Sex & Relationships

Who Marriage Is For: A Tale of Two Weddings

Gay marriage is drastically changing the institution of marriage. And that's a very, very good thing.
Who is marriage for now?

And what is it, anyway?

I want to tell a story. Two stories, I guess, about two weddings, that show how radically the answer to that question has changed in just the past few years.

The first time Ingrid and I got married at City Hall, the whole thing had a very different feel. Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision in 2004 to authorize same-sex marriages in San Francisco came totally out of left field, and everyone knew that it would probably be overturned by the courts. (Which, of course, it was.) So underlying the exuberant joy was a feeling of urgency: a knowledge that there was an axe hanging over our heads that could drop any time, and an almost panicky feeling of needing to get your joy in under the wire.

There were huge lines out City Hall doors. Dozens of ad-hoc officiants who had been specially deputized to perform weddings. A dozen or more weddings happening all over City Hall at any given time, all day, every day. It was a lean, mean, fast-moving wedding machine. We couldn't even get very dressed up, because we didn't know if we'd have to wait in line in the rain all day (we got very lucky and got a dry day for our wedding); we signed our papers on the steps of City Hall.

And, of course, the overwhelming majority of those weddings were same-sex. If you were a straight couple wanting to get married at City Hall that first week, and you hadn't already made an appointment, you were out of luck. It was a happy, joyful mob scene ... and it was all about the queers.

So the whole thing was less like being welcomed into society as first-class citizens, and more like a massive act of queer civil disobedience. (Improbably led by the Mayor of the city.)

Last month's wedding, the second time Ingrid and I got married at City Hall, was different.

There was no mob scene, no line out the door. There is a possible deadline -- the court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in California could be overturned by a ballot initiative in November -- but November is a ways away, and nobody was feeling that if they didn't get married that day they might never get the chance.

There were certainly a whole lot more weddings happening than there would normally be on a Thursday at City Hall, with extra officiants on hand and a host of volunteers there to shepherd everyone through the process. But it was much calmer, much more business as usual, than the weddings in 2004. It still felt like history in the making, and everyone there was aware of it ... but it was a much more peaceful joy, a gentle folding of a new flavor into the batter.

And here's the thing, the point I want to make:

It wasn't just same-sex couples getting married that day.

There were plenty of opposite-sex couples getting married at City Hall the day we were there. In fact, when we signed in for our appointment to get our license and have our ceremony, the schedule listed the couples as "Same sex" or "Opposite sex." And just from a quick glance, it looked like it was running about half and half.

So there we were in City Hall: a City Hall dotted with women marrying women, and men marrying men, and women marrying men.

And it struck me:

This is huge.

This is the change: the change we've been working and fighting for.

This is exactly the way it should be.

In California at least, marriage has changed. It's no longer a relationship and contract between a man and a woman. It's a relationship and contract between two people. Any two people.

In California at least (and Massachusetts, and Canada, and Spain, and a few other places around the world), marriage is no longer about maleness and femaleness; the man's role and the woman's role in the family; the husband and the wife. It's about two people. Spouse 1 and Spouse 2, as they put it on the forms we filled out.

Ingrid is my wife, and I am hers. And that means essentially the same thing as the fact that our friends Tim and Josie are husband and wife.

I think this is what I was getting at when I wrote How Gay Marriage Is Destroying Normal Marriage -- No, Really. Same sex marriage is changing what marriage is -- for everybody. For the men and women getting married in City Hall the day Ingrid and I got married, marriage won't be the same. The fact that Ingrid and I were getting married the same day that they were means that their marriages won't be the same. They won't mean the same thing.

The 2004 weddings were about the queers. June's weddings were about everybody.
Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.