Mixed Messages

Even as it gets better for gay couples in Virginia, it pays to remember that change still comes slowly

Leave it to Virginia to throw a wrench in my wedding plans.

This was to be the year that my husband, Cavin, and I took the final step of legalizing it — getting an official license that will be recognized by the federal government and provide us with some much-needed security on issues that our legally married friends have stopped stressing over.

This can be confusing as we use the word ”husband” when referring to each other. We got married in 2007, Virginia having then recently enacted a statue that constitutionally refused to recognize big, gay, Buddhist wedding ceremonies. When D.C. offered official knot-tying services, we held off because for the most part in Virginia — or Kentucky, when traveling home for the holidays — a legal marriage would be as invisible as our real marriage. But with Windsor pressing the issue and federal retirement benefits on the line, 2014 was the time for us to make honest men of each other by making the short trek to the D.C. courthouse.

The plan is to get married on our anniversary, May 5, so we can celebrate the same date — it feels too retro to have all the old gay anniversaries for first met, first date, first sex (if different from first met), first co-signed lease, etc. It’s a new world of one-and-done simplicity for our relationships.

But with Virginia finding its anti-gay marriage law struck down far sooner than I expected, yet also under a stay for appeals, everything’s up in the air. I’d really prefer to get married where I live and we are rapidly approaching the point in history where we can no longer be among the first to crowd our way into a county clerk’s office for a marriage license. Will the Old Dominion be ready when we are? Will the delay in implementing what everyone knows is coming force me into a winter wedding?

Now that I’ve thoroughly examined this particular gift horse’s mouth, I should say I do recognize how thrilling all this is. And it has been for a while — even as Virginia remained retrograde in Richmond, closer to home we’ve had few problems being recognized as a couple. It’s radical how differently Cavin and I are treated as a couple now than we were 10 years ago.

My only fear is that the rapid pace of change and success will lull too many of us into complacency. I don’t say that in an effort to buttress our community infrastructure — it’s obvious that our ”movement” will go through many changes over the next decade, scaling back on some fronts as we refocus on others. But the work that remains will be as difficult as what has already been done.

As a case in point from our everyday lives, waiters are nearly universal in treating Cavin and me as a couple. They are also nearly universal in how they handle the check: They hand it to me. When Cavin pays, which is often, they still come back to me, the white guy, for the signature. It’s a subtle form of privilege that I hadn’t even noticed for too long. The waiters aren’t racist, they’re just acting on unexamined assumptions.

There’s a wide swath of America that wants to believe that because we’re less racist as country that racism is over. But that’s just not true, whether we’re talking about minor things like the unearned deference I receive or major things like white fear of young black men. A situation that gets better is not automatically a situation that gets solved.

I bring this up as a parallel, not an equivalence. But as we rightly celebrate our rapid success in marriage and other issues, we can’t forget that we’re moving from the political to the pernicious. There is no license to guarantee our equality.

Sean Bugg is editor emeritus of Metro Weekly. He can be reached at seanbugg@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @seanbugg.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.