Nothing Changed, Everything Changed: How Marriage Equality Strengthened my Marriage

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The morning of June 26, 2015, I woke up next to my wife (partner in the eyes of the law) and our two dogs. As soon as my eyes were open, I reached for my phone to check the various LGBT and progressive Facebook pages I follow.

My wife and I had a “wedding” with family and friends in Dallas in May of 2013, but had been impatiently waiting for the opportunity to legally solidify our commitment ever since. And I know there were millions of couples all over the country who had been waiting much longer. Having the fate of your marriage left in the hands of appointed officials you’ve never met is an odd and unsettling feeling–one I’ve yet to fully process.

GettyImages-162943746image via Getty

Either way, we all know the end result. I, along with countless queer people and straight allies all over the country, received the answer we wanted. Beginning this day, marriage equality was now the law of the land. Finally. I immediately woke my wife to share the fantastic news and, before I knew it, she was instructing me to walk the dogs and get ready.

Looking back, I now realize this was the second time she proposed. I promise the first proposal was far more romantic than, “Get up and get ready; we’re going downtown.” This would be the last day we would exist in this world as a legally unmarried couple. Knowing the county clerk’s office would be busy with other couples like us, we had no time to waste. I quickly got myself together and threw on my favorite sundress; thank god for dry shampoo. My wife grabbed the white blazer she had worn on our wedding day in 2013 and we were out the door.

Although the whirlwind of June 26, 2015 has passed and we’ve all gone on with our lives, I can’t say nothing has changed. I also can’t say everything has changed. Nothing has changed and everything has changed. The heart and soul commitment I share with my wife has been real to us for some time now–even before our legally unrecognized ceremony three years ago. We became engaged in June of 2012 on the beach in Malibu and, if there were a real day to mark the true beginning of our lifelong commitment, I think that would be it. However, I cannot diminish the significance of a commitment between two people that is also mirrored in the eyes of the law. While our promises were made three years before the state of Texas recognized them, being legally bound to one another has brought about a bit of an evolution in our relationship.

In November of 2013, my wife and I opened a small business together. It was a dream we’d been building and working toward over a period of a few years. After months of searching for the right location, we finally signed the lease for our space. We spent countless hours painting, cleaning, putting together furniture, and hanging art–with several trips to Home Depot in between. While the business would primarily be run by my wife, there was always an agreement that it belonged to me as much as it did to her. Knowing this business was not mine in the eyes of the law, however, we ensured the lease and several accounts were attached to my name as well as hers. 

continued with my full-time job while my wife handled the daily operations of our business. Although my wife had always included me in important decisions with regard to our business, I’m not sure it truly felt like mine. It’s difficult to take ownership of something when you know in the back of your mind the law does not recognize it.  The business experienced a significant growth spurt in the summer of 2014 and I worked to be more hands on. Despite my wife’s reassurance that this venture was mine, the knowledge that the city and state I called home did not share in the belief that a business I had poured so much of myself into actually belonged to me, held more power over me than I was willing to admit. But, since that important day in our history–and a blazing hot one in Dallas–I’ve found myself taking more ownership of the business I built alongside my wife. I have found my place as a leader and real stakeholder in this project that we created and continue to improve and refine together.

What if something terrible happens and her family doesn’t allow me to make important decisions on her behalf? What if an unexpected tragedy occurs and she is not granted access to my insurance money and retirement? These are questions that are not uncommon among LGBT Americans. The list of narrative and documentary films covering the misfortunes associated with the loss of a spouse in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage is almost endless.

Same Sex Marriage Becomes Legal In South CarolinaPhoto by Richard Ellis/Getty Images

We all know the stories. Until June 26, 2015, many of us thought of them daily. Many of us feared being a casualty of the criminal inequities between straight couples and same-sex couples. The what ifs took up quite a bit of space in the minds of many queer Americans–including me. As a natural fatalist, allowing my mind to go down this rabbit hole was not an uncommon occurrence. The thought of losing my wife in a tragedy–or vice versa–and potentially being excluded from my deserved place in her affairs was, at best, highly unsettling. There truly is something to be said for having one’s affairs in order. Once our judge officially pronounced us wives in the eyes of the law, all of those worries left my mind. Having marriage equality has allowed us the opportunity to turn our focus to other matters without the fear of having to fight for that which we are entitled when the time comes for one of us to pass on.

The confidence that comes with being in a legal marriage is a benefit that I hadn’t anticipated. Prior to our lawful wedding, when I fantasized about what it would be like to be legally married, an increased security in where I stand in this world was not one that I had considered. And I’m not sure I can even describe it. It’s a feeling that’s somewhat abstract and potentially only understood by other couples in this position. On that day in the summer of 2015, completing all the necessary administrivia together created a palpable connection between myself, my city, and my country. 

Please understand that I realize how far we are from true equality in this country. But, in the hours that passed on that surreal day in June, I felt a real part of my city and state. I’ve lived in a red state my whole life. Many of us “others” in states like mine, don’t often experience inclusion. We feel like outsiders in our own communities. Although Texas still has a long way to go in the way of equality, in that moment, I experienced a sense of belonging. Though much of the newness of being legally married has faded, the assurances that have come with this have not. I find myself being less conscious of speaking of my wife in public places. When I include her in conversations and refer to her as “my wife”, I know there is no argument to be had. She is my wife–in my eyes, in the eyes of my family, and in the eyes of the law in every single state across this country.

US lesbian couple Courtney Mitchell (L)(photo by PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)

I think I can speak for most same-sex couples who have been married since the SCOTUS decision in expressing that our commitments were authentic both before and after nationwide marriage equality passed. The promises made among loving partners do not require a legal stamp of approval. Having said that, the legal piece of the puzzle was and is something we need and deserve in order to move closer to a country which carries out the equity it promises to all. And it feels amazing to have the work of so many being realized.

In the broader perspective of the marriage equality fight, my wife and I were far from the top of the list with regard to couples that had waited the longest. We were not first in line by any means. In fact, we had the privilege of seeing the first same-sex wedding in Dallas performed for an elderly couple who had been together 54 years. This served as a reminder of the tremendous number of couples who had been fighting for even longer than we were aware there was a fight to be had. We knew others had been waiting much longer than us. We were aware of the multitudes of committed couples fighting for marriage equality for decades.

Phyllis Siegel (L) holds up their marriaphoto by STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

As a couple of five and a half years at the time, we were somewhat new to the game. Being married on the same day as so many other loving and deserving couples is something I will always cherish. Though I understand my marriage was something to which I was and have always been entitled, in many ways, the fight to get here has been a gift. It has instilled in me a deep appreciation and respect for marriage. I cannot take the legal commitment to my wife for granted as it is a privilege I earned thanks to so many other queer Americans who came before me. My wife and I proudly stand on their shoulders. I only hope that I can appropriately and respectfully honor their work through my marriage.

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