Same sex marriage is a topic I've tended to avoid in my public writing for a number of reasons: First and foremost, as I mention in my first ever Bilerico post, as a poly person there is a history of tension between myself and members of the LGBT community on the subject. Second off, there's a bit of a personal history there I've long shied away from, but I think it's time to change that.
That personal history? I was in a legal same-sex marriage for over a year.
To understand where this is going, I have to give some context.
As I've mentioned many times, I was in a three person poly marriage for eight years, which ended in late '09 when our partner, who now uses the name Asrik, left us to return home to the West Coast. The three of us had two religious weddings, one a small private affair, the other a re-commitment ceremony held for the benefit of The History Channel. That second one was featured it on their show "strange rituals" (not the title we were told when we signed on, btw). Obviously neither of those two were binding in the eyes of secular law, a point that was not overly concerning to us.
During this time the three of us also owned a small product development company. My partner Nick and I ran the company, while Asrik worked a conventional job as an information technician in higher education. Because I have a number of chronic health issues, including severe Tourette Syndrome and an associated chronic pain condition, I was on Asrik's health plan as a domestic partner. Like countless other 20-somethings, Nick did without and hoped for the best.
Then our state legalized same-sex civil unions. Full marriage would follow a few short years later.
Not long after the civil union law went into effect, the university Asrik worked for sent a notice to all employees with domestic partner coverage informing them that within one year they needed to get a civil union or lose insurance coverage for their partner. Then as now, I must say that seems eminently fair in light of the policies in place for heterosexual employees.
This put us in a tough spot for two reasons. The first was that we had a longstanding family policy that unless it became necessary for legal reasons, no two of us would get married. Our relationship was structured as an equal triangle, and we feared that two of us being legally wed would upset the balance, making one internal dynamic more "real" or "important" than the others.
More immediate however, while we were all desperately working to save our relationship, the issues that would eventually lead to Asrik's departure were already well known. Getting a legal union when we knew there was a good chance our relationship was approaching the end of its life was upsetting many levels.
Not however, as upsetting as losing access to my health care as it turned out.
Thus, with the university's deadline rapidly approaching, Asrik and I found ourselves at the home of a very sweet local justice of the peace. We didn't tell him about my, or our marriage's, poor health. Today I see it as something Asrik did for me in honor of the love he once felt for me, but at the time I must confess I was bitter about having to enter into a legal binding with someone who was ready to be done with me and our family.
Moreover, I felt like a horrible traitor to the LGBT community. The narrative of the same-sex marriage fight is built on the idea that our love is as worthy of recognition as that of heterosexuals. I felt like I was taking advantage of something pure and true, the love and yearning of other people, for my own, less than noble ends.
A little over a year later, two months after our state legalized full same-sex marriage, the three of us sat down in a lawyer's office to sign the papers officially dissolving Asrik and my state-sanctioned union. A religious hand-parting ceremony between he and Nick and I, who remain together still, would be a month later. Our brief legal contract did ensure the continuation of health care when I needed it, and entitle me to three desperately needed years of COBRA insurance coverage, a generous policy from the university Asrik worked for.
Over the years, my thoughts on the time I spent in a legal same-sex marriage have evolved. I have come to see our experience as a powerful expression of equality, rather than as a blow against it. The LGBT community has a long history of wedding and commitment ceremonies, some recognized by our faith communities, others simply by our friends and families. As a community we have proven time and time again that our love is not dependent on the recognition of the state or even that of mainstream society. Legal same-sex marriage is born out of love, but serves to protect, and yes, legitimize our families in the eyes of the law.
My and Asrik's union has been often described as being one of convenience. Given that we'd been together for eight years, and had had two religious weddings, I take some umbrage to that categorization. But accepting the premise for a moment, I'd argue that our marriage of "convenience" is in its own way as affirming as any born out of a love for the ages. In perhaps an ugly way, what we did was "pure" too. The right to enter into marriage entirely for the benefits found therein is one of the innumerable rights of marriage that heterosexuals take for granted, and that LGBT people have been fighting for.
You won't see us used in a pro-SSM campaign ad any time soon, but I believe that there's a place for stories like ours in the broader marriage rights narrative too.