By Alyson Newquist
Prior to marriage equality in Minnesota I was truly as married to my wife as I could be in Minnesota. Having had a wedding in July 2011, legally making our last name the same, and saying “wife” and “married” made real my marriage. I was married, even to those who didn’t care, didn’t have a clue, or who would soon fight vehemently against my right to legally marry.
When marriage equality arrived in Minnesota in May of 2013 it brought a strangely omniscient narrative with it. As more folks became more comfortable talking about same-sex marriage, which I was often a stranger’s only reference point for, I saw my marriage disappear in their eyes as if it was something That Didn’t Exist Yet. August 1st became like a collective-conscience gay marriage Kickstarter deadline. If we hit it with enough support we’d all exist. I became intermittently infuriated and elated throughout summer.
I realized soon after marrying how the words I used regarding my marriage had so much power that I said them almost with duty. Not saying them became an offense to my marriage and to the future of marriage equality. At a certain point I realized that on almost all occasions where I veered toward disuse of the word “wife” it was to be received by a person who had no clue if I could get married to a woman. I became a reference point for that person’s experience with gay marriage and it then existed for them regardless of legal standing. It was happening.
I rarely got asked if my marriage was legal because those who were in the know knew like we did that it didn’t matter if it was legal in some other state in 2011 or 2012 because we lived on MN soil where it wasn’t recognized. And those who were not in the know didn’t know. It was liberating because we lived with words and acts making marriage real, not laws, and every time the words were used and the acts revisited we created same-sex marriage. Legal or not.? And then Marriage Equality happened in Minnesota, showing up in town like some old friend moving to your new school, and telling everyone how you used to be (good or bad). Minnesotans became engaged on the subject and knew what I did or didn’t have a right to. I no longer dictated the realness of my marriage through my words and the words I gave to others to use to refer to/discuss it. Strangers boldly asked questions about where I got married to discern if it was legal or not. They followed up my response of “in Minnesota,” with, “so are you going to get married again?” The questions were in earnest and I loved the discourse at first and have always been comfortable answering questions for people who want to know about gay marriage. It was kind of glorious to have these conversations with a groom’s dad’s friend at a heterosexual wedding. I would come home from weekend-long trips planning weddings at our wedding venue and tell my wife word for word how much same-sex marriage was on the minds of Minnesotans since the marriage equality bill passed. About how folks from Iowa who didn’t outwardly seem to lean politically leftward bragged about how they had it first.
These interactions with awesome people who really wanted to show their support and process what marriage equality meant started to eventually reveal to me that pre-legal gay marriage had suddenly become “other than real” to people who may have only just realized it wasn’t real. All because of a piece of paper, an officiant, two witnesses, and consent. Things we have been fighting our asses off to have the right to and that I’m so amazed and grateful for. But that doesn’t change the feeling I have and reality I experience that legal marriage in MN (coupled with the repeal of DOMA) annihilated collective acceptance of my pre-legal marriage and undermined my prior use of the words wife and wedding and marriage. In fighting for the real, my marriage became make-believe other. For me getting gay married is an exuberant, happy, exhilarating, grateful but shocking reminder that my marriage was not real to most people prior to it becoming legal. It’s incredibly conflicting.
As a wedding planner I am at the center of what same-sex weddings look like and I sob every time I hear “by the power invested in me by the state of MN.” My eyes just welled up writing that. I’m ridiculously happy to have legal rights and for my in-laws to be actual in-laws. I’m excited that in a few years couples getting married won’t have to think about this sort of thing. But I’ve been married since July 23, 2011 and nothing can change that.