Happy Anniversary! On One Year of Marriage Equality

A celebration of any kind, for me, feels odd these days. In light of the tragedy that struck our community in Orlando–a very real killing of the gays–revelry of any sort, even for the greatest of achievements, hasn’t felt right for me. Shortly after the Orlando shooting, my wife turned 32; two days later, I turned 33. Although we went through the motions and engaged in the apropos festivities, in the back of our minds existed a subtle sadness. 

While I’m sure we’re far from being out of the woods at the McGaughy house, I feel it necessary to acknowledge an important anniversary. Maybe the party won’t be the same knowing so many of my sisters and brothers were robbed of sharing it with us, but I can’t help but think they’d want us to honor their memory not only in our sadness, but also in our moments of joy.

June 26, 2015 began as a typical summer day in our house–morning snuggles shared with my wife and our two dogs Bettie and Siddhartha aka “Sid.” Although we knew SCOTUS could release a decision that had the potential to dramatically alter our lives, we tried not to get our hopes up. Soon we learned via Facebook of the fantastic news. The wait was over; we could actually get legally married in the only state I’d ever called home and a city I’d felt embraced by since 2006. 

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Prior to learning of the long-awaited decision, my wife and I had always planned on making our commitment official in the eyes of the law. Whether we’d do so on the first day it was made available, however, hadn’t yet been determined. Knowing my wife’s general feelings on crowds of people and battling the nuisance we call downtown Dallas parking in the Texas heat, I’d all but given up on the idea of legally marrying her on this day. Contrary to my earlier assumptions, mere minutes after we heard the news, my wife advised me to get ready as quickly as possible. We would, in fact, be making a legally recognized commitment to one another on this day.

This was all I needed to hear. I had been eagerly awaiting this day since June of 2012 when we got engaged on the beach in Malibu only days after attending the LA Pride festival. I jumped out of bed and took our dogs for a quick walk. Knowing this was not one of those days that I would be afforded the privilege of really getting ready, I threw on my favorite new sundress she had bought me as a 32nd birthday gift, applied a bit of makeup, and dry shampooed my hair hoping yesterday’s curls would hold up for my unexpected wedding day. 

Our wedding invitations consisted of haphazard texts and posts on social media sent on the short trip from our quiet, east Dallas apartment to the chaos of a weekday downtown morning, encouraging our loved ones to meet us at the courthouse should they be available to do so, but knowing it would likely be just the two of us. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by various revelers–some couples planning to marry, some allies gathered to cheer us on. We made our way through various lines performing menial administrivia, taking pleasure in every second; knowing these would-be nuisances were privileges afforded to us thanks to countless queer sisters and brothers who came before. We stood alongside same-sex couples of varied age, appearance, ethnicity, and background, but a shared connection and, soon, a shared wedding anniversary. We even witnessed the first same-sex wedding in Dallas legally solidifying the commitment between Jack and George, pillars of our community and an older couple who had shared a life and a deep love for decades. It was a moment I will hold in my heart forever.

To our surprise, several of our friends rearranged their schedules to be a part of our day. They walked with us from line to line and became our unofficial wedding photographers all the while sharing in our joy and excitement. Once we had filled out and signed all the necessary paperwork and paid the very same fees strictly opposite sex couples had done only one day before, we took a short walk to find a judge to officiate our ceremony. 

Typically, there is a mandatory waiting period between applying for a marriage license and actually holding the ceremony to finalize the commitment, however, knowing so many of us had waited long enough, our beloved County Clerk John Warren made arrangements to have this waived. Thanks to Mr. Warren, we made our way to the place in which our vows would be sealed. On the way to our final step in this lengthy process, we were approached by a group of teenagers with decorated shirts and signs. They informed us they were there to cheer on the victory of same-sex couples and would like to be witness to our ceremony. Feeling moved in a way we hadn’t been prepared for, we of course obliged. 

Alongside our ever-growing motley crew, we began our search for a judge. Most couples had been directed to a designated floor as there were judges there available to perform ceremonies. Before we had the chance to get on the elevator, a young woman approached us and asked if we were there to get married. She informed us that the judge for which she was interning was available to perform our ceremony immediately. We took her up on her offer and followed her to the courtroom of Emily Tobolowsky–a woman with a kind face and bright red hair. In a strange way, it felt like fate that this woman with such a warm presence and the same first name as me would be the person to officiate our wedding. 

Although I had been impatiently awaiting this day for some time, I felt nervous all of a sudden–not because I was unsure of the promises I was about to make, but because I didn’t know what to expect. We had essentially planned every second of our wedding with family and friends three years prior. We planned our vows, we planned the music, we planned the food; we planned every detail. What we were about to do in this moment was brand new. 

What happened over the next several minutes remains to be a bit of a blur. I remember feeling an unexplainable connection to the woman who presided over our marriage.  I remember feeling a kind of love and support that I had only felt during a few moments in my 32 years. More than anything, I remember looking into the eyes of my Char and suddenly allowing everything else to fade into the background. 

Before we repeated our vows, Ms. Tobolowsky asked if either of us wanted to say something. To be clear, my wife is not exactly a woman of many words, rather more of a “deeds, not words” lady, so I knew she would likely decline. But, I did want to say something. I did want to express to her out loud in front of our family of choice, new friends, and our judge what this commitment meant to me–to us. 

Gay Marriage Becomes Legal In 5 States After Supreme Court Declines Challenges Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

So, I did. I cried my way through an off-the-cuff speech, doing my best to convey with words of my love for her. I remember saying there was no one on the planet I’d want to take this journey with more than her. I remember looking into her big, brown eyes full of tears and knowing when she said, “Ditto,” she meant it. Soon, even our judge was moved to tears.

Our friend Eric filmed the ceremony just as he had our legally unrecognized wedding three years earlier. Zeeba and Payton served as our official witnesses and signed the marriage certificate. And just like that, we were married.

The remainder of the day was filled with celebrations alongside friends and our community. We gathered for lunch and cocktails at our friends’ restaurant Full Circle Tavern before rallying and marching two miles with literally thousands of Dallas LGBTs and allies. It was magical; a day we knew would be an important piece of our love story and a piece of history that we were privileged to take part in.

I realize my story isn’t special. Lesbian and gay couples all over the country married on this same day, many of whom had been waiting much longer than us. I don’t tell my story because I believe it to be unique. I tell it because, if I don’t mark this day and recognize its significance, I fear it will be too easy for me to forget that progress has been made. I fear I will allow my feelings of hopelessness to win. Have we been experiencing major setbacks? Yes. And I’m feeling the anguish alongside LGBTs all over the country. 

As for me and my house, we’re doing our best to salvage what’s left of Pride month in celebrating the great victory of love that has been won, even if only for a moment. The opposition has rained on our Pride parade–no doubt about that. But, leave it to queer people to keep on fighting until we see that rainbow again, as I know in my heart we will. 

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyAMcGaughy