Saturday, April 18, 2009

Guest post by Angry Lesbian Bride on getting married in Iowa.

Dear Readers in Same-Sex Relationships,
If you are thinking of heading over to Iowa to get hitched, read this first.

My wife and I were having our usual, lazy type of Saturday morning (possibly early afternoon) on April 4, 2009. We had slept to the point of sloth and risen only to cook and eat a huge breakfast together (hash browns, lattes, cheeseomelets and bacon). After we ate, I ventured out to get the newspaper. When I opened it, I did a little jig of happiness. My partner (let's call her B) now describes it as a victory dance/lap around the house in my bathrobe. I would maintain that she is exaggerating, but I do have a tendency to giddiness, especially when the happy event I'm experiencing is unexpected.

Just to add some perspective, it WAS love at first sight when we met in May of 2007. Just over a year later, on June 14, 2008, we held a modest, non-legal wedding in a park in Minneapolis. We had a huge number of attendants because all of our sisters and most of my wife's nieces were in our ceremony. I think our guests just barely outnumbered our wedding party, actually, but it was beautiful and perfect and we loved it. Our cake pretty much melted, but that's the only thing that really went wrong. Just in case you are wondering if you missed a court decision/law change, gay marriage is not legal in Minnesota. We live in South Dakota, so it really doesn't matter (legally) what we do or where, since the constitution here was (barely) changed by popular vote in 2006 to ban same-sex marriage, even though there was already a law banning it. I guess they just really, really wanted to be sure no recently-married gay or lesbian couples would be embracing and kissing on the courthouse steps in Sioux Falls.

What state you live in matters a great deal because in 1996, Bill Clinton signed into law the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), allowing states to ban same-sex marriages and to refuse to recognize such marriages performed elsewhere. I am curious to know if a legal gay marriage performed in, say, Connecticut, is recognized right next door in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is also legal, but no one seems to know and I'm betting it's not because of DOMA.

Clearly, however, my wife and I don't care about DOMA or anything else (although we do know we need to set up legal protections for each other and our theoretical children, especially when you consider that my parents are both homophobic lawyers). We choose to call our wedding a wedding and our life together a marriage, even though it has no legal standing anywhere. We have already loosely planned to take vacations/elope in the various states that it is possible, so when the state right next door suddenly allowed it, I hopped to attention and started planning right away, on the floor of our living room on April 4.

I thought it would be fun to write a queer guide to marriage in Iowa for out-of-staters like myself. Every state handles marriage differently, so you have to research a little bit to make it happen. I've already done that for Iowa, so why not share and help others out?

I thought "what could go wrong? It's the LAW. The SUPREME COURT of Iowa said so." I became the excited, jumping-up-and-down instant-wedding planner. B is naturally more cautious, and warned me from the beginning that there were bound to be problems.

I hope this isn't too tedious, but I'm just going to walk you through the whole thing so far.

We decided to get married in Des Moines, since it's the capital city and only 4 hours away by car. Also, if anyone we knew wanted to fly in, it would be easier for them there. I already had May 1 off as a vacation day. B thought she could get it off. We would leave in the morning in time to pick up our license and get married on Saturday, May 2, which is pretty much as soon as possible in the circumstances.

I googled LGBT organizations in Des Moines and found one that had a link to a wedding chapel.

I called the chapel and talked to the owner. We talked about the package we wanted, where the chapel is, email addresses, when I should call again to finalize, and what number to call on Monday to get the legal ball rolling. Elated, I hung up. B and I started sussing out other details, etc.

I called the Polk Co. Recorder on Monday, 4/6, to make sure that my Googled information was correct and that we had all of our ducks in a row. I explained the situation to the friendly woman on the phone and she put me on hold to check her information. I had the impression that I was her first same-sex questioner. After a brief time on hold, she told me:
-There is a three-day waiting period once the license is issued before it becomes valid.
-Don't forget your $35 check to us.
-Go ahead and fill out the application in front of a notary with your one witness as soon as possible. She would put it in the mail that day.
-Call on the 24th to see if that is the day it will issue. She had heard it could also be the 27th because of furloughs. (It turned out to be the 27th.)
-Pick up by 5pm on Friday, May 1, for your planned May 2 wedding.

We received, signed and sent back our contract for the wedding with the chapel. It's a 1/2 hour elopement package and we will probably have to pay for two witnesses, since no one we know lives in the area.

A few days later, we had our first possible roadblock when B found out that she couldn't get May 1 off from work. We emailed the officiant to see if she would be willing to pick up our license. She said she would, but I should let the recorder know so that they would allow it.

I called the Polk Co. Recorder on the 13th to check on the process and make sure our officiant could pick up our license for us. I spoke to the same, helpful woman as before. She was apologetic and told me that it might be sent back, since they were now being told, just as that afternoon, actually, that they were not to keep applications by same-sex couples that arrived before the 27th. I hoped that I concealed my dismay and disgust, and pointed out that I had been told, specifically, that it would be held. She apologized again. I asked for her name to make sure that, if I called again, I could speak to the same person, and she told me. She also said I could call the next day and speak to her supervisor. I said I would be on a business trip, but that I might be able to squeeze it in. After I got off the phone, I emailed the owner of the chapel and asked if, through no fault of our own, we couldn't marry on May 2, we could change our date without losing our non-refundable deposit. She said that would be no problem, which at least kept me from feeling that the recorder's office potentially owes us $150.

About 20 minutes later, a strange thing happened. My phone rang, and it was the same woman from the recorder's office, apologizing profusely and saying that, since I had called the week before and been told that she would hold our application, she would still hold it. In effect, making an exception for us. She clearly felt really bad about upsetting me before. (I did not yell, scream, or cry, but my voice may have wavered slightly.) I said a little prayer to the Midwestern Gods of Tact, Thoroughness and Reason, and thanked her, making a note of the fact that she told me to call again on the 27th and check on things. She also said it was fine to have our officiant pick up our license.

We booked the hotel suggested by the chapel owner. It was a good rate and a convenient location at a national chain hotel. The lady on the phone congratulated me and sounded really pleased when I told her we were eloping lesbians.

Yesterday, I was riding in a car on the way home from a conference (my business trip). I was with three colleagues. My cell phone rang, it was a woman from the Polk Co. Recorder's office. She is the supervisor of the woman I spoke to the first three times. I think she was the one calling me because her subordinate was afraid of me either yelling or crying. She said that they had just been informed that applications made before the 27th might not be considered valid later, so she is going to return our previous application and payment so that we can do it again. I would like to say that I kept my cool, but I burst into tears. I'm crying again thinking about it. I wanted to be mad about it, but both women from that office have been so thoroughly midwestern and kind that I can't hold a single drop of ire for them. We talked for a few more minutes, trying to figure out if there was a way to beat the three-day waiting period and still get married on May 2, but it isn't possible unless we manage to have everything signed before the post office closes on the 27th and that isn't possible because B works until about 5 without a lunch break and anyway how would I find a notary who works that late? The waiting period can be waived, but we would have to find a judge who would do it and appear in court during the week, which isn't possible since we both work full-time jobs.

One of my colleagues handed me a tissue as I tried to get my snivels under control and txt B about the situation. I realized that the only thing worse than a 6-hour car ride is one that includes a bawling co-worker, so I pulled myself together. The woman who handed me a tissue told me that she was a notary and she would do anything she could to help us. We talked about logistics, but I still can't find a way, short of time travel, to make May 2 work. I complained a little to B on the phone and she pointed out how little it matters that it be that particular day.

I tried to tell myself that it's not that much different from having your flight changed/delayed during a trip. You're pissed or sad (I tend to run to frustrated tears in these situations) because you had a plan for it to be one way, but it changes, and it's usually not anyone in particular's fault, so you just suck it up and chalk it up to another travel horror story you can tell later. However, as I thought about it on the 5 more hours I had before I got home, I realized that it's not like that, really. First of all, it's way more important, even if it is just symbolic. Also, it's more like if everyone got on the plane and was ready to go, and you got into your seat and did all of your settling in only to be singled out. Told that YOU are the one who cannot go to your destination on the day that you chose. Everyone else who sent in an application for a marriage license in Iowa last week can get married on May 2, just not us.

So, as pointed out in the Iowa Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage:

Child abusers can marry on that day, just not us.

Sexual predators can marry on that day, just not us.

Parents neglecting to provide child support can marry on that day, just not us.

Axe murders can marry on that day, just not us.


Other gay and lesbian couples who live there and can get their application in on the 27th or 28th (assuming they are not too swamped to issue licenses in a timely manner) can marry on that day, just not us. (which I'm cool with)

Now, I'm wondering if I can have the marriage license mailed to us, to spare our officiant a trip. I'm wondering if we should try to pick a new date. June 13 would be nice, since it's only one day off from our first wedding, but I don't want to schedule with the chapel and maybe have to change it later, again. By then, the new rules will have been in effect for about 7 weeks, so all of the bugs should have been worked out. On the other hand, the rules may have been changed again. The ability for same-sex couples to marry, in theory, can't even be challenged in Iowa now without a constitutional amendment, although I'm sure there areplenty of dedicated, homophobic lawyers combing the books looking for a different way to stop us. Fortunately for us, it is not very easy to change the constitution in Iowa. It would take a few years, at least.

Complicating matters is the fact that I'm supposed to hear about a job I applied for on April 27th. Of course, they would be insane not to hire me, since I am SO PERFECT for the job, but I was considering it lucky that two important things might happen in my life on the same day - our first marriage license and my first job in a new field. Now, I'm changing that to thinking that I shouldn't have to suffer disappointment twice, and maybe these hiccups in our wedding plans spell happy, happy news on the job front on that Monday in April. Or maybe I should just stop being so superstitious and grow up already.

I'm calling our officiant tonight, as planned in our first conversation. I emailed her about the problem yesterday. I'm just hoping I can keep from blubbering when I tell her we have to postpone.

Also, a friend of mine is planning her (straight, legal in South Dakota) wedding. I was already fighting slight annoyance that she can do that. Now, I'm afraid that if she starts nattering about her plans, her dress, how she wants us all to dance for her, I may cry or scream at her. It's not her fault at all. She doesn't even know about any of this. It's not my fault, either. I may just have to go lock myself in the bathroom until it passes or stick my fingers in my ears and say "lalalalala". I'm also knitting wedding garters for a childhood friend and my cousin. I'm trying to only put good thoughts into that work, but it's difficult.



Anonymous said...

I would sincerely like to know- why do lesbians want to get married? I don't mean to ask that question to sound negative in any way. I don't want anyone to think I am "against it" by asking that question. But it wasn't that long ago that I was experiencing a barrage of negativity myself towards getting married- by feminists. I was told that marriage was once a form of owning another human being. I was told that I would "belong" to my husband if I got married. I was told that any way I thought I would benefit from being married, I could acquire that benefit myself, without the help of a husband. I was reminded that half of all marriages fail. And, I was led to believe that having a husband would take away from career advancement. I would no longer live for myself, but for him.
It wasn't that long ago that I was single, and feminists had such a negative view of marriage even then.
I may be wrong, but aren't most lesbians feminists? If so, then what changes about marriage that it makes your marriage something worth fighting for vs my marriage being "oppressive" and something not to be desired? I was told many times to "just live together". So, why can't you?

Ask yourself- is it the piece of paper that says you are married that you want, or is it just better treatment all around?

Let me repeat something that my feminist aunt told me when I was younger and single. She said, "You won't die if you don't get married."

The same can be said for homosexuals. You won't die if you don't get married. But you might if you don't have easy access to healthcare. We might die if we don't make better choices with our planet and resources. Children might die if they are abused and nothing is done to protect them. So much more can be done in the life and death issues if all the energy and outrage poured into "gay marriage" was poured in to them.

Plain(s)feminist said...

I can answer these questions, and maybe ALB would also like to chime in.

Why do lesbians want to get married?There are over 1,000 privileges that come along with marriage - including the ability to inherit (or be an heir) property and money; to have full parental rights; to be/have a health/legal proxy; to visit in the hospital. While many same-sex couples have gone to great lengths to make legal arrangements that would allow these things, in many, many cases, biological family members of a deceased partner have won custody of children, property (including shared homes), have prevented life partners from making decisions about/with their ill partners and from even seeing their partners, etc.

Also, some people just like marriage, which brings us to your second question:
Aren't most lesbians feminists?I would love it, personally, if that were the case, but I don't think this is necessarily true, anymore than it would be true to say that most feminists are lesbians. Many lesbians do not consider themselves to be feminists.

But even if they did - feminists do not agree about everything, as you may have guessed from reading some of the discussions here over the past years. I think feminists do agree that marriage *as an institution* is problematic: its history is one of ownership, and traditionally, women have had fewer rights than men in marriage (and even been oppressed in marriage - e.g., the notion of "marital rape" did not exist until recently). Some feminists feel that the institution today is separate from the historical institution; some see it as inherently oppressive. Many of us are critical of marriage because it has such a huge amount of social power, but because of this power, many of us are, nonetheless, married.

I do have to say that I'm surprised that you would get married and then tell someone else that their energy toward being able to make this same choice would be better spent somewhere else. I could just as easily say to you that you could have better spent any time/money you put into your own wedding, you know? It would be a more convincing argument if you were not married yourself (unless you're not, and I missed something).

Anonymous said...

Can't the property/legal rights/ visitation stuff be worked out by writing your partner into your will and other legal preferences? Can't parental rights be established by having your partner legally adopt your child? It seems to me like there's always another answer other than, "We HAVE to get married just so we can have this done this way." The feminists in my family raised me NOT to get married for certain things like that. I was expected to obtain those rights for myself, and not depend on a partner for them.

The main thing I don't get is that if marriage as an institution is problematic, then why fight so hard for a certain group of people to take part in it? If it was really problematic, then shouldn't they be the lucky ones?

Yes, I did get married in 2004, and there wasn't much energy put into it at all. We went to a courthouse, had papers signed, and paid 40 bucks for the marriage license. Then, I stood in line at the DMV to have his name added onto mine. (My parents didn't give me a middle name, so when I got married, I made my old last name my middle name. No hyphen, it's just my middle name). I didn't have a wedding, and I admit sometimes I have a twinge of regret when I see others' wedding pictures, but it quickly goes away when I hear how much they spent.

To me, there is really no difference between being legally married and just living together. I don't even know why we did it, to be honest with you. Life would be no different now than if we hadn't. I still maintain that energy would be better spent elsewhere. If that makes me a hypocrite for being married and saying that, then keep in mind that I went against what I was brought up to believe as a feminist.

Plain(s)feminist said...

The answer to your first question about legal preferences is NO. In court, biological family have consistently won. Not always, but enough.

Re. adoption - it varies by state. In most states, a same-sex partner can only adopt a child if the birth parent gives up parental rights. There is at least one court case in which a sperm donor has won custody over the biological mother and her co-parent. DOMA and state legislation against same-sex marriage has also had the effect of wiping out, in some places, any same-sex partner benefits that were available.

So marriage offers security. I would personally prefer if all of these rights had nothing to do with marriage, but that is not the society we live in. The easiest way for people to get these rights and securities for their families is to get married.

In any case, you're conflating two things. One is a political issue of what the best way is to change a system that is unfair. The other is a private decision between two people about their relationship. There are a lot of queer people in the midwest who are not at all against the institution of marriage, who think it's just peachy, and who would like to get married. Why should I hold them hostage to my personal politics - esp. if I decided to take the privileges myself? Why should you?

Anonymous said...

A step parent in a heterosexual marriage also can't adopt a child unless the biological parent gives up parental rights. The court case you mention about the sperm donor sounds out of the ordinary and one of a kind. I thought sperm banks had men sign away parental rights before they even made the, ahem, deposit. If just being married to a person meant you could adopt their children, then imagine what that would mean for non custodial parents everywhere- gay or not. They'd all be losing their kids.

I put together a life insurance beneficiary, will, power of atty, etc package after I was married. The rules were that if you are legally married, then the beneficiary was automatically your spouse. If you are single, then it's whomever you choose. Even if you are married, you can put another person, but your spouse has to sign consent for you to do so.

The anti-marriage stuff of feminism is not my personal politics. My wish that all this energy would be spent on more life and death issues is simply a wish. I don't see a problem with expecting others not to depend on marriage for certain benefits in life, because that's what was expected of me. My own marriage, well, it wouldn't phase me if that piece of paper meant nothing tomorrow. Nothing would change between me and John. I wouldn't see a point in fighting to get it back.

Plain(s)feminist said...

A step parent in a heterosexual marriage also can't adopt a child unless the biological parent gives up parental rights.Yes, but this is not an equivalent example. In this case, a child has two parents who both have some claim to custody. In the case of a child of a same-sex couple, the child has one biological parent whom the law recognizes. The other parent, who is just as much a parent, is not recognized as having any parental rights. It would be as if your husband had no parental rights.

The court case you mention about the sperm donor sounds out of the ordinary and one of a kind. I thought sperm banks had men sign away parental rights before they even made the, ahem, deposit.But lesbian parents often know their sperm donors, so someone who enters into the situation as a donor might more easily be able to assert parental rights later.

If just being married to a person meant you could adopt their children, then imagine what that would mean for non custodial parents everywhere- gay or not. They'd all be losing their kids.And that is the situation for same-sex parents. They are losing their kids, in many cases. This is the point I am trying to make to you. But in any case, the reality of the situation is that custodial rights often exist through marriage.

I put together a life insurance beneficiary, will, power of atty, etc package after I was married. The rules were that if you are legally married, then the beneficiary was automatically your spouse. If you are single, then it's whomever you choose. Even if you are married, you can put another person, but your spouse has to sign consent for you to do so.Right. And if you're not married, and you die, your parents can (very often successfully) contest your will and get your house, property, custody of your kid. This happens with some frequency.

I don't see a problem with expecting others not to depend on marriage for certain benefits in life, because that's what was expected of me.And yet, you are married, and you get all the benefits that marriage entitles you to.

My own marriage, well, it wouldn't phase me if that piece of paper meant nothing tomorrow. Nothing would change between me and John. I wouldn't see a point in fighting to get it back.Nothing would change in your personal relationship, but it would change your legal status. If John got a job in another country, depending on the country, you might not be allowed citizenship there. If you were moving to the U.S. from another country for John's job and you were not married, you might not be allowed in. If you both moved to another state, you might find that you were not able to be on each other's health insurance.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like marriage isn't such a problematic institution after all?

Plain(s)feminist said...

You don't think that all of this is problematic?! I am starting to doubt the integrity of your questions on this issue.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what you mean. I'm not trying to win a debate, pf. To each their own. I just wanted to get my thoughts out. Details aside, I just never understood feminist view of marriage + wanting gays to get married. Don't want to drag this out. Hope you're doing better.

Ann said...

Stripping it of it's personal and social meaning (I know, big request, but work with me here), marriage is just a contract with a whole host of rights/privileges that are immediately guaranteed by it. It's heck of a lot cheaper than a series of adoptions and contracts and trusts, so for the average american, it's much more accessible. It's a life partnership, literally. So I can see why people would like to be able to make that choice, even without all the other social implications.

Being feminist doesn't preclude marriage. I understand the stigma of it's history, and the host of "meanings" that it carries in modern society as well. And as an institutional tradition, it has it's problems.

But at our core, aren't we all just trying to learn from the past, and each other, so that we can define our lives in light of the wisdom we gained from looking around and looking back?

And any one marriage is only what the two people in it, make of it. Si I guess I would see any one marriage as "feminist" as the couple makes it.

But the question of why someone would want to do it, belittles the bigger point: If you want to, shouldn't you be able to?

belledame222 said...

Danielle: everything that PF said, and also: we're not a monolith, and neither are straight feminists, many of whom also take advantage of the institution and I don't blame them for it at all, much -less- so for any same-sex couples who manage to get there. We do what we can to make our lives more livable. Other peoples' marriages don't harm me. Other peoples' deciding that I should not be -allowed- to marry who I want to on the basis of sex/gender most decidedly does.

I mean, I'm sorry, Danielle, that other people identifying as feminists were assholes to you; but that really has nothing to do with the fight for social justice, I'm afraid.

Where it really makes a huge difference right now: international couples, including the one my best friend is in; it isn't a question of "just deciding to live together," the laws against same-sex marriage are what's kept him from having the green card he would've had by now if his partner or he had been female. Which in turn has meant a -lot- of scrambling to remain in status, because it's a really big fucking deal if you don't have a lot of money and you really want to -not- have to leave your husband.

belledame222 said...

and, what Ann said. Yeah, ideally many of those rights and privileges shouldn't require marriage at all (health care, anyone?) but y'know, that's still not really a good reason to go "oh well, in that case screw same-sex marriage, because it's totally going to happen first that the entire institution crumbles and is radically reformed from the ground up before a whole lot of same-sex couples whose status and thus access to a lot of those rights could change with one stroke of a pen, like, -die-, along with the next several generations."

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Barbara Wourms said...

I was married to a man for 30 years and I was never allowed to even consider being attracted to a woman. Telling two young women they can't marry is implying that their love is wrong. Now I'm coming out and I wonder what could have been if I was allowed to explore my desire earlier in life.
Aside from pursuing the fairer sex, I also started a blog. That's my view on the matter.