony were curious about LGBT people. They found that we’re just as regular as everyone else.”
Is life different for them after the ceremony? Yes and no, they said. Having the law on their side, accompanied by all the publicity that came with same-sex marriage, seems to have helped many heterosexual people accept marriage equality, they said. “People are more matter of fact now about two women shopping for groceries or a mattress,” said Muniz. “And that really can be credited to the fact the law is now on our side.”
Muniz and Fenner pointed out that marriage equality makes Massachusetts more hospitable to gays and lesbians. “We just don’t encounter the kinds of homophobia here that we might in the rest of the country, Muniz said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve encountered really stupid homophobia here.”
They can see differences in some of their gay friends since they got married. “Just the way they carry themselves and present themselves,” Fenner said. “They’ve become politicized now, and it’s very powerful to see. Marriage has given a sense of safety to a lot of gays and lesbians.”
Being married has also made a difference for gay parents,” Muniz said. “Now they have some kind of legal status when they go into a school for a conference. They don’t have to pretend the person with them is a friend.”
But the rights that gay people gained by marriage in Massachusetts only go so far, Fenner added. “Even though we’re legal in Massachusetts we still do not have a lot of the rights of straight people federally. We only gained about 300 of a possible 1,400 rights. We’re still in a position of vulnerability.”
Robb Sanborn and his partner Allen Becker got married at the UUA headquarters in Boston on May 30, 2004. They were residents of Florida, but moved to Massachusetts to establish residency, and are now back in Florida. Both are members of the UU Church of St. Petersburg. “Because we’re not in Massachusetts no rights were actually conferred,” Sanborn said, although they did get a discount on their car insurance. “We got married just because we could. And we rarely miss the opportunity to explain to people that we are married. The reactions are generally pleasant and favorable.”
He added, “Marriage is a commitment to us for the future. We work hard on resolving things rather than letting them simmer until they explode. We don't act differently from other married couples that we associate with.” He said his and Allen’s families accept them as a couple, for the most part. “My mother who lives in Idaho and who is in her tenth decade introduced Allen to her neighbor as ‘my favorite son-in-law.’ To put it succinctly, we are happy to have had the opportunity to get married and to have the support of our religious heritage in doing so.”
In 1972 the Supreme Court ruled that the United States Constitution does not require states to issue a marriage license to same-sex couples. It is an issue left up to each state.
In 1996 Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act to prevent courts from bringing same-sex marriage to states that have rejected it. States are not required to recognize licenses granted to same-sex couples in other states.
In 1999 the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state legislature must establish identical rights for same-sex couples similar to those of married opposite-sex couples. Legislators created state level civil unions, a measure signed into law by then-governor Howard Dean.
On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in the case of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, that denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates the state’s Equal Protection Clause. The court stayed its ruling until May 17, 2004, to give the legislature time to respond. Beginning on that date, hundreds of same-sex couples were legally married in Massachusetts.
On June 7, 2006 the U.S. Senate blocked a proposed constitutional amendment to declare marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. The vote was 49-48.
Currently in the United States, only Massachusetts recognizes same-sex marriage. Vermont and Connecticut offer civil unions; California, New Jersey, Maine, and the District of Columbia grant benefits through domestic partnerships; and Hawaii has reciprocal beneficiary laws.
Nineteen states have constitutional amendments explicitly barring the recognition of same-sex marriage and forty-three have legal statutes defining marriage as between two persons of the opposite sex.
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.
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