Afterthoughts: Good Timing

New York State approves same-sex marriage just in time for my friend's wedding. Now if Hawaii could just do the same.

Photo: Linny Morris

The wedding has been in the works for months. Years, actually, if you count back the three years that have passed since the proposal itself. Brian had popped the big question during a private, catered dinner on a secluded strip of Kauai beach. Naturally, Eric said yes.

They’ve planned all the details for their swanky nuptials in New York, where they live, from buying classic wedding bands at Tiffany, to having custom suits made, to choosing the menu. Save-the-date notices went out. The only thing that’s lingered over the whole affair: Knowing that, as much as Brian and Eric wanted a wedding, without state sanction their event wasn’t “real.”

I asked Brian if they’d drive to Massachusetts, where same-sex unions have been legal since 2004, to make things official. He brushed the suggestion off, saying something about not caring what the government thinks. It’s easy to tell yourself you don’t want something when you know you can’t have it.

But late one Friday evening in June, a remarkable thing happened. Brian and Eric were home stuffing their wedding invitations into envelopes. The New York State Senate was in session, and voted—closely and unexpectedly—to approve same-sex marriage. Just a few minutes before midnight, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, signed it into law. When Brian and Eric started stuffing invitations, their marriage wasn’t going to be recognized by the government, but by the time the pile was complete, it would be.

Illustration: iStock

When I called Brian that night, he was jubilant. “People are literally dancing in the streets right now,” he said. Brian and Eric would even make the 30-day deadline for the new law; it went into effect July 24 and their wedding was planned for August.

After I got off the phone, I tried to think of what that would feel like, to have some essential part of myself suddenly acknowledged. As if a community was saying, We told you your whole life you’re less valid. Well, we were wrong.

But I couldn’t think of a single right that is denied to me. I can drive a car, vote, show up to work pregnant. I got an education, I got to select a religion.

And I realized that I’d been a bad friend. All these years I thought I was being supportive, but I didn’t comprehend the degree to which gay people were being denied an essential place at the adult table. Plenty of straight couples shack up for years and choose not to be legally married. “It’s just a piece of paper,” they shrug. But that is only fun to say when you really have a choice.

In January, Hawaii will begin allowing same-sex civil unions, which Gov. Neil Abercrombie called “equal rights for everyone … This is the essence of the aloha spirit.” But as one gay commentator put it, “It’s official. In Hawaii we are second-class citizens.” Equal rights to marriage means … marriage.

You can register for silverware, blenders and towels, but you can’t register for civil rights. What a gift to receive on the eve of one’s wedding.

I hope Hawaii will present such a gift to its citizens soon.