Marriage is a ghastly public confession of a strictly private intention.
-- Ian Hay
'H ey, beh beh!" I called out, as I often do when I'm comfy in my office and don't want to walk the 40 or so feet to where David sits in his."Yeah?" he shouted back, an indication that he, too, was serene in his seat.
"How does next Wednesday, around 10:30 a.m., work for you to get married?"
Asking was a polite formality -- David doesn't keep a calendar. Still, he paused as if it wasn't known by both of us that he relies on me to administrate his schedule before answering, "Next Wednesday sounds fine."
"Perfect!" I rose from my chair, walked over to his office, and said, "Get it? WEDnesday? " We shared a laugh at my pun, and then returned to our respective work.
I used to think that if David didn't want to marry me, it meant he didn't want to be with me. He would often explain, "I like the fact that you can easily walk out of this relationship. Every morning I wake up and find you next to me, I know you're here because you want to be here." Over the past few years, buying a home with me and rendering himself inseparable in many other ways, David has demonstrated that he is as committed to me as any husband to a wife and, in many cases, probably more so. I came to agree with him that getting married, in our case, would be pointless -- we're not religious (only when our gay friends can be married will we consider marriage a nonreligious institution), we keep our finances separate, we don't want children, and neither one of us is into tradition for tradition's sake.
We did, however, want the rights accorded to one's numero uno -- the "in case of emergency" stuff, like the right to make medical decisions should one of us become incapacitated. Domestic partnership would have been perfect -- we could simply register without having to go through any hoopla. But in California, a couple has to be either over the age of 65 or homosexual in order to qualify. We consulted lawyers to see what it would take to compose the language that would grant us the rights we sought and found it would cost a few thousand dollars and several months of paper shuffling to reach our goal.
"How much does it cost to get married?" David asked as we lay in bed one evening.
"I dunno...a hundred bucks, maybe." We discussed the practicalities -- one piece of paper obtainable in one day for $100 would do the same as several pieces of paper that cost thousands of dollars and took months to compile. We didn't want to get married, but, to use one of my dad's favorite phrases, we weren't about to cut off our nose to spite our face. David had always felt more strongly about his anti-institutional convictions than I had. So when he suggested marriage as an option, I said, "Are you sure this is something you're open to? You really want to get married? "
David looked at me like I'd asked the question in Farsi. "I married you a long time ago," he said. I'd heard him say this before, but this was the first time I fully understood what he meant: marriage doesn't make commitment; commitment makes marriage.
So it was, on a cloudy, cold Wednesday morning in May, that David and I gathered our identification papers and set out to complete our tasks for the day. "Get married" was scrawled between "pick up dry cleaning" and "Ralph's" on our to-do list. I wore black jeans and a long-sleeved v-neck. David wore jeans and a dark button-down shirt. David hadn't shaved. My frizzy hair was twisted into a clip.
After collecting our cleaned, bamboo-green, silk duvet cover, we headed for Pacific Coast Highway. The middle of the week is a great time to visit the County Administration Building-- nobody's there. We waited less than five minutes after signing in before our names were called. A few minutes later, we sat in a partitioned cubicle across from Michelle, who entered our information into the computer system. "Don't worry, babe," I said, taking out my checkbook when we were presented with the bill. "This one's on me."
The ceremony was forced upon us, something we had to do in order to get our certificate. Michelle donned a black robe to officiate. We had the option of two locales -- the "beautiful county grounds," or the small room with a podium, lined with white plastic flowers. We chose the room because it was closer, quicker. We were made to repeat words that had been written by churchmen and refined by lawmakers to a representative of the court in front of our assigned witness, the girl from the adjoining cubicle. As I looked into David's eyes and uttered vows in short choppy fragments, I grew irritated that we had to suffer through this charade of declaring our love in an awkward, unnatural way, before strangers in some tacky little room. This attempt to regulate something as intricate and individual as a relationship between two people was bureaucracy at its best.
Feeling peckish, and wanting to relax and philosophize about what we'd just done, David and I headed to the Prado in Balboa Park for an early lunch. We were discussing the merits of keeping our marriage a secret from friends and family over a bowl of tortilla soup when our waiter, a tall blonde named Matt, stopped by our table. He asked if we were enjoying our soup, and we said yes. Then, in the naturally effervescent manner of servers working in restaurants frequented by tourists, he inquired, "Are you celebrating anything special today?"
David and I looked at each other, wondering telepathically what it was about our demeanor that might have suggested we weren't just grabbing lunch on a Wednesday. Matt sensed our hesitation and was about to back away when I squealed, "We just got married! "
"Oh, yeah? You mean the legal part, like getting the license?" he asked.
"No," I said. "The whole thing -- license, ceremony, certificate, all of it in under an hour, about 20 minutes ago." Matt looked stunned. Before he had a chance to say anything, I added, "And you're the only person who knows! "
Matt looked from me to David and back again. I could see him processing the information, trying to decide if I was being serious. "You didn't have any witnesses?"
"Only the girls at the county office," I answered.
"Wow," Matt said, shaking his head as if to de-fog it. "Well, congratulations!"
"Looks like you're the only guest at our wedding reception," I said. Smiling and offering more well wishes, Matt excused himself to check on other diners. When we were finished eating, he brought us a dessert we had not ordered, a flan, into which he'd placed two candles he'd melted together at the bottom.
"Are you bummed we didn't buy one of those 'Gregory J. Smith, County Assessor' memorial pens for five bucks?" I asked, slicing a bite of flan with my fork.
David laughed. "I think the bumper sticker was five and the pen was ten."
"So," I said, in a more sober tone. I waited for David to look at me before asking, "Do we tell anyone?"
David sipped his wine, considered my question, and finally replied, "We've been telling them for years."