License to Wed: What Legal Marriage Means to Same-Sex Couples

License to Wed: What Legal Marriage Means to Same-Sex Couples

License to Wed: What Legal Marriage Means to Same-Sex Couples

License to Wed: What Legal Marriage Means to Same-Sex Couples

Synopsis

A critical reader of the history of marriage understands that it is an institution that has always been in flux. It is also a decidedly complicated one, existing simultaneously in the realms of religion, law, and emotion. And yet recent years have seen dramatic and heavily waged battles over the proposition of including same sex couples in marriage. Just what is at stake in these battles? This book examines the meanings of marriage for couples in the two first states to extend that right to same sex couples: California and Massachusetts. The two states provide a compelling contrast: while in California the rights that go with marriage- inheritance, custody, and so forth- were already granted to couples under the state's domestic partnership law, those in Massachusetts did not have this same set of rights. At the same time, Massachusetts has offered civil marriage consistently since 2004; Californians, on the other hand, have experienced a much more turbulent legal path. And yet, same-sex couples in both states seek to marry for a variety of interacting, overlapping, and evolving reasons that do not vary significantly by location. The evidence shows us that for many of these individuals, access to civil marriage in particular- not domestic partnership alone, no matter how broad- and not a commitment ceremony alone, no matter how emotional- is a home of such personal, civic, political, and instrumental resonance that it is ultimately difficult to disentangle the many meanings of marriage. This book attempts to do so, and in the process reveals just what is at stake for these couples, how access to a legal institution fundamentally alters their consciousness, and what the impact of legal inclusion is for those traditionally excluded. Kimberly Richman is Associate Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies at the University of San Francisco.

Excerpt

It was Valentines’ Day weekend 2004 when forty-eight-year-old San Diego resident Wes heard the news that they were letting same-sex couples get married in San Francisco. His partner of twelve years, Craig, was out of town—but when he returned a few days later, Wes had an urgent proposal for him—he wanted to go to San Francisco to get married. Craig protested that they didn’t have enough money—neither was working, and Wes, who was HIV positive and suffered painful blood clots and sores in his legs, had not yet gotten his Social Security check that month. Between them they had a hundred dollars to their name— driving in their old van, gas alone would cost more than that. But Wes was determined—this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a moment in history. So the two borrowed $100 each against their next month’s Social Security and SSI checks, resolved to sleep in the van if need be, and headed north.

When they arrived, early on the morning of February 19, they found a line wrapped around City Hall. Wes and Craig waited in that line for eight hours, Wes’s legs throbbing in pain, before being told that they would not be able to get married that day but to come back on Monday to make an appointment for a wedding sometime in March. This was not an option—even if Wes’s health could withstand another trip, their finances could not. So the two parked their van at a rest stop at the end of the Golden Gate Bridge, got what little rest they could, and resumed waiting in line Sunday night—determined to make their case to the powers that be on Monday morning to let them marry on Tuesday. When their turn finally came to plead their case to the county clerk, Wes removed his bandages to reveal the sores on his leg—by this point they were infected and oozing—and explained that they could . . .

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