Father Tony

My Marriage is a Stone

Filed By Father Tony | December 24, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: gay marriage, marriage equality

Earlier this week, we marked our twenty-sixth anniversary together and our first anniversary as a married couple.

Now that I'm a year into it, I'd like to reflect a bit on marriage, that institution for which so many of you yearn or fight.

We are passionate about our twenty-six years together but rather dispassionate about the fact of our marriage. I hope my reflections will not offend those among you who rejoice in your marriages and who celebrate your anniversaries elaborately.

My marriage is a contract, a conveyance, a vehicle, a convenience and a protection. Its anniversary is not unlike getting that annual flu shot.

We have built our relationship in a homophobic and hostile culture with no guidance and no template. Before we married, we woke up every day to reinvent and renew an unwritten contract and an allegiance and a love for which there was no recipe and no safe harbor. Therefore, no city hall, no license and no ceremony could ever equal what we have created on our own and entirely of our own daily volition. Marriage does not dignify it or ratify it or solemnify it or sanctify it. If anything, it waters it down a bit or reduces it. Obviously, we married for the practicalities but there have been some surprising benefits that I'll be mentioning.

We got married to protect our assets and our rights and for the financial benefits. We are grateful for those conveyances, but really, they are only what we are owed as citizens of this country. Let's continue the struggle for our rights, but let's not overly glorify this rather odd and ill-fitting institution. Consider, for example, the fact that the concept of adultery as grounds for divorce is laughable for many of the gay married couples we know.

It has been surprisingly assuring to know that we will not have to rely on the papers drawn up by our lawyer several years ago to protect our rights and property in the event of illness or death even though those protections were strongly and carefully written.

We do not love each other any more strongly because we are married. To think so is naïve (but if he had not shown up at our lawyer's office for the "ceremony", I'd have been more than slightly upset.)

Marriage is a public contract and its benefits are communal. Through it, I have taken my place in the family of my husband, and I have allowed my brothers and sisters-in-law to celebrate our relationship in a way that they understand and appreciate. This has been an extremely gratifying experience for me, and one that I did not anticipate. It has enhanced my position in the family I love, and one that has always accepted me. That family is now my family in a very real way. For this reason alone, I think we should continue our energetic fight for marriage equality.

Make no mistake. My marriage is not identical to the marriages of my in-laws. We know and accept the differences. The beauty of a good marriage is that the parties perpetually choose each other without obligation or coercion. The terms and conditions of that choice are entirely personal and private and go far beyond the common legalities.

Another big surprise that our marriage has brought us is an evaporation of any lingering sense of separation between "his money" and "my money", or "his equity" and "my equity" in our union. Even though we equally feed a joint account for repetitious household expenses, we each maintain personal accounts and seek out each other's affirmation for major expenditures. I can only imagine how contentious money is in a marriage involving one saver and one spender.

My marriage is a milestone and a touchstone. Not a millstone, nor a gallstone. I'm glad we did it, I recommend it and I firmly believe that I'll be rejoicing and celebrating it much more when it is recognized on the federal level and by the pernicious IRS where its "sanctity" will have some real teeth.

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In this world where differences have the power to separate us at every turn, marriage is one cultural tradition that binds us in its ubiquity and as a formal link to family. Andrew Sullivan posted about his wedding experience:

“No other institution has an equivalent power to include people in their own familial narrative or civic history as deeply or as powerfully as civil marriage does.

“… [The in-laws] had always been welcoming and supportive. But now I was family … And our families instantly and for the first time since our early childhood became not just institutions in which we were included, but institutions that we too owned and perpetuated.”

Due to its role in our culture, marriage binds us to each other and to our families in a way that nothing else can. It changes how we are perceived by others. I am pleased that it brings you and your husband a greater sense of inclusion. Your right to marry is long overdue, and I believe I will see the day when it is a civil victory at the federal level.

... we equally feed a joint account for repetitious household expenses [and] we each maintain personal accounts and seek out each other's affirmation for major expenditures. ...

Father Tony, I'm glad you included this brief outline about how you and your spouse handle finances. Although I don't have any marriage plans, I think an arrangement similar to what the two of you have is the only sane way that I'd consider.

I can't stand churches and other outside entities that think they can dictate the way that couples can and can't handle their money.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 28, 2009 8:38 PM

AJ, a point I would make is that in the event of income disparity between partners they should contribute an identical PERCENTAGE of after tax income after taxes (or disposable income) to the common household.

This is particularly important when there are children involved from a previous marriage, which must be provided for by a father, yet living with their birth mother or living with the father or lesbian birth mother in her new relationship.

It is also important when one partner is the "business head" and the other is happiest working for a non profit, or other more altruistic occupation, at a lower salary.

At the end of it, happiness/contentment is not about finances, but "happiness" is hard to obtain without these issues being sorted out.

"Pernicious IRS"

Hehe, what a lovely phrase. I love your way with words, FT.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 24, 2009 8:21 PM

Thank you for your perspective, but do keep a copy of your reciprocal powers of attorney at hand when you are in Florida or if you dare drive back to New York in the spring. You do not want to be in Baptist regional hospital in Hot Coffee North Carolina and attempt to assert your rights to decision making for the benefit of your spouse. Yes, federal recognition remains everything. No, I would not come back even for it.

Father Tony
Congratulations on your first year of " Legal Marriage". The first year in any Marriage is often just as you described! No mater if you have lived together for less than 1 year to 100 years or longer! You two should write a book about how you managed your finances and the reality of Marriage!

Before I Perform a Civil Union or a Marriage, I sit down with the couple and basically go over what they might experience! Your description hits the nail so directly that it would help everyone to have in a pamphlet or in a book form! Congratulations again! And may you two have a long wonderful Marriage! Reverend Regina

Hi Father Tony...

Congratulations on the 1-year mark ... let's see, are the anniversary presents supposed to be paper goods? I assume Andrew Jacksons and Ben Franklins will be gratefully accepted.

Seriously, though... You wrote: "It has been surprisingly assuring to know that we will not have to rely on the papers drawn up by our lawyer several years ago to protect our rights and property in the event of illness or death even though those protections were strongly and carefully written."

I wouldn't toss those documents just yet. I don't know where your marriage took place -- Massachusetts, Vermont, Canada -- or where your legal residence is, New York or Florida. New York would probably recognize your marriage and marital rights, but Florida might not. We haven't had many years for case law to develop, so I wouldn't want to bet on any automatic recognition, especially with DOMA hanging over our heads.

I hope a lawyer chimes in with some authoritative comments on this issue. I'm wholeheartedly for marriage, and look foward to the day when my partner of 27 years and I can tie the knot legally. But, to us, it seems futile in legal terms until DOMA is repealed (never will happen under Obama) or struck down.

Dear Tom,
All our legal instruments remain in place, but I wonder if any of them are now voided by the fact of our marriage. I should check on that. We got married in Connecticut where we also had a home. New York recognizes our marriage, Florida does not. The name change thing is logistically difficult.

Persons who married in other states and then go home where their marriage is not recognized need to rock the boat and sue your states under the U.S. Constitution. All contracts are supposed to be recognized across state lines.

Yes, the "Full Faith and Credit" clause in the US Constitution was originally intended to have this effect. But DOMA has wording stating that marriages that are not between one man and one woman are an exception. Normally, though, a mere law cannot restrict a provision in an overriding document such as a state or federal constitution. So what you are suggesting would directly lead to a federal challenge of DOMA.

The fact that challenges like this are appearing in the court system will also be used by the Right as arguments in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment. So, I'm not a lawyer, but it is clear that this is dangerous territory legally and politically, and litigants need to be very thoughtful and very careful in the strategies and jurisdictions they they utilize.

Personally, I think that such action has more potential for harm than it does to move forward "marriage equality", and I wouldn't touch it with a proverbial ten-foot pole.

Seeingeyegrrl | December 26, 2009 11:14 AM

I did a DP ceremony a few years ago after a long term relationship and a previous committment ceremony and did not expect that the DP would make any difference. It was just a piece of paper, right? I was shocked at how different I felt shortly afterwards....I think it is due to the public committment aspect. We got gifts and noticed by part of our family and all of our friends. I started to feel like it was time to "come clean" and to really committ to the relationship (strange, since I already was very committed). The brief ceremony and/or paperwork had a different impact on my partner who within 2 weeks was involved in an affair. To paraphrase her...'it was like I could see my entire future laid out in front of me'. The feeling of finality, which had given me inner security, gave her the feeling of restriction...or that forever is really a long, long time.

Hence, I now have the status of having the first DP dissolutionment in my state. I am glad that some places have marriage equity....not sure I would avail myself to it again in the future. Primarily for financial reasons. But I do think it important to realize that an informal committment can be different than one that is formalized. Whether it is in the public's mind or in our own.

Happy Anniversary to you both!

I have heard of both straight and gay relationships that are fine for years or decades being unmarried -- then the couple finally decides to marry, and shortly thereafter the relationship unravels.

Primary relationships ideally are between two strong people who are capable of living alone but choose voluntarily to live together. Sometimes the marriage knot causes someone to feel like the relationship is no longer voluntary.

Consider Oprah Winfrey and her longterm man, Stedman Graham --- through the years, sometimes she wanted to get married and he didn't, then he wanted to get married and she didn't, and now Oprah says she is very clear that "a marriage license is not what makes a relationship" --- and I think she is right!

This is one reason why I doubt that I'll ever get married, to either a man or a woman. If I do, it will be for inheritance and tax reasons.

Here I was preparing this long-winded polemic about the value of marriage equality, and how important it is, and its inevitability, blah blah blah--then it occurred to me what you really want to hear--and here it is:


Thank you, Byron, what I tried to convey between the lines is that marriage is an entirely personal creation between two people, but that just because it is variable does not mean we should not fight for our right to do it. I'm glad we did it, and i have the suspicion that as the years unfold, our marriage will take on new and deeper meanings just like our life together has. For this reason, I think engaged people should give each other plastic rings. Replace them with cheap metal rings at marriage. Replace those with brass after the first year, silver after the second year etc. Why throw gold and diamonds on something that is just a wish when the coupling is new and has a 50% chance of failure? Such expensive naive romanticism.

Bill Greeves | January 3, 2010 12:06 PM

I am a little stunned by the similarities between your marriage circumstances and of mine & Bob's. I really enjoyed reading the comments in reply. I strongly feel that because we live here in Florida we have a big dog in the fight now and we need to press in every way we can to rid all of us of the effects of DOMA. As veterans we also feel the disrepect by military and politiical officials is a lot like that of religious institution figures whose real worship is power, not progress.