As the battle over marriage equality in Maryland reaches its endgame, the sparks it throws are reflected in the lives of real people, including a married couple wed just next door in Washington on the first day the D.C. same-sex marriage law went into effect in March of 2010.
Residents of Bowie, Md., one of the three couples wed with fanfare at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters on March 9, 2010 — Candy Holmes and Darlene Garner — looked back this week at the struggles to win equality in D.C. and the continuing efforts in Maryland.
“In retrospect, it’s been a mixed year,” Holmes says. “Because it was a great year to be married in D.C. in my hometown and Darlene’s adopted city, really it was a year of a piece of heaven, once we got through the murky waters that it might be taken away by the courts. It was the realization of something long desired by us, to be married, and legally acknowledged so, to the love of my life.”
“But when we come back to where we live, in Maryland, where our marriage is not recognized, the struggle goes on because we were free to be married in D.C., but we are not free to be married in Maryland — yet.”
Holmes and Garner — who dated on and off for 14 years before getting married — are both ordained ministers in the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a liberal, mostly gay Christian denomination — and now they are determined to see the blessings afforded to them by marriage become theirs by right also where they live.
“We have so much enjoyed the last 12 months as a married couple,” Garner says. “We have been completely embraced by our extended and blended families — children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren, cousins — and I will be eternally grateful to the D.C. government elected officials, and also remain hopeful that the elected officials in my home state will follow the example set in our national capital.”
When Garner and Holmes boast of their blended, extended family, they are not talking idly. Garner is the mother of four, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of three, the eldest of whom is now 3 years old.
Holmes considers Garner’s offspring hers too.
The giddiness and hoopla from a year ago now long since subsided, how do they assess what marriage equality means to them today? Once they were married, “there’s been a big difference at work,” says Holmes, who has worked as a manager in the federal government’s GAO (now called the Government Accountability office) for 34 years. “It shows up in how people greet me and treat me, the respect and regard from others.”
Statistics from D.C. Superior Court’s Marriage Bureau show a surge of weddings in the District, more than double the number from the prior year, March 2009-March 2010.
Those numbers — 6,604 marriages in D.C. from March 3, 2010, when the same-gender right to marry, enacted in December 2009, went into effect, through March 2, 2011 — vaulted over the number from the prior year, when only 3,101 couples applied for marriage licenses in D.C.
The city doesn’t track how many straight couples there were versus same-sex couples, but the court attributes the spike to the change in the marriage law.
Speaking last week at an event held to celebrate enactment of the new law, Mayor Vincent Gray said he “was thrilled to hear this,” adding that the new law “has been so smoothly implemented,” even though he acknowledged that he has lost some friends due to his own outspoken support for the measure when he served on City Council until being elected mayor in November. But he said that was a price he willingly has paid for doing what he called “the right thing.”
As for the possibility that the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives might still seek to roll back the new law, the mayor said he was aware it could happen, but “I haven’t heard anything yet” about it.
And so the dust in D.C. has settled. And in the wake of the new law have come party planners and experts in wedding officiating like Deborah Cummings-Thomas and Sheila Alexander-Reid, both licensed and ordained to perform weddings, lesbians and partners since May of last year in Marry Me in D.C., which helps connect people wanting to marry in D.C. with what Cummings-Thomas calls “our network of gay and gay-friendly service providers who celebrate, not just tolerate them on their wedding day.”
On March 19, Marry Me in D.C. hosts a “Marriage Equality Wedding Expo,” from noon to 4 p.m. at the Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Avenue NW, on Capitol Hill. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. Advance registration is encouraged at marrymeindc.com.
Marriage not a happy ending for all
With the legalization of same-sex marriage comes, inevitably, gay divorce.
Robin McGehee has felt its sting. The 37-year-old California resident and lesbian who decided to wed in June 2008, says she decided to un-wed a year and a month later, in July 2009. She and her partner took their vows under California’s same-sex marriage law prior to its being overturned by the state’s voters in November 2008 ballot when Proposition 8 passed. Their marriage remained valid however under a grandfather clause.
But it fell victim nevertheless, in an ironic way, says McGehee, since it was the fight against its passage that brought her into the fray to oppose Prop 8.
After getting iced out of volunteer work at her son’s Catholic school, she became a gay activist and helped organize the National Equality March, held in Washington in October 2009. As a newly mobilized activist, she says, she was “on the road almost every weekend for months at a time.”
And that activism led her away, she acknowledges, from placing a focus needed at home, to repair the fraying ties that bound her with her spouse, a woman 19 years her senior, with whom she had joined in 2001 in a domestic partnership contract under California law. They had been a couple for 11 years at the time of their wedding.
She says she “met someone on the road, someone I connected with emotionally.” Basically, she admits, “I fell for someone else.” They have now been together for a year and a half, and they face, McGehee says, “the same challenges,” because now she is also working a second job, as executive director of GetEqual, a group that focuses on using non-violent civil disobedience to advance LGBT rights.
As for her former spouse, they remain in constructive discussions over dual issues, caught up still in legal proceedings over the terms of ending both their marriage and their earlier domestic partnership. Closure should come, she expects, “any time now.”