The Day the State of Pennsylvania Called my Bluff
On May 20th, 2014, after twenty-five years together with James Haskins , the State of Pennsylvania called my bluff.
I was sitting in a Baja Fresh eating a fish taco when I got a text: “Do I get to be a bridesmaid?” It was from my friend Enrique and I had no idea what was in his snarky little mind with that comment- until I checked the news alerts on my cell phone. A U.S. federal district court judge had ruled that Pennsylvania's statutory ban on recognizing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, and that same sex unions would be officiated in a civil ceremony and filed with the state. Marriage. This was a complete shock at the time: Pennsylvania (which is basically Alabama flanked by Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) overturned its law a month before the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage, and did so with no advance notice.
Sitting by myself on a summer day in the fast food restaurant, I didn’t know what to do or say. I finally turned to the woman sitting with her children at the table beside me, and showed her my news feed, shaking and sputtering out “Pennsylvania just recognized same sex marriage.” She looked at me calmly and kindly, and I am sure she saw how shaken I was by the news. Then she asked:
“Does this affect you?”
“Yes. It does. And my partner of twenty-five years.”
“Then I am very happy for you.”
I nodded, thanked her- and when I got to the solitude of my car I broke down, shaking and sobbing before I could consider taking it out of park. I had no idea this news would affect me in the way it did. I was a rational adult who had long passed the idea of marriage looking at the larger goal of equal civil rights for all citizens. Besides, in our twenty-five years together, James and I had already moved across county twice, worked to help one another complete graduate school and establish careers, grieved over family and friends lost, supported each other through lost jobs and long sicknesses, traveled to places we never thought we would see, fought loudly (well alright: ONE of us was loud), and waited out storms until calm seas brought us back together. We had fed, housed, held, and loved each other through all of that…and if that was not marriage, what is? What difference would marriage make?
Four years ago today, though, the state of Pennsylvania gave us something we hadn’t had yet: recognition. Moments before our marriage ceremony in December of 2014, James and I shared a thought we had both been thinking. In twenty-five years of our lives together, we had never kissed in front of our families, or in public. When we kissed at the conclusion of our vows, it was for both of us a new experience, and a new world. We had never had the opportunity to be in front of our community and not only declare our devotion, but also to ask for their support and help in preserving something which was so important to us. Until the decision of May 20th, 2014, on some level we had always felt alone in trying to carve out our lives together. Because of that change, we would be able to ask that our lives and struggle to remain whole be as valued and as important to our civil society as any other married couple’s. We could continue our work of trying to build lives together, no longer alone.
In the years since, there have been more struggles and storms, as well as distances and challenges. I feel daily buffeted by news and by changes in the political winds, and what they will blow us in future. But still I have not only a harbor to come back to, I also have a community now which recognizes and works for us to be together, in the way in which we want to be.
After twenty-five years together, Pennsylvania called our bluff on May 20th 2014. Then as now, the chips are all in. I love you, James Haskins.