Since I posted my last blog about going to Canada to marry my partner, several people have asked me, in essence, "Why bother?" Our same-sex marriage isn't recognized by the legal establishment here in the U.S., and I bemoaned in that blog the isolation I felt in Canada, taking this big step with none of my family present. So, to paraphrase one reader, "Why not just have a ceremony here, with friends and family, since the local legal result is the same?"
Here's my short list of the reasons committed same-sex couples should get married in Canada:
1. There's something more solid about the legal connection. I've been thinking about the word "conjugal," meaning "related to marriage," and its linguistic root: that "jug" in the middle is from "yeug," the Old English world for yoke. So, we're yoked together in the eyes of the law, two oxen pulling together as we do the hard work of daily family life. In fact, same-sex Canadian marriage is less easily dissolved than a heterosexual marriage here in the U.S., since Canadian law requires that at least one of us takes up residence in Canada for an entire year before filing for a divorce. It's their plan to repopulate the Yukon, I guess.
It's obvious that most people feel a relationship without legal acknowledgment is more fragile. Observers often don't value a commitment ceremony as much as a marriage, and since it's not official, the community (in the form of courts) doesn't have to be involved in any breakup. Divide up the cats, call the U-Haul, change your phone number -- you're done. If you're registered with your same-sex partner under the city of Milwaukee's domestic partnership ordinance, your partnership can be dissolved by marrying someone of the opposite sex, no questions asked.
2. We made a commitment to the kids. In taking this legal step, we committed to each other's children, too, for better or for worse. With four teenagers in the house, you can guess which side of that "or" we're on! But seriously, the kids know I will be looking out for their mom and for them, and vice versa, and they're happy we made it official.
3. We'll have legal standing in a lawsuit. If a lawsuit arises challenging federal or state bans on same-sex marriage rights, we've got the pretty paper to prove we were married by a legitimate government.
4. We had a taste of freedom. Whether it's in gay bars, in Provincetown, or at PrideFest, same-sex couples have always sought out safe places to be open about our relationships, to feel free. In Vancouver, Tina and I were able to feel that freedom not just in those typically gay places but on the street, at the marriage license office, in stores and restaurants, in church, at our hotel, and on and on. Our sense of possibility was expanded in ways we didn't expect.
5. It's an act of "prophetic defiance." That's the phrase the minister who married us, Rev. Sally Harris of Trinity United Church of Canada, used in our marriage ceremony. I'll quote her here: "Because our world and the church frequently ostracize rather than honor the love of a woman for a woman ... this rite of holy intimacy serves as prophetic defiance, as well as public affirmation." It's so important to some people, some politicians, some pastors, to deny this right to us, that it's worth the cost and bother of international travel to defy them.
In closing, I'll ask the "Why bother?" question in reverse. If our legal marriage doesn't signify something important, why did Wisconsin anti-marriage activists bother to put the same-sex ban on the ballot in the first place?
Jennifer Morales is an elected member of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, the first person of Latino descent to hold that position. She was first elected in 2001 and was unopposed for re-election in 2005. In 2004, she ran for a seat in the Wisconsin state senate, earning 43% of the vote against a 12-year incumbent.
Previously, she served as the editorial assistant at the educational journal Rethinking Schools; as assistant director of two education policy research centers at UW-Milwaukee; and as the development director for 9to5, National Association of Working Women.
She became the first person in her immediate family to graduate from college, earning a B.A. in Modern Languages and Literatures from Beloit College in 1991.
In addition to her work on the school board, she is a freelance editorial consultant and a mother.