At 1:25 p.m. on Sunday, July 24, 2011, my partner of nearly 31 years and I got married. It turned into a major production, not for the ceremony itself, but because of what Pete and I went through to get married on the first day the Marriage Equality law took effect in New York State.
We didn't want a big ceremony, which we thought to be anticlimactic after three decades together. We also wanted to commemorate the day that equality became the law of our state (but, unfortunately, not yet of our nation). To be married that day entailed a trip to Kingston, then back to Poughkeepsie, then back north to Red Hook. Kingston was one of the municipalities in Ulster County (along with Plattekill, Shandaken and Woodstock) that opened its clerk's office on Sunday to issue licenses to same-sex couples, many of whom, like us, have been together for many years. The City of Poughkeepsie, where I was born and raised and in which Pete and I live, chose to remain closed, a political statement for sure. The 32-year old mayor of Poughkeepsie was quoted in our local paper as saying that just because same-sex marriages are now lawful, does not mean he has to officiate at them. BTW, 2011 is a local election year, including mayor.
Arlene Rion and her staff in the Kingston City Clerk's office were warm, welcoming and wonderful. State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Cahill was on hand to issue waivers of the state's 24-hour waiting rule for marriages. Not knowing that would be the case, Pete and I made prior arrangements to go before State Supreme Court Justice Christine Sproat in Poughkeepsie to issue that waiver, hence the drive south to the Dutchess County Courthouse. Chris was also the duty judge for the Supreme Court that weekend and she told us we were the only couple seeking that waiver, which can only be granted by a justice of a "superior court" in New York State. Waiver granted, we headed north to the Village of Red Hook, where Village and Town Justice Jonah Triebwasser had offered to officiate. Jonah is also an adjunct professor at Marist College and an actor most known for playing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a true "local boy who made good") on stage and the History Channel.
We were joined by our two beloved "adopted sons," Luke and Stephen, who were the witnesses for our marriage, both having traveled great distances to be there, which meant the world to Pete and me. Steve timed the ceremony at 27.5 seconds. Pete and I already considered ourselves married, but we needed to go through the "I Dos" to make it legal. Our friend, Al Nowak of On Location Studios, took photos. After brunch at the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck, it was off to Holy Cow, one of the best known ice cream shops in the Hudson Valley. Pete and I joked decades ago that if we ever could get married, our wedding reception would be at Holy Cow. If you've never been, you wouldn't understand. Great soft-serve with prices from a generation ago, they make their profit by volume.
As it turned out, Pete and I were the first same-sex couple to be married in Dutchess County. In some ways, nothing has changed, yet in other ways, the world has changed. Our relationship is now legally recognized. We are offered the protections and accept the responsibilities offered to opposite-sex couples. No one else's marriage was harmed by ours. The world has not come to an end. The support we have received from family and friends, including many of my colleagues and my current and former Marist students, has been overwhelming and deeply appreciated.
Of course, tens of thousands of legally-married gay and lesbian couples will not be truly equal in the eyes of the law until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed. Until then, America will continue to be the land of separate and unequal.
We do have something many married couples don't have -- two anniversaries: October 25, which this year will mark 31 years together for us, and July 24, a day we will celebrate with all New Yorkers.
One last thing...for same-sex couples who do tie the knot, check out the series, "The Cost of Being Gay: A look at the financial realities of same-sex partnerships," by Tara Siegel Bernard (@tarasbernard on twitter). Even the comments section, a part of contemporary newspapers I find extremely crude and distasteful, is good because other experts share their knowledge of the joys and pains of being legally-recognized spouses by your state but not by your federal government.