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Special Same-Sex Marriage Considerations

Background

I'm 2dBride, a lawyer living in Maryland. When this story begins, I was 47 years old and five years divorced from a twenty-year marriage. I had a son aged 19 and a daughter aged 17. I had recently started my own law practice, after working for big firms for twenty years, and I was in the process of writing a law book.

One day in 2000, a friend I'd made several years before in a parenting chat room ("S") asked me to take a personality test at TheSpark.com. Supposedly, this test would tell you how compatible you were with your friends who took it, and with their friends. After I took it, I noticed that one of S's friends, NotFroofy, was supposedly 100% compatible with me. I was extremely dubious that any test could tell that. However, it seemed at least worthwhile to ask S to introduce me to NotFroofy. Apparently, NotFroofy asked to meet me, too, so S introduced us.

At the time, NotFroofy was 32 years old. She had grown up in Wales, but was by then living in England. After graduating from college, she had gotten a job with an accounting firm. Accounting wasn't really something she could see as a career. However, for ten years, it had been the easiest kind of job for her to get, so she'd stayed with it. By the time we met, though, she had decided she wanted to retrain for a new career in Web design. She had therefore quit her job and was in the process of selling her house, intending to use the proceeds to take a Web design course. NotFroofy and I talked online and on the phone for several months, and one day I told her I had a crush on her. I was so nervous after I did that I paced the halls of my office while waiting for her response. Fortunately, she felt the same way.

Obviously, inviting NotFroofy out for coffee was not going to work, with her in England and me in the US. However, I suggested that she come for a visit. If that worked out, she could take a 6-month Web design course in the US, and stay with me. That would give us six months to get to know each other, and decide whether a longer term relationship could work. NotFroofy came to visit me for a week and a half in December 2000. She then went back to the UK to get a visa that would allow her to come back for the 6-month course, returning in January 2001.

While NotFroofy was back in the UK, she went to her parents' house in Wales for Christmas. While she was there, she told her family (for the first time) that she was bi. She also explained that she had a girlfriend who lived 4,000 miles away in a different country, whom she had known in person for a week and a half, and that she was moving to be with me. Fortunately, her parents were unfazed by all this, and indeed thrilled that she had found someone to love. However, her father did have one important question: "2dBride is a Democrat, isn't she?"

Shortly after NotFroofy's arrival, she and I consulted an immigration lawyer to find out how she could move here permanently. His advice was disheartening. Had we been able to get married, immigration would have been relatively easy. NotFroofy could have gotten a fiancée visa, and would have been entitled to a green card (permanent residence) so long as we got married within 90 days after receipt of that visa. Without that, though, we had two alternatives: Either she could find an accounting firm willing to sponsor her for a visa based on employment (which meant she would have had to stay in accounting for at least three to four more years), or she would have to get a whole degree, not just one course, in Web design and then find an employer willing to sponsor her as a Web designer. And just to add to the difficulty, NotFroofy would not be able to work in the US while studying, would not be eligible for any type of financial aid, and would not be able to get in-state tuition in any state (since she would be considered a nonresident).

We made the decision to have NotFroofy get a master's degree in Web design. She got into a nearby university, and we managed to get her a student visa for the three-year program. However, shortly after she started, 9/11 happened. As a result, increased caps on immigration were allowed to expire without renewal. And immigration without a fiancée visa got even harder. Without going into the gory details, it was nine years before NotFroofy was able to go from the student visa to a work visa, and from the work visa to a green card.

Same-sex Marriage Developments

In 2000, just before NotFroofy's arrival here, Vermont had become the first state to have same-sex civil unions. No state then allowed same-sex marriage. And federal law included the "Defense of Marriage Act," which stated that a) the federal government would not recognize any same-sex marriage, and b) no state was required to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state or country.

In 2002 and 2003, court decisions in two provinces of Canada mandated adoption of same-sex marriage there. And in 2005, same-sex marriage was implemented throughout Canada. Unfortunately, we were not in a position to go to Canada to be married. If NotFroofy left the United States before issuance of a green card, there was no guarantee that she would be admitted to the US on her return.

In 2004, as the result of a court decision, Massachusetts became the first state to implement same-sex marriage. However, an old law (originally passed to curb interracial marriage) prohibited a marriage from being performed in Massachusetts if the marriage would not be recognized in the parties' home state. As a practical matter, this meant that only Massachusetts residents could enter into a same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

On June 16, 2008, California implemented same-sex marriage. However, it was clear early on that there would be an effort there to amend the constitution to eliminate same-sex marriage. And if such an effort succeeded, it was unclear what the status would be of same-sex marriages performed in California before the repeal.

On July 31, 2008, there was a break-through. The Massachusetts legislature repealed the law which had prevented nonresident same-sex couples from getting married there, and the legislation was signed by the governor. Thus, we gained the ability to get married in Massachusetts. And same-sex marriage in Massachusetts now had the support of not only the courts, but the legislature and the governor. Thus, for the first time, we could get married in a state which had same-sex marriage so firmly entrenched that it was unlikely to be repealed.

The Proposal

On August 3, 2008, I decided to propose to NotFroofy. You know those stories about the romantic proposals at the couple's favorite restaurant, or in a scenic outdoor spot, where the man gets down on one knee and presents the woman with a ring? Those weren't me. For one thing, in most proposals, the man knows the woman will say yes before he even asks. For us, even the possibility of our being able to get married was so new that we really hadn't discussed it. I already knew that NotFroofy wanted to be with me for the rest of our lives. But with the legal murkiness surrounding same-sex marriage, I wasn't sure whether NotFroofy would think it a good idea. And I didn't want her to think that she had to marry me in order to stay with me.

I therefore spent much of the day trying to get up the nerve even to ask. My tension was so obvious that NotFroofy kept asking me what was wrong, sure that I was mad at her about something. Finally, I sat down next to her on the day bed in her study, and blurted out something really suave like, "Umm, so what would you think of the idea of getting married." Fortunately, she said yes!

At that point, we discovered the first of the wedding traditions that would require adaptation: who, if anyone, got the engagement ring. However, it turned out that neither one of us really wanted one, so we never got one.

The Wedding

When we first started planning the wedding, I thought it would mostly be just like planning a straight wedding, except we'd have to change a few pronouns in the ceremony. The one difference I foresaw was that we would have to get married in Massachusetts, which would require long-distance planning. NotFroofy and I agreed to have the Massachusetts ceremony very small, and to have a much larger reception back in DC.

However, as we went along, it seemed as though every aspect of what we were doing needed tweaking to reflect the fact that it was two women, not a man and a woman, who were getting married.

Officiant and Venues

Our first task was to find an officiant. We asked friends who knew people in Massachusetts for the names of rabbis who might be willing to marry an interfaith same-sex couple. (I am Jewish, but NotFroofy is not.) Ironically, finding a rabbi who would marry two women was not an issue at all. However, the first four rabbis we contacted said they were unwilling to marry an interfaith couple. Finally, though, someone at one of the congregations we contacted suggested that we speak to the rabbi of Temple Shir Tikvah, in Winchester. I e-mailed Rabbi Rim Meirowitz, and he was indeed willing to perform the marriage. As a bonus, Temple Shir Tikvah was a small synagogue designed to resemble a home, and had a marvelous view out over a nearby pond, and both of us loved it. We therefore booked Rabbi Rim as our officiant, and Temple Shir Tikvah as our ceremony venue.

We had a lot of gift cards for Legal Sea Foods, so we decided to hold a luncheon after the ceremony there.  We just picked the Legal Sea Foods location that was closest to Temple Shir Tikvah.

Simultaneously, we talked to a friend who owned a private club about using the club for our at-home reception. He gave us a very favorable rental rate, so we agreed on the rental and chose our date.

Wedding Party

NotFroofy suggested that we should ask my two children to be best man and maid of honor. When we called to tell them of our engagement, we therefore asked whether they would be willing to take on those roles. My daughter agreed immediately. My son said he had to think about it. After a few weeks, we discovered that one of his big hesitations was that in his mind, a best man was a groom's attendant. Since we didn't have a groom, he didn't think he could be best man. After some discussion, he agreed to be our "dude of honor."

The next issue was getting our trains fluffed once we arrived at the front of the synagogue. My daughter said that she could fluff one train, but didn't think she could handle both. My son was not at all convinced that he could fluff a train at all. We therefore asked a friend if she could assist with fluffing one of the trains, even though she was not in the wedding party. She agreed, but only if her official title could be "fluffer." Believe me, there was a lot of giggling when that title appeared in the programs!

Dresses

The next issue was what we would wear. Having been married before, I initially thought that a nice dress or suit I already owned would be fine. However, NotFroofy had never been married before, and really wanted a wedding dress. She didn't want to go overboard, though-nothing with a train, just a fairly simple wedding dress. I thought it would be impossible to find two wedding dresses that looked coordinated. I thought I would try to get something of a similar level of formality, but in a totally different color--maybe a mother of the bride dress--so that our dresses would be contrasting.

We then began calling to make appointments with bridal salons. At that point, we learned that the wedding world is just not set up for two women wanting to get married. At the first place, I was told that if we had two brides, we would need to make separate appointments. I tried to explain that we really wanted dresses that would go together and thus needed to come at the same time. They agreed to give us one appointment for the two of us. However, when we arrived, NotFroofy got all of the salesperson's attention, while I was left to look around the mother of the bride section on my own. NotFroofy found one dress she liked, but wanted to check what was available at other places before making a decision.

We made an appointment at a second salon, which advertised that it was selling dresses from the prior season at a discount. Unfortunately, when we arrived, they said that since we had not specifically said we wanted the prior season's dresses, they did not have those available. So they gave NotFroofy a succession of dresses to try on-none of which fit our budget-while I was again sent to check out mother of the bride dresses on my own.

At the third bridal salon, the owner asked for our sizes when we made the appointment, saying that she would set aside possible dresses for us. When we arrived, she asked us when we were getting married. When we both gave the same date, she asked, "Why are two such good friends getting married on the same day?" Apparently, it had not quite registered with her that we were marrying each other!

NotFroofy tried on a few dresses. When she put on one of them, it was so gorgeous on her-accentuating her hour-glass figure-that I gasped when I saw her in it. That pretty much made up her mind that this was the dress for her. The only issue was that the dress had a train, which she had said she did not want. However, the owner reassured her that it would be easy enough to bustle the dress to get the train out of the way for the reception.Meanwhile, I tried on a mother of the bride dress the salon owner had picked out. It looked nice on me, but it was clearly far less formal than the wedding dress NotFroofy had. Plus, since NotFroofy now had a train, I figured I was not going to find a comparably formal dress that was not a wedding dress. I therefore asked the salon owner whether she could find a wedding dress for me, too. I knew it couldn't be identical to NotFroofy's, since I am 5'10" and NotFroofy is 5'1", and our figures are quite dissimilar. However, I wondered whether there was something that would complement NotFroofy's dress.

Amazingly enough, the salon owner found me such a dress! In both dresses, the primary decoration came from detailed embroidery patterns. Thus, although the dresses were different, and even made by different companies, they looked like they were meant to go together.

We tried on some veils as well. However, the prices were high enough that we thought we would look around a bit. A few weeks later, the salon owner called us to tell us that the store was having a half-off sale on veils. We went back, and this time managed to get nonidentical but complementary veils to go with our dresses.

Hair and Make-Up

Because we were having the ceremony in one state, and the reception in another three days later, we wanted to have our hair and make-up done twice. And with two brides, the prices quoted by the salons tended to be quite high. Fortunately, we found hair and make-up people in both places on Craigslist. The one in Massachusetts charged us $50 per person to come to the synagogue and do our hair and make-up. The one in DC charged us $60 per person to do our hair and make-up at the reception location.

Kippot

In a traditional Jewish wedding, the men wear kippot (yarmulkes). Typically, special ones for the wedding will be supplied by the couple. We were a bit nervous about ordering ours, because most of the makers are quite Orthodox Jews, and we were not sure how they would respond to a request to inscribe two women's names in a wedding kippah. Fortunately, the one we contacted did it without any problems.

Marriage License

Massachusetts normally has a three-day waiting period for a marriage license. That was a problem for us, as we did not want to have to get to Massachusetts three days before our wedding. We learned that it was possible to go to court to get a waiver of the waiting period. We therefore decided to go to court the day before our wedding to request a waiver. This was quite nerve-wracking, given that there was no indication of what standards had to be met to get a waiver.

When we arrived at the court, the check-in person asked to see identification. We presented our Maryland driver's licenses. The check-in person then said, "Oh, you're from Maryland. Do you have family in Massachusetts?" And we realized that in her mind, two women getting married was such a normal thing that it had slipped her mind that we couldn't just get married in our home state.

In the courtroom, the judge had to hear motions in several other cases before getting to ours. When it was our turn, he asked why we needed the waiver. I explained that we were from Maryland, and had not been able to get to Massachusetts for the license earlier, but that our ceremony was already scheduled for the next day in the synagogue. Fortunately, that was all we needed to say, and the waiver was granted. As we left, several of the people in the courtroom waiting for their own cases smiled at us and whispered "congratulations" and that they hoped we'd be very happy.

After getting the waiver, we went over to the marriage license office. There, we filled out a form that instead of asking for "bride" and "groom," asked for "Party A" and "Party B." Somehow, though, its recent redesign hadn't updated the words "please use black ink or appropriate black typewriter ribbon". We hope the laser printer in the clerk's office didn't accidentally invalidate all licenses issued in the county.

Processional and Bouquets

In a traditional Jewish ceremony, first the groom is escorted by his parents, and then the bride is escorted by hers. We had two problems with that. First, neither set of parents was invited to the ceremony. Second, it was unclear how tradition was going to work if there were two brides. In the end, we decided that the two of us would just walk in together, holding hands.

NotFroofy liked the idea of us having arm bouquets rather than more traditional bridal bouquets. We therefore decided that we would have identical arm bouquets, except that I would carry mine on my right arm, and NotFroofy would carry hers on her left.

Ketubah and Rings

Under Jewish law, there are three aspects to a wedding: a) the giving of something of value (typically a plain gold ring with no details, stones, or engraving), b) a formal marriage contract, or ketubah, and c) time alone together (yihud), which symbolizes the consummation of the marriage.

The ring was not a problem for us. NotFroofy had a plain gold wedding band that she had inherited from her grandmother. She had always thought that it would be her wedding ring if she ever married. However, when she agreed to marry me, she decided that she would give me that ring. I managed to find an almost identical ring to give her.

The ketubah was a much bigger issue. The traditional ketubah is an agreement that the groom makes to take care of his wife, even if he should die or divorce her. It is nonreciprocal; the bride's input is limited to accepting the ketubah when it is offered to her. This was obviously not going to work for two women.

We started by looking at more modern versions of the ketubah. We found many that had "gender neutral" language, which we figured would work for us. However, when we inquired further, we learned that only the English version was gender-neutral. The Hebrew consistently referred to the couple using the masculine plural, which would work for a straight couple or a gay male couple, but not for two women.

We found one ketubah artist who had a version of the ketubah language that would work for two women. Unfortunately, the ketubah we really liked was made by a different artist (Amy Fagin), who did not have such language. Since the ketubah would hang on our walls for the rest of our lives, we really didn't want to compromise on the artwork. We spent several months looking around for some other ketubah artwork we liked that had a text that would work for us, but did not find one we liked as much as our original choice. We finally contacted Amy, and asked whether there was some way to get a text that would work for us. She suggested that we contact the artist with the text we liked, and ask for a one-time permission to use that text on Amy's ketubah. That permission was granted, and we had our ketubah, albeit only after paying an extra $250 for a "custom" text.

Ceremony Language

We initially assumed that the rabbi would just have a ceremony we could use. However, he basically told us that we should develop our own ceremony. That was a challenge, inasmuch as large portions of the traditional ceremony were in Hebrew, a language neither of us spoke. However, we found a ceremony for a lesbian couple online, and decided to adapt it for us.

One issue was that NotFroofy is atheist, and really did not want God mentioned in the English version of the ceremony, although she was fine with having it in the Hebrew version. She therefore found versions of the English part of the ceremony that emphasized the universal themes rather than being literal translations of the Hebrew.

Another issue was that the traditional Jewish ceremony does not include vows. Even though NotFroofy did not belong to any religion, her ideas of a wedding had come from the Church of England service, and most definitely included vows. The good news is that because the Jewish ceremony does not require vows at all, the vows if included could pretty much say whatever we wanted them to say. She therefore slotted the Church of England vows into the Jewish ceremony.

Because several of our guests were not Jewish, we decided to include the full text of the ceremony, with transliterations and translations of the Hebrew, in the program. The program also included descriptions of each of the Jewish wedding traditions. NotFroofy made our programs, with cover art based on the design of our ketubah (with the permission of the ketubah artist).

Breaking of the Glass

In the traditional Jewish ceremony, the end of the ceremony is signaled by the man breaking a glass with his foot. Once again, we had to figure out a way to adapt that tradition to two women. We decided that the two of us would stamp on the glass simultaneously. This proved to be our least successful adaptation. The glass we used was designed for a man's sturdy shoes, and required a sudden sharp stamp. When the two of us tried to do it together, we couldn't supply the necessary force. NotFroofy then tried standing on the glass, but it still would not break. Finally, after several attempts, and a muttered "Damn it" that she hoped no-one heard, she managed a sharp enough stamp to get the glass to break.

The Luncheon after the Reception

Although we weren't having our main reception until we got back to DC, we did want to provide something for those people who had come from all over the country to be with us at our ceremony. We therefore arranged a luncheon in the private dining room of a Legal Sea Foods near the synagogue. When we made reservations for the luncheon, we had not mentioned that our occasion was a wedding. However, a few days before the event, the Legal Sea Foods called us to find out what we would like them to write on the personalized menu they always create for a group in the private dining room. At that point, we told them that it was a wedding, and the names we gave them made clear that it was a same-sex wedding. Again, though, we got only congratulations on the wedding, and no comment on the fact it was same-sex.

My son drove us from the synagogue to the restaurant, while we worked out how to change our Facebook status to "married." When we reached the mall at which the Legal Sea Foods was located, we initially could not figure out where in the mall the restaurant was. We therefore stopped to ask two older women in the parking lot for directions. Seeing not one but two brides in full bridal attire in the car, they smiled broadly, asked if we had just gotten married, and congratulated us.

On arrival at the restaurant, it was immediately clear to the staff which party we are, as the two of us sailed in still wearing our dresses. The staff appeared delighted to see us. During the luncheon, various staff members would come in and ask to see the 1980s vintage Stuart Weitzman raw silk and lace bridal boots that NotFroofy had found on eBay. Even when my sister started a whipped cream fight with my son, they were remarkably composed, just smiling and offering towels for clean-up.

The First Dance

NotFroofy wanted to have a swing dance for our first dance. The only problem was that swing dance is typically set up so that the man leads, and the woman follows. NotFroofy has some natural rhythm, and I have two left feet, so in some ways it made sense to have her lead. However, I am taller than she is, and less self-conscious about making mistakes. We therefore decided that I should lead. We took a couple of group dance lessons, and one private dance lesson, and also practiced on our own and with some friends who dance frequently. I will by no means claim we were experts when we had our first dance at our reception. Fortunately, two long dresses will cover up a whole lot of bad footwork!

After the Wedding

On February 24, 2009 (four months after our wedding), the attorney general of Maryland announced that although same-sex marriages cannot take place in Maryland, Maryland will recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere (including ours). Although this is obviously not a complete solution, as federal law still will not recognize our marriage, we are thrilled that our home state now does.

Final Thoughts

During every step of our wedding, we faced issues in adapting wedding traditions designed for straight couples to our situation. However, the one thing we did not have to worry about was hostility. Every wedding vendor we contacted was willing to work with a same-sex couple. I was on several wedding message boards during the planning process. During that time, it was extremely rare to find anyone openly hostile to same-sex marriage. And the few that were generally got shut down pretty quickly by the board management.

We still lack many of the legal benefits of marriage, due to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. However, among our family and friends, our marriage has received general support, often expressed in the form, "it's about bloody time you made honest women of each other!" One friend wrote in his blog that he had not really understood why same-sex couples weren't satisfied with civil unions until he saw us preparing for our wedding, but was now in favor of same-sex marriage. Knowing that our own community supports us, even if the wider world sometimes does not, has been a big step forward after so many years together.