Moments after we read our first e-mail that Ontario was offering legal Canadian marriages to U.S. same-sex couples, my lover of 13 years and I decided to get married.
It wasn't strictly romance or politics that drove the decision, though both were certainly involved. The main reason Jean and I barely stopped to think about it before we bought nonrefundable airline tickets to Toronto was that I was facing—for the first time in my life—the prospect of having no health insurance. It turns out that no amount of money will convince an insurance company to give medical coverage to a self-employed, middle-aged woman with quite a few extra pounds on her and a chronic illness or two to complain about. Go figure.
Don't get me started on this country's so-called healthcare system—I've got to watch my blood pressure.
Anyway, we had come to the end of our options. Jean's employer, though sympathetic and willing to contribute the same amount of money they would for a spouse's premium, said they were unable to obtain domestic-partnership coverage for their small social-service organization.
So, Jean and I figured, what the hell, let's try getting me covered as her legal spouse. We knew our chances would be slim, but slim beats none. And if the health insurance company says no, maybe we could get a lawsuit going, thereby helping more than just ourselves in the fight for full recognition of legal same-sex marriage in this country. We were all fired up, ready for a struggle—though quietly hoping we might just slip by the insurance company's overworked staff with my gender unnoticed.
And romance did, in fact, enter into the mix. Even after so many years together, we're still crazy in love, and the idea of making honest women of each other sparked several misty sessions of gazing into each other's eyes and making out like we did in the olden days.
But we never expected what happened in Toronto—and afterward. But first, we had to arrange a few things before we left town.
Preparing Ahead of Time
Before downloading the form from www.cbs.gov .on.ca/mcbs/english/4U4V5Z.htm, we prepared ourselves for a government form—you know, like tax forms with multiple, incomprehensible pages to pore over.
This was the first way we found that Canada is different from the U.S.A. The Ontario application for a marriage license consists of one very simple page. The hardest part was deciding whether Jean or I would be the 'bridegroom.' Neither of us is very butch, but she's the bug-killer in the family, so Jean filled out her information on the more masculine side of the application.
The fee for the license is $110 Canadian, which currently translates to about $80 U.S., not bad given what you're getting. The only other thing they ask for is identification, i.e., a passport or an original birth certificate plus government-issued photo I.D.
Then, we called to make an appointment in the Toronto City Hall for a wedding ceremony (1-800-824-5964). They asked for a $50 deposit—of the $155 fee for the ceremony—over the phone using a credit card. We were told we would need the remaining $105 in Canadian cash, a valid marriage license, and two witnesses.
This last requirement made me a little apprehensive since the two of us were heading up to Toronto by ourselves. Jean dismissed my concerns easily. 'We'll get some people when we get there,' she said with absolute certainty. I wasn't so sure. Turned out she was right and I was wrong (Jean loves it when I say that). But not every couple would necessarily share our good fortune, so keep in mind you need two witnesses for the ceremony, whether you bring them with you or—like us—count on dragging strangers off the street.
We selected July 4 because we could miss less work that way—it's a holiday for us but not for them. Then, we bought relatively cheap airline tickets and reserved a room for a few nights in a Toronto hotel that boasted jacuzzis on the roof. We were set to go.
The First Sweet Smell of Support
We reached our Toronto hotel around 4 p.m. on July 3. It occurred to us, after seeing the magnificent flower arrangements in the lobby, that it might be nice to walk down the aisle with some flowers in our hands. We knew we'd be wearing our nicest tunics over our nicest pants (this is dress-up for us), and we thought maybe a few roses for each of us would be cool. We didn't expect much. We were even thinking there might be no way to get something before 8:30 a.m., when we'd planned to arrive at city hall—to beat the crowds.
The concierge choked a little about the rush, but she gave me the phone number of their florist. When I called, he asked how much we could spend—I hemmed and hawed but settled on $60 total. The florist seemed a little disappointed, but he said he'd pull something together and drop it off that evening at our hotel.
Jean and I were knocked out when we saw the two beautiful bouquets of different-colored roses and other gorgeous flowers. Back home, we couldn't have gotten anything like these for less than $100 each. This wasn't just Torontonians being nice to tourists or the result of a favorable exchange rate. We had called him at 4 p.m., and he created two masterpieces for us, delivered them to our door within a few hours, and charged us a pittance. The florist was the first local to let us know he was 'on our side.' But he certainly wasn't the last.
Our Wedding Day: The License
We got up early, donned our pretty tunics (mine was gold, Jean's was turquoise), and took our half-frozen bouquets out of our apparently over-eager hotel room refrigerator. Then, we went down to the lobby, where the doorman hailed a cab for us and wished us congratulations—the bouquets gave us away.
We were a little surprised that there were no lines of lesbians and gay men spilling into the warm, sunny plaza outside of Toronto City Hall. I thought maybe they were all inside.
Truth was, there were no crowds. There were two men and their young son from Buffalo, two other men and their single buddy from San Francisco, and two women from British Columbia. And us.
But we didn't have time to wonder too much about our measly numbers. The two women excitedly introduced themselves as Carmen and Linda, a couple who—like us—was in search of witnesses to their nuptials, which were scheduled just before ours in the city hall wedding chapel.
Of course we said yes and we all hugged each other happily. Then we went about the business of obtaining a wedding license. It took about 20 minutes for our charming, redheaded employee to process our one-page document. While we were waiting, all the same-sex couples took turns taking photos of the whole crowd of us—what we lacked in numbers, we made up in enthusiasm.
At one point, I praised Toronto City Hall for staying open over the previous weekend—Pride weekend—to process marriage licenses for same-sex couples. One employee said it was strictly voluntary for the staff, which made it seem even cooler. Sadly, our redhead sighed, hardly anyone took advantage of the deal. When I looked baffled, she whispered that she thought the enormous press coverage scared couples away. When the press disappeared after the weekend, she said, the demand for licenses increased.
'Some people are still afraid about their jobs or their families finding out,' she explained to me.
Of course they are. But how odd and far away that seemed right then, sitting in city hall getting a government stamp of approval for marrying the woman I love. Sure, it's the wrong government, but it's awfully close. And, of course, this move doesn't erase discrimination and stupid bigotry, even up there in progressive Canada. But it's one big step forward—a giant step.
The reason I know it's a big deal is how different it feels. How odd to feel legitimate—not just my relationship, but myself. In Toronto on July 4, I felt accepted as a human being by the government of Canada. And that felt foreign. That's why this is a big deal. It shouldn't feel foreign. Being accepted by your own country should feel as natural as falling in love.
And to those of you who say that you already feel legitimate, I have to say in response that I would have said the same thing before now. But, if you're any form of queer, you don't really know what it feels like to be embraced by a government without reservation. I'd like it better if it were my own government, but I'll take this—gratefully—as a start.
Our Wedding Day: The Ceremony
The four of us—Carmen, Linda, Jean, and I—rode the elevator up to the third floor wedding chapel. We had to wait for a while. The opposite-sex marriage party before us joined two Asian families, dressed in full wedding regalia with lots of tuxes and formal gowns, replete with a bride dressed in white lace and a veil. We paid the rest of our fee, and a man approached us with a video camera and offered to videotape our ceremony for $40 more. We all said yes. It was a 'say yes' kind of day.
When it was Carmen and Linda's turn, we all entered the chapel—a small room with several plastic chairs and a heart-shaped wreath—to wait for the minister. We put on a Van Morrison CD we had, and the four of us danced for a while to 'Tupelo Honey.'
The minister arrived in a long black robe, an attractive, soft-spoken young man named Matthew, who was probably gay himself, as he said he'd 'been waiting a long time for this,' or he might have just been yet another supportive Torontonian.
Jean and I loaned our bouquets to Carmen and Linda for their walk down the makeshift 'aisle,' and gave them one to keep. During their ceremony, we all cried—even Matthew seemed to get misty-eyed. Jean and I sang Roy Orbison's 'You Got It' as our new BC friends signed the registry and became each other's legal spouse in the country they live in. Someday I hope to know what that's like.
Then, it was our turn. For a moment, it felt like the four of us were little girls playing wedding and taking turns on who gets to be the bride. I never did that as a little girl. I never wanted to be married. My parents never seemed particularly happy being married.
And here I was, getting married. To the woman I love. For real. It may have felt like pretending, but it wasn't. This wasn't just some political gesture or an improbable way to get health insurance. Not now. We were about to be as married as any couple in the province of Ontario.
Between ceremonies, I had a brief chat with Matthew and asked him what religion he was connected to. He said he was a Wiccan priest. When my shock wore off, I was just delighted—partly because it pushed Toronto even higher in my estimation that they would have Wiccan priests marrying couples in city hall, and partly because I'd been connected to Wicca myself for a few years and still hold a touch of reverence for goddesses and earth-centered images.
When Matthew realized that both Jean and I appreciated the Wicca thing, he pulled out his pentacle necklace, kissed it, and put it on. He also added some sections to the service, including one that blessed our rings using earth, air, fire, and water imagery, and, once again, we all got teary-eyed. The service went off without a hitch, except I kept trying to put Jean's ring on the wrong hand—she finally pulled her right hand back a little so I could find her left-hand ring finger.
After our ceremony, the four of us pushed our way through two parties of people waiting to get married. One party surrounded the guys from San Francisco, who brought both sides of the family with them—including both sets of parents and siblings—and all were dressed in their most beautiful finery. We hugged and photographed the San Francisco fellows in their tuxes, went to lunch with Carmen and Linda, exchanged contact info, and hugged them goodbye.
Jean and I went back to the hotel for our brief but lovely honeymoon, much of which consisted of reading the newly published Harry Potter book (we each had our own copy) and eating at fabulous restaurants. There was actually more to the honeymoon ... suffice it to say we had a very pleasant time.
How's Married Life?
When people ask Jean, 'so, how's married life?' she laughs and says it's the same as unmarried life—but she's not being totally honest. For one thing, her friend and coworker Claire says Jean has never been so out at work before. I notice that she talks about it to anyone who asks the routine, 'How are you?' Even store clerks and people whose names she can't remember.
The reactions have been consistently positive and often surprising. The gas station lady, whose nationality we've never asked about but who I've always assumed is Iraqi, rushed out from behind her counter and hugged us both. She said she had lived in Toronto and hearing that we got married there gave her chills. The South American lady who sold us our rings congratulated us with great joy and hard-to-miss sincerity.
One of the most unexpected moments came from the people in the downtown office I work in two days a week. The department had a surprise party for me, with cake and gifts and an arrangement of white flowers that was too big to see over and too beautiful to be believed. The sweet, heady fragrance brought people from all over the office to ask, 'What's the occasion?' And I had the scary and rare opportunity to say to people, many of whom I had no idea how they'd respond, 'I just got married. To my girlfriend.' Some were obviously excited for me, some seemed confused but supportive, but all of them had to face the fact that my department thought enough to celebrate this with a mountain of flowers.
I guess I can't call Jean my girlfriend anymore. She's my 'wife,' a term she hates almost as much as I do. 'Spouse' is probably the least objectionable term, though it's about as legal-sounding as 'partner,' which always makes it sound like we shook hands on the deal. A few people have suggested 'the old ball and chain' and 'my better half.' I think we have to keep working on it.
On the insurance front, the benefits lady where Jean works has submitted her change in enrollment status due to marriage, but I suspect we won't know anything for a while. In the meantime, I'll try to stay as healthy as possible.