Those of you who know me, know I have never felt strongly about the institution of marriage. You’ve heard me say, “A one-time commitment, even if you have spent a fortune on it, inviting all your friends, springing for a fancy hall, is not enough to keep a relationship on track; it is the zillion tiny commitments you make every day that knit two people together.” That said, Dixie Cox and I, after a twenty-five-year romance, got married on my birthday.
It was a spontaneous decision, the seed of which was planted the day after the last presidential election, when it became clear that the republican administration, which many Americans chose to take the reins of this glorious ungainly country of ours, has some real issues with homosexuality. Some of the Swamp Creatures are even pro conversion therapy. Eek!
Anyway, that day after the election, it struck us that this window, in which two women have the legal right to marry, might not always be open, and we thought, hmmmmm.
We’d almost married once before, in 2004, when Gavin Newsom, then mayor of San Francisco, started issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Our decision to marry then was spontaneous too. We were doing it “to piss off Bush” as Dixie would say. I grabbed a Goodwill wedding gown I had used as a prop in a play, she grabbed a long-tailed coat (another costume), and her Stetson, and we drove up to San Francisco, arriving at City Hall at 6:00 AM to find a line that went around the block and then some. We stood in that line for hours, even though we knew there was no way we were getting in. We were making a statement: We are here! Lots of us!
I have many sweet memories about that day, the sweetest being how each couple, as they got closer to the City Hall steps, got a bouquet of flowers from one of the many florist vans circling the area. The flowers came from all over the U.S. Ours was from Atlanta, Georgia. The card read: I’m sending you flowers because I hope someday my gay daughter will be able to legally marry.
That window lasted a little under a month before Gavin was shut down. Then there was the period between 2008 and 2013 when it was legal for same-sex couples to marry in California, then it wasn’t (due to the evil Prop 8), then it was again (when Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional.) We didn’t try to marry then. We were registered as Domestic Partners, and had spent some loot on lawyers making sure we had our bases covered, so figured Why bother? Besides, how weird to be married in one state and not another!
Then, June 26th, 2015, (drum roll here) under the Obama administration, (cue the bugles) the United States Supreme Court ruled that state-level bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional! Suddenly, gay people were getting married all over the place. My Facebook feed was blowing up with gay wedding announcements. Even the White House got in on the celebration, lighting up in rainbow colors.
Why marry now? we thought. We were already committed to one another. We sure didn’t want any big production. We do that for a living at The Fun Institute. We were glad for our friends that did marry, but felt no need to do so ourselves. We’d won the right and felt that was enough.
Then came this last election in 2016, and once again there was/is this feeling of having a target on our backs.
Two days before my birthday, Dixie and I were stretched out in our sweats at home, watching a very funny, pre-election Wanda Sykes stand-up routine on Netflix. Neither of us laughed when Wanda made some joke about the miracle of being legally married to her wife in all fifty states. We just thought, hmmmm.
Cut to my birthday, February 8. Dixie took me out to breakfast on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, our favorite breakfast spot right at the end. It was stormy out. The San Lorenzo River had spilled over. Roads were being shut down due to mudslides and fallen trees. Santa Cruz was a mess! Over eggs, toast and bacon, she asked me what I wanted to do between breakfast and the 3:30 hot tub we’d reserved at Well Within. I looked out at a Western Grebe bobbing up and down in the churned up bay. The water, usually a beautiful blue-green, was a muddy brown. Not a good day for hiking or biking, my favorite birthday activities. “Why not go to the courthouse and, at least, find out what it would take to get married?” I said. I really had no idea. I honestly still believed we’d need a blood test. Dixie was game.
The County Clerk Office, second floor of the government building, Room 205, was buzzing: passport issues mostly. To our right, a family was having ID problems. I wondered about their citizenship, worried for them. To our left, a guy was registering to vote. I thought, Uh… You kinda missed the deadline on that one, fella.
“Can I help you?” a polite, young Latino said, his elbows resting on the counter in front of us. We told him what we wanted. He flashed us a tired smile. Handed us a form. Explained the costs. $90 for the license, $100 for an officiant, and, since we hadn’t brought one with us, $15 for a witness. For a total of $205.00, we could be granted all the rights that, years before, we’d paid twenty times as much to gain. What a deal! He asked if we’d like to schedule a day to do it. Said they were all booked up that day.
By chance, the clerk who performed the weddings, a woman about our age who seemed to be the only one at the office having a good day, overheard our conversation, and said: “You know, if they want to do it today, I’d fit them in.”
We looked at each other. Today? This was not what we were expecting. But we’re improvisers; we’re used to Yes And-ing things. She said she could fit us in at 4:00. As mentioned, our hot tub was scheduled for 3:30 and there was no way we were giving that up. She said, “Well, we could do it right now.”
We were wearing raingear, jeans. Dixie was in her desert cat sweatshirt, me in a cozy sweater, but we thought, if not now, when? and told her “Let’s do it.”
We took the paperwork into the hall. There were a few tricky questions. I was pretty sure my Dad was born in New York State, my mom in Massachusetts, but I wasn’t one hundred percent sure. And my mom’s middle name… she’d dropped it when she married, choosing to use her maiden name in its place. Or I was pretty sure that’s what happened. I was ready to go with that, until Dixie said, “Clifford, this is a legal document. You need to be sure.” Her words flashed me into the future. I pictured some poor genealogist combing through court records trying to piece together our family tree, shaking a discouraged fist at the Gods. It all makes sense except for this one entry in Santa Cruz! Dixie couldn’t believe I was unsure about these details. “Easy for you,” I muttered while madly texting my mom and dad. “All you have to remember is Texas. No one in your family ever leaves.”
My texts wouldn’t go through. The reception in the courthouse was weak. I rushed down the stairs and into the rain to call my Dad, who said, yes, New York was right, but he didn’t know where my Mom was born either. “Why?” he asked me. “We’re getting married!” I said. “Well, good for you!” he said. I told him I had to go, that we had an officiant waiting on us, then called Mom. By now it was pouring rain. I pressed into the side of the building in an attempt to stay dry. Mom had a cold. I felt bad about bothering her, but was glad that my info about her was right too. “Happy Birthday!” she said, weakly. “Thanks!” I said. I didn’t mention it would soon be my wedding day too. I was getting soaked.
Forms filled out, we returned to the office. The family with the ID issues was just leaving. “Next!” the harried clerk who’d been helping them said. She didn’t even look up from her computer where she was finishing up the last transaction. “I hope it’s quick. I have to pick my daughter up at school and I’m already late. These half days at Scotts Valley are killers!” She clicked a final save on her computer and looked up at us. “Now what do you want?” She all but rolled her eyes when we said we were getting married.
“You can’t today,” she said. “We’re all booked up.”
“I told them I would,” the other clerk said.
“Today? How are you going to do that if I’m not here?”
After a minute or so of Good Clerk/Bad Clerk, Good Clerk won out. Meanwhile, Bad Clerk was getting texts from her daughter. Where R U?
Bad Clerk warmed up by the time she’d finished entering all our information. Then she pointed out a box we’d forgotten to check. “Public or Private?” she said. We didn’t know what this meant. “Do you want your marriage to be on public record?”
This was a no-brainer. “Public!” we said at the same time. Wasn’t that the whole reason we were doing this?
Before being rushed off to our wedding, we jotted a short note to Bad Clerk’s daughter, telling her thank you, that her mom was a real champ. This made her happy.
The room they usually used for weddings was being used for something else, so Good Clerk, really a lovely woman, took us to another room. I can’t even tell you what it was. I was more-or-less out of my body at this point. We were getting married! I do know that when we entered the room, the words Sine Praejudicio-Without Prejudice was written there. It seemed appropriate. Our witness was a young ’un. Possibly a lesbian. I didn’t ask, but she seemed awfully excited about us getting married.
I was chewing gum. There was no trashcan in sight, so I stuck in on my hand for the ceremony.
I didn’t expect to feel what I felt when our officiant read our vows, especially the part about “in sickness and in health, in prosperity and adversity.” I remember thinking, young twenty-somethings who get married can’t possibly understand what this means. How could they? But at our age, those words really pack a punch. Not that we haven’t said them, or something similar, to each other before. Still…
I was glad when we got to the kiss. I’m always happy in Dixie’s arms. We didn’t exchange rings. We’ve tried doing rings before. They don’t work with us. Dixie, a carpenter, always breaks hers. So the kiss was the big moment, and it felt great. We’d done it. We were married. And Dixie was thrilled that she wouldn’t have to remember both my birthday and our anniversary, a real two-for-one.
And then the young possibly-dyke witness said: “You two are so cute!”
Really? I thought. You? A little munchkin is calling us cute? Dixie? Who’s had a beer bottle broken over her head outside a bar for being gay? Me? Who’s dealt with other less violent but equally demoralizing discrimination, like Dixie’s mother refusing to meet me for ten years? Since getting hitched, we’ve been called cute by lots of young ’uns, both straight and gay. Oh, well. I guess we’re just that age, where we’re too old to be taken seriously. Or maybe we are just that cute. I don’t know. None of our peers have called us cute.
The one thing we agree on: We both hate the word wife. Dixie doesn’t like that it came from the word with, as if a wife is just an appendage, that without a man she’s vulnerable. I always think it’s one letter away from being wipe. So we’ve promised not to use it. And we’re not going the whole Mrs. route. “We’re not Missus material,” Dixie says. I agree. We didn’t change names either. A Henderson could never be a Cox, a Cox never a Henderson. It just makes no sense.
But we’ve claimed our equal rights, that’s the main thing. And I just want to thank all of the kick-ass gays and lesbians who, along with us, fought for these rights. I promise, I’ll continue do my best to make sure that the young ’uns have them too. It really does make a difference. And now, like the wonderful Wanda Sykes, I too can say: We’re legal! In all fifty states!