We were always married

Kel Munger was a longtime SN&R staffer and is now a regular contributor.

While in Iowa recently—one of those states that recognizes the right of adult citizens to marry the person of their choosing—we stopped to pick up a rental car.

“She’ll be driving, too,” my wife said.

“That’s an extra $13.95 per day,” said the clerk.

“We’re married. Does that make a difference?” asked my wife.

“It sure does! That’s free.”

It’s been almost 22 years for us—five academic degrees, two cross-country moves, four states and one major medical crisis. We’ve drawn up wills and power of attorney forms in Missouri, where even the lawyer didn’t think it would do any good. We were “civilly united” in Vermont, which became meaningless as soon as we crossed into New York. We were “domestically partnered” in California, only to have emergency-room personnel ask for the paperwork while one of us was having a stroke. We married here during the legal window in 2008, but until this week, it was “marriage lite,” unrecognized by the federal government. We travel with a folder of legal documents to protect us from our neighbors’ prejudice and the government’s disdain—documents we’re never certain they’ll respect.

“Your marriage isn’t real,” I was told by an adolescent protester a few years back.

For better or worse, in sickness and in health—graduate degrees and student loans; new jobs; new homes, moving, adjusting and all the rest of that crap; pets being cute, annoying, wonderful; then getting old and dying; family members graduating, getting married, having babies—that’s as real as it gets.

We’ve been married years longer than the official “five-year anniversary” we’ll celebrate this summer. The failure to recognize and honor that marriage by our neighbors, our fellow citizens, our government—and, yes, even some members of our family—doesn’t diminish it. Still, we laughed and cried when the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 bit the dust last week.

We’d be married even if no one else on the planet recognized it. Our rights exist even when unrecognized, and we’ve always known that.

But does it make a difference to have our government acknowledge and respect our marriage?

It sure does.