When the Supreme Court made its ruling, the country rejoiced that love had finally won. But what does love winning really look like? Kriste Peoples knows.
In 2010, my friend Pam summed up her feelings about gay marriage this way: “We need the right to marry so that we can divorce.” The look on her face told me she wasn’t kidding. “That way,” she said, “we’d really be like everybody else.”
Even though she and I were in touch virtually every day—thanks to video chat, texting and phone calls—by the time I showed up on her doorstep that summer, it had been three years since we’d seen each other face-to-face. I was road tripping across the country and stopped to visit Pam and her partner, Brit, for an extended weekend of catching up and meeting their new baby. Brit had given birth to their son barely three months before, and he was so new to the world I wondered what he made of all of the new sounds and shapes around him. Mostly, I hoped he didn’t understand that his mothers had been talking so openly about splitting up.
“Divorce already?” I asked.
The three of us had always been close, and Pam certainly would have indicated any trouble during one of our calls. Years ago, she told me that even before they started dating in 2000 that she knew Brit was her ‘One.’ And in all the years since, she’s never told me any differently. So, when I asked them to elaborate, I wasn’t exactly worried for their future.
From across the room Brit nodded toward the baby. “He’s the only reason we’d need to divorce,” she said. They rolled out a list of legal protections that divorce would extend to their son should they ever split up for any reason—including death. “Things like child support, medical benefits, alimony, and all kinds of stuff straight couples take for granted,” she said. “If we ever broke up, divorce would all but guarantee that he’d have a whole lot more in place than if we just peaced out of this relationship.”
As a single person who’s also straight, I’d only ever heard about the devastating effects of divorce, but hearing the couple talk about its upsides was unexpected—and enlightening. Looking into the eyes of their baby lying quietly in my arms, I felt protective of him, imaging what his world might look like as he grew. I hoped the future he grew up in would be one that embraced him and his parents wholly. He smiled easily and busied himself, attempting to suck his little toes while we talked. In the years since, he’s grown into a deeply reflective young man who still manages to put his feet in his mouth, but in figurative ways befitting a teenager. Despite any fears expressed by conservative media for the children of gay parents, he’s a pretty normal kid.
The first time they got married, it was in an historic Brooklyn church, filled with music, a family of friends and a handful of blood relations on either side. The ceremony was a blend of tradition, sacred ritual and raucous party. I should know; I was their wedding planner.
By the time the festivities were done, we’d all danced and sung over the couple, prayed for their success and longevity, blessed their rings, shed happy tears—enough to fill buckets—and toasted them off on a weeklong honeymoon cruise. It was a celebration of love in grand proportion. The official name of it was ‘domestic partnership,’ but what we experienced that day was at least as rich and real as any ‘legitimate’ wedding I’d ever been to.
A few years and a career change later, Pam and Brit relocated to the Midwest where they were, as Pam tells it, ‘civilly unionized’ in a stripped-down ceremony held under the glare of fluorescent lights in the county clerk’s office. They followed the affair with a sit-down dinner at an upscale restaurant with new friends they’d made in town. I spoke with them earlier that week, bitterly disappointed that I couldn’t be there and borderline furious there hadn’t been any invitations sent or announcements made.
The planner in me was not impressed.
“But we’re already married,” they said. “This is just a formality so we’re recognized in the state.” I told them I understood, but it would take years to get over what I thought was a snub.
Truth be told, there wasn’t anything that could have topped their first wedding, and the most important thing was that they had the legalities covered as much as possible in their new home state. After all, they’d begun making plans to have kids and needed to be sure their babies came into the world with every possible advantage.
“Fine,” I said. “But don’t let me hear of you moving and marrying again without giving me proper advance notice.”
Do you remember where you were the day the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage was legal in every state? I was on my way to a meeting across town, and when the news came through on the radio, I hollered. It was an indescribable feeling, knowing that I was part of an historic moment that would immediately impact the lives of so many good, real people who I actually knew. It wasn’t hearsay or political grandstanding this time; it was happening in the moment.
It’s true what everybody said: love won the day. And there was no denying it.
As I pack my car, headed back to the Midwest for another late summer visit with my friends and their growing family, I’m reminded that people’s definitions of marriage are as varied as they are.
And let’s not even talk about weddings.
So, when I see my friends again, I’m not going to quibble with them about the fact that I learned of their third wedding via Facebook. Scrolling through my feed, the photo of their official marriage license looked so ordinary and un-amazing, I would have easily passed over it if I didn’t know to expect something like that from them. “Guess what we did on our lunch breaks?” the caption read.
Am I surprised they didn’t even bother to take the day off from work to get married (again)? No. And I get it this time.
It’s like Maya Angelou said: “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
After all of the challenges and sacrifices, hoops and hurdles—and weddings—my friends endured right alongside so many loving couples who faced similar struggles, in many ways, they arrived a long time ago. I’m happy that they’ve finally got the right to divorce, to make a mess of things, just like everybody else, if they choose to. After more than 15 years spent building a relationship that most couples would envy, I hope they never need to exercise that right.
[image: via shutterstock]