Like so many other people of my generation, I never thought I’d be able to marry “my husband” and “to love, care for, and support him,” as we put it in our vows. Our wedding announcement ran in The New York Times, as had my brother and sister-in-law’s, as well as my parents’—pride and politics together, a proxy for our newfound equality.
I still remember our officiant’s words that day in California, especially because the language of love—which dares to shout its name—was part of what made our union feel so special. (Marriage equality had come to the Golden State by then, but two more years would pass before the Supreme Court would make it the law of the land, in Obergefell v. Hodges.) Fred noted how marriage “makes us equal—in the eyes of social institutions, friends, and family—to every other loving, committed couple.” I loved when Fred, referencing his husband, Gerard, told the wedding party, “Marriage can become a source of pride in seemingly small but poignant ways. For example, whenever I introduce Gerard or check the ‘Married’ box on various forms, I think, Yes, this is who we are … You can like it or not.”
Two months later, Jim and I held a boisterous wedding reception back home in North Carolina—with more toasts and a food truck. We became known as our town’s first married same-sex couple—not exactly pioneers, but on the early side of what is now nearly 600,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank focused on sexual-orientation and gender-identity law and public policy.
In the weeks and months after the reception, our friends and neighbors struggled—not with acceptance, but with our new monikers. We were no longer “partners,” “companions,” or “friends” (the last with the deliberate use of air quotes), and they slowly cottoned to calling us “husbands.” Such language wasn't natural at first, because it was so unfamiliar. (Frankly, it was for Jim and me, as well.)
A next-door neighbor, Virginia Smith Bell, took such pride in referring to Jim as my husband. As she explained later, after other gay male couples in town got hitched, “I like to think that my [male] friends who have husbands can find a tiny bit of validation in hearing that term applied to their chosen one. It’s not that the validation is needed. It’s just a lovely bonus.”
By the time of our first wedding anniversary, symbolized by gifts of paper representing the fragile and modest beginnings of a marriage, nearly all of our community’s linguistic bumbling and stumbling had ended. I felt a tremendous sense of pride when our neighbors introduced us as “married.” I also sensed their pride in us, their investment in us as a married couple.
Read more: After same-sex marriage, then what?
In the winter of 2017, Jim and I legally separated, and a year later we joined the official ranks of divorced opposite- and same-sex couples in the United States.