“Courtney and Denise went to Iowa, and all I got was a kitten,” I joked to a friend, riffing off the old, “My parents went to Paris, and all I got was a t-shirt.” But what really matters here is why Courtney and Denise went to Iowa, and what this says about change that seemed decades away just a dozen years ago as well as changes sorely needed right now.
On May 6, 2001, I conducted my very first (and so far, last) wedding for my dear friends and our kids’ godparents. Courtney and Denise had been together for years already, and they were ready to wed. “But I’m not official,” I told them when they asked me to do the ceremony. “Like it matters,” Denise answered, and we all laughed. When I think of that moment now, I feel like crying because it should have mattered, and actually, it now does, at least in some states.
Back in 2001, the notion that gay marriage would be legal anywhere relatively soon was beyond what I thought possible. I thought that maybe in my life time, like when I was in my 90s and pushing a walker, marriage rights and privileges would be extended to my gay, lesbian and trans friends. But when change starts its road trip to justice, pit stops aside, there’s no stopping it. When I told a very elderly relative, who previously opposed gay marriage, about Courtney and Denise getting married in Iowa, she said, “Of course they should be able to do that.” Who knew how fast such opposition would transform itself? An insightful article in Time Magazine, “How Gay Marriage Already Won,” released weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out DOMA (the mean-spirited and unjust Defense of Marriage Act) illustrates the speed of our current culture shift.
With that Supreme Court decision, however, change crossed state lines just as my dear friends Courtney and Denise, who drove to Iowa, where gay marriage is legal, on Tuesday to get officially hitched. No matter that they have a son (our godson), a family business, a house, a stand at the farmer’s market, and a whole bunch of goats, dogs, and even some new pigs at their ranch. Married as much or even more than any married straight couple I know, they were now getting a marriage certificate so that they can partake of the kind of benefits straight marrieds like Ken and I take for granted (such as health insurance and federal tax benefits).
They drove, along with their son and mine, and my son’s girlfriend, to Sidney, Iowa for the courthouse wedding. The official marrying them told them how brave they were and said many other wonderful things while both of them cried. Afterwards, everyone went to lunch (oddly enough at a place called Whips) and headed back over the border to Kansas.
But a funny thing happened on the way. At a truck stop near St. Joseph, MO, they happened upon meowing under their car: a hot (it was 102 degrees), thirsty, abandoned kitten. By the time they back to our town, I had a new kitten with the proud name of Sidney Iowa Lassman.
More importantly, Courtney and Denise have a new legitimacy even if it’s quite possible that Kansas may be the 49th state or so to acknowledge gay marriage. This, for them and tens of thousands of others, is far more than about health insurance, survivor benefits or tax breaks. It’s about collectively shedding the cloak of invisibility so that people can live out loud as who they are. It’s about acknowledging that love cannot be put in a box and labeled legitimate or not, and that the mystery, challenge, craziness and strength of committed relationships crosses all manner of boundaries, even state lines.