John M. Becker

Marriage and Borders

Filed By John M. Becker | January 04, 2015 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: gay marriage, Illinois, Indiana, marriage equality, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, same-sex marriage, Wisconsin

When a Holiday Road Trip Isn't Just a Road Trip

I was a nerdy kid. From sharks to tornadoes to ancient Egypt to world flags and currency, I had a smorgasbord of unrelated obsessions that kept me busy throughout childhood and have been with me ever since.

state-line.jpegAnother of those obsessions is geography -- the study of places, and the relationships between people and their environment -- and one of the geographical concepts that interests me most is borders. I love being able to be in two places at once, and I've taken photographs of and on the borders of states, countries, continents, and even hemispheres.

To some, borders are just arbitrary lines on a map, but to me, they're fascinating windows into the human experience. The boundaries drawn by different political, social, and cultural groups speak volumes about their history and values. Hundreds and hundreds of wars have been fought over borders, and crossing a border can sometimes literally mean the difference between persecution and freedom, slavery and liberation, life and death.

As a child, my fascination with borders was purely academic. But in 2006, when my now-husband and I wanted to get married, my relationship with borders became a whole lot more complicated.

At that time, if you were a same-sex couple, the only place in the country where you could get married was Massachusetts -- but only if you lived there, as the Mitt Romney administration dusted off an old and previously unenforced residency law to block out-of-staters from traveling to the Bay State to tie the knot.

john_michael_wedding_prephoto.jpgSo Michael and I packed up a car and drove from our home state of Wisconsin across the Midwestern United States, over the international border with Canada, and all the way to the city of Toronto, Ontario to say "I do." Even though it was -- and is -- a legal marriage, we knew that as soon as we crossed that border back into the U.S., the recognition of our union would dissolve. This profoundly humiliating injustice is what spurred us, and so many others with similar stories, to fight for the freedom to marry.

In the following years the marriage equality map slowly but steadily grew, and by the time we moved to Vermont in early 2011, the state had already been in the freedom-to-marry column for a year and a half. It was the first time we'd lived in a place where our marriage was recognized.

By July of that year, when New York passed same-sex marriage, Vermont was bordered on all sides by marriage equality states (and the freedom-to-marry province of Quebec, Canada too!). Still, whenever we left the Green Mountain State to visit relatives and friends in Wisconsin, making the trip meant traveling to and through places that viewed us as second-class citizens.

Fast forward to 2014. Michael and I are now living in Washington, D.C. This year, like every year we've lived outside of Wisconsin, we traveled back for Christmas, and for the second year in a row, we've made the trip by car. (It's easier to take our dog with us -- yes, we're those gays.)

We started our trip in Maryland, where marriage equality has been legal since January 1, 2013, after it was upheld by popular vote in the November 2012 election. Then we drove through Pennsylvania, which joined the list of freedom-to-marry states last May when a federal judge struck down the state's marriage discrimination amendment and Republican Governor Tom Corbett decided not to appeal.

We crossed into unfriendly territory at the Ohio line, though: the Buckeye State has been defending its exclusionary marriage laws since July of 2013. In November the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed lower pro-equality district court rulings, shamefully allowing marriage discrimination to continue. So for the entire 241.26-mile length of the Ohio Turnpike, Michael and I -- and Andrew and Igor, another married same-sex couple who made the journey with us -- were essentially unmarried by that state.

Needless to say, I drove extra carefully and we got out of there as quickly as possible.

All four of us breathed a sigh of relief when the Ohio Turnpike became the Indiana Toll Road, as same-sex marriage has been legal in the Hoosier State since October 7 of this year (in addition to a two-day window in June). Illinois, the next state on our journey, passed a marriage equality law in late 2013, and same-sex couples have been marrying there since June.

wisconsin-welcome-sign.jpgWe made the loop around Chicago and then finally -- after more than twelve hours of driving -- we crossed the state line at Pleasant Prairie and entered Wisconsin, one of the newest freedom-to-marry states. (Wisconsin got marriage equality on October 7, after the Supreme Court refused to hear the state's appeal of a lower pro-equality federal court ruling.)

I felt a lump forming in my throat as we drove over that border because for the first time in nearly nine years of marriage, the state where Michael and I were born -- and where our personal fight for marriage equality began -- viewed us not as strangers, but as spouses. I gripped Michael's hand and a tear ran down my cheek.

In that moment, I thought about the thousands of other married same-sex couples across the country who are crossing borders to celebrate with family and friends this holiday season, and about how absurd it is that in 2014, some of those borders can still legally erase their loving and legally committed relationships.

Here's hoping that this is the last holiday season where that's true, and that in 2015, the Supreme Court strikes down discriminatory state marriage laws once and for all.

This was originally published by the South Florida Gay News.
State line photo by Will Sherman.


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