Wild Thing and I got married a couple of weeks ago. It was a Wednesday morning and we wore jeans and running shoes (and, yes, other stuff), which is probably enough to tell you we didn’t make a big production out of it. We’ve lived together for thirty-nine years now. We’ve had a civil partnership for—um. I’m not sure how long. Eight years? Let’s pretend it’s eight years. I’m probably wrong. Something larger than five but still in the single digits. Neither of us knows when the anniversary is. Sometime in the fall.
I was the one who suggested converting our civil partnership to a marriage, even though I’m not a fan of marriage. As far as I’m concerned, if you want romance, go live together. Skip the confetti. Don’t ask for blessings from either church or state. Skip the ceremony, save the money, don’t even want the presents. For me, marriage is tainted by its long history as a property arrangement and as a way to control people’s sexuality. I won’t argue that you should agree with me, I’m just reporting on how I see it.
But as we get older, the realities of state recognition have started to matter. If one of us is hospitalized, we want the other one to be automatically recognized as the person in charge. Sure, we can draw up legal documents and we have, but how many of us have them in our back pockets when we need them?
Civil partnership gave us all that within the borders of the U.K., but recognition is iffier when we travel.
What really decided it, though, is that we probably won’t die in tandem. Since we’re spread across two countries and the U.S. doesn’t recognize civil partnerships formed abroad, converting our civil partnership to a marriage seemed like a practical decision. It will leave the survivor less of a mess at a time when she’ll have more than enough to deal with.
Cheerful, aren’t I? But y’know, we’re getting older. We think about these things.
I was reluctant—I was married a hundred or so years ago and didn’t like the woman-as-appendage feeling it gave me—but practicality won out.
An old romantic, that’s me.
I might as well admit at this point that when gay marriage first became a viable political possibility my brother asked me what I thought of it.
I want it to pass, I said, so I can take a principled stance against it.
It was a good joke and it leaves me with the itchy feeling that I need to explain myself.
I wasn’t going to tell anyone—and I mean anyone—but blabbermouth told J. Then I told J. not to tell anyone. But telling people is one of the things J. loves in life, so this was unkind. Then we told someone else and I went back and lifted the ban on telling people and—well, it went from there.
J. wanted to have a party.
J. wanted to be a witness.
We didn’t need witnesses. All we had to do was sign some papers.
J. wanted to throw confetti and see me to wear a white dress.
I haven’t worn a dress since I went into court for my divorce—wait, let me count—forty-four years ago. Or a skirt, thanks. And I only wore whichever it was then because I was intimidated. And because it was a long time ago, when slacks weren’t as widely accepted.
J. back to wanting a party.
Two days later, I saw J. again and seized my chance.
“What makes you think it’d be me wearing the dress?” I asked.
I didn’t get an answer, but that was okay. It took me two days to come up with the question. I didn’t really need an answer.
That’s the thing about gay marriage, though. You don’t know what to count on. You just have to stand back and see how the couple’s going to play it.
Somewhere along the line, one of us told G., who I sing with sometimes, and I’d blame blabbermouth but it was probably me. So G. and some other people from singers night gave us a card and a dwarf magnolia to plant in the back yard, and for all that I wanted to keep the whole thing to ourselves, I was touched and, irrationally, began to feel less reluctant.
What can I tell you? We’re social animals and we’re not entirely rational. If we even get that close.
When Wild Thing made the appointment with the registrar, we were told that we’d have to prove that we are who we think we are (are you still with me here?), so we’d need to bring two forms of identification. A passport and a driver’s license would do, but because Wild Thing has macular degeneration and no longer drives, she’d need something official with our address—a recent utility bill or bank statement, for example.
Both of which have gone paperless. And no, she couldn’t just print them off. It had to be on letterhead.
No problem, she figured. She’d go to our local bank branch and ask them to print it. But the branch can’t do that anymore. The central office no longer trusts them with paper. Who knows what they’d do with it? The only way to get a printed statement is to call some central office somewhere and wait a week to ten working days while a scribe in the back office writes it out by hand with a quill. By this time, of course, we didn’t have a week, never mind ten days.
Wild Thing begged. She explained. She was her most charming and desperate.
The woman at the central office said she’d talk to someone. Then she called back. She’d put a rush on it.
How much of a rush? We couldn’t be sure. Wild Thing gathered alternative papers. A letter from the NHS. A—oh, never mind the list. Everything she could find. It made quite a stack. We had no reason to think any of them would be good enough.
I started thinking about my parents’ tales about their own wedding. They were already living together, which—well, this would have been early in the early 1940s, I think. You didn’t do stuff like that openly then. They were working for the same union, in the same building, and took different subway trains to work so they’d show up at different times.
They fooled no one. Their co-workers would look at their watches and nod knowingly.
They’d have gone ahead and gotten married but my mother’s divorce wasn’t final. When it was, they went to City Hall on their lunch hour and discovered that the office they needed was on its own lunch hour.
They went back the next day and got married, borrowing a ring from someone and giving it back as they left the office. Their honeymoon was on the subway on their way back to work. They stayed together more than 50 years and were very close. So I grew up thinking that ceremony isn’t everything. In fact, I sort of assumed it was an annoying nuisance.
If Wild Thing and I couldn’t get married on the date we’d planned, at least we’d be part of a tradition. And we’d have a good story.
J. stepped in.
Bring a council tax statement, she said.
Onto the stack the council tax statement went, and on Wednesday off we went with all of it, wearing our best denims. Or at least our clean ones.
We saw a deputy registrar who chatted as she worked her way through the form: identification, names, dates of birth, all that stuff. Any previous names. Would I spell that?
I would. I’d meant to keep my own name when I got married that first time but didn’t take whatever steps would have made that possible in those dark days when a woman had to fight to keep her own name, so it was changed for me, which didn’t help with that woman-as-appendage feeling I mentioned.
The deputy registrar, Wild Thing, and I chatted about people who don’t like their names and people whose names end up being popular names for dogs.
We do it with such good intentions, she said.
You couldn’t help liking the woman, although I’ll admit we didn’t try.
Would you confirm your gender? she asked.
You do have to ask these days, I said.
She said she did have to, and some people got angry about it. A few offered to prove their gender, which was more than she actually needed.
The world’s gotten complicated, if it ever was simple. Some people do get pissed off about it.
She asked if either of us was changing her name.
Not a chance.
Eventually we got around to my father’s middle name.
Would I spell that?
Well, yes, I would. Slowly.
We’d already discussed Wild Thing’s middle name and why she hates it. I don’t have a middle name, which could be a discussion all on its own but wasn’t. My father’s, though, seemed to call for some explanation. We were having such a nice visit. And she was such an easy person to talk to.
My father’s parents were Russian revolutionaries, I said. Which is an exaggeration but it’s what I found myself saying. What they really were was Russian Jewish radicals. They didn’t actively foment revolution. For one thing, they were busy raising four (at the time they emigrated) kids, and trying to feed and clothe and educate them, which is enough to keep most people, radical or otherwise, occupied. For another, I’m not sure revolution was on the agenda when they were still Russia, and I don’t think they’d have felt at home in the parties that wanted a revolution.
When they got to the U.S., I went on, they felt free to name their kids anything they damn well wanted to, and my father was their first American-born child so they named him after a Russian anarchist prince, Peter Kropotkin.
Talk about middle names that aren’t easy to carry through life. I learned to use his middle initial only when I filled out school forms. Using his full middle name gives me an odd, can-I-really-do-this? feeling.
She printed out the form, all of us signed it, and that was it. We were married.
By way of a honeymoon, we went to the supermarket and picked up some fruit. We were getting low. It’s summer. We like fruit.
When we got home, J. and A. had broken into our house, with M.’s help, and left a banner, a balloon, flowers, fruit, vegetables, cards. The kitchen table was practically overflowing. Our brave dogs—our watch-shih tzus—had done nothing to guard the house. And when J. and A. had trouble with the key, the neighbor gave them a hand.
So much for security.
We now had enough fruit to start a fruit stand. Every time I looked at the kitchen table, I started laughing all over again.
We put some of it away and took ourselves to lunch at the local café, which sent us home with a massive piece of carrot cake as a wedding present. They were afraid, I think, that the marriage wouldn’t be valid if we didn’t have cake.
So here we are, and I’m happy to report that nothing’s changed except that we’ve been eating more fruit than usual. Friends have snuck a bit more celebrating in on us, including F. showing up with a one-week anniversary present and friends throwing flower petals.
Not long ago, M. asked Wild Thing—teasing her, I think—which of us is the wife.
The answer is, neither of us. Or in a pinch, both of us. Or the same one who was before we got married, which goes back to the first answer: no one. It’s not about our legal status, it’s not about who plays what role. It’s about the relationship.