Warm Welcome

With marriage equality still often unrecognized, a small sentiment goes a long way

by Will O’Bryan
Published on April 7, 2011, 2:58am | Comments

Thank you, Ms. Perkins. You don't know me, but you sort of made my day.

What you do know is that my husband and I married recently, 10 years to the day after meeting – at JR.'s, so a little shout out to the staff over there is also in order. I told you that as you scrutinized my passport at Dulles International Airport March 29.

You wouldn't have known that when I met Fernando, we had both had prior long-term relationships. More or less, we'd both considered ourselves married in those relationships. With no formal way to solidify those relationships, however, those marriages were more a state of mind than anything else. We had the domestic trappings of married couples – pets, home-ownership, fights, etc. We just didn't have the privileges associated with civil marriage. We did, however, have the doubts that come with knowing you could be denied hospital visitation or receive a whopping inheritance tax on your own home.

After those relationships, Fernando and I met and fell in love. Circumstances were changing, and we were able to enter into a degree of civil recognition. Registering our D.C. domestic partnership was awkward. As we understood the protocols, we would apply and a registration certificate would later be mailed to us. Nope, they gave it to us then and there. Did we celebrate? No. I'd only taken half a day off from work and still needed to go renew my driver's license.

So what could've been something to celebrate was really just a bit of bureaucratic stamping and signing. I didn't want to resent the cheeriness of the clerk who handed our partnership document to us, but part of me wanted to remind her that this was not a blessing, but an insult. I imagine it's sort of the same feeling a Saudi woman trying to leave her country feels when her male keeper deigns to provide such permission and thinks himself benevolent.

Then marriage came. That domestic partnership was particularly useful on this front, as a stepping-stone. We didn't get married just to get ahead of any chance of Congress meddling in D.C.'s marital affairs. We want to be married, as we've long considered that to be our reality. Knowing that we would ''trade up'' our domestic partnership for marriage, we were left to figure out whether that would include a wedding ceremony.

Some in our extended family – the exceptions – are not as happy for us as we've been for them, so a blowout wedding would've been a day of mixed emotions. We eventually agreed that spending a small fortune on a wedding with conspicuous absences was not a good investment. Instead, there were just six of us in our living room: a secular celebrant, Ward Morrison to take photos, two close friends as ring bearers/witnesses, and us. The next day, we left for a honeymoon in Prague, where ''registered partnerships'' are the law of the land.

Returning through Dulles last week, I was subject to another of those marriage-inequality insults: passport control. Family members are asked to approach the immigration officer together. Not my family, of course. Where the Department of Homeland Security is concerned, my husband and I are just roommates. I wondered what reaction my particular immigration officer would have, if any, when I explained that the purpose of my trip was my honeymoon.

''And where is your…?'' Ms. Perkins asked when I told her just that, aware that ''bride'' might not fill in the blank.

''Husband. He's in that line,'' I answered, pointing to Fernando a few feet away.

''You got married in D.C?'' Ms. Perkins continued.

''Yes, last week,'' I said, showing her my wedding band, wondering if I was being a little too enthusiastic, perhaps inviting an eye roll or an icy stare. Instead, she gave me an unexpected wedding gift: ''Good for you. Welcome back.''

Thank you, Ms. Perkins.


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