On the first day marriage licenses could be issued to same-sex couples in Washington state, Laurie and I headed to our rural county courthouse, expecting a long wait. In Seattle, we'd heard, couples had been lined up at the King County Courthouse since midnight. We pulled up to the courthouse on a gray winter morning and looked around. No line in sight. Nobody there.
We hadn't expected to be there, either.
For months, I'd told everyone that if R-74 passed, Laurie and I would wake up the day after the election married. Voilà! I'd read somewhere that all state-registered domestic partnerships would simply be converted into marriages. That was the least Washington could offer us, I figured, for our 22 years of waiting.
On Election Night, we celebrated with a bonfire. But nearly a month later, I read the small print online. Our domestic partnership had not converted. It would convert, yes, but not until 2014. If we wanted to get married sooner, the first legal day to obtain a license would be exactly 30 days after the election. I checked the calendar: Two days from now.
Neither of us is good at formal occasions. And maybe it wouldn't make any difference — we'd already been committed for so long. But why not join in the celebration?
Well, logistics, for one. To reach so-called civilization from our remote landlocked home requires a ferry ride, and the ferry only runs every other day. To complicate matters, any Washington state marriage license has a three-day wait. Get a license Thursday, and the earliest you can marry is Sunday. That would mean, for us, a five-night stay in a motel. If we wanted to get married, in other words, we'd have to start packing.
Or I would. Laurie already had.
"I don't know," I said. "I'm pretty happy at my desk." Then I thought about it. "If I stay home, does it seem like I'd rather work than marry you?"
"A little," she said.
And so the next morning, we walked into the silent courthouse. We'd worn our best T-shirts: Mine read "Get Engaged: Approve R-74." Laurie's showed an outline of the state with a heart in the middle. "Love Wins," it said simply.
"We want to apply for a marriage license," I said.
The clerk broke into a grin. They'd been waiting for their first couple, she said. She'd dressed up for the occasion. They all had. She posed for a photo with us and passed us to her boss, who grew teary filling out the forms. A reporter from the local paper appeared and a photographer snapped a shot in which Laurie and I beam like lucky lottery winners.
The story landed on the first page –– in full color. For three days, as we waited, well-wishers appeared out of nowhere, everywhere. We'd be recognized at a mini-mart and end up in a long conversation with enthusiastic strangers. Washington had become the first state in the country to make same-sex marriage legal in the voting booth, not a judge's chamber. Congratulations came from ferry captains and grocers, grade-school soccer coaches and online students.
Of course, there was a flipside –– the inevitable awkward stares, some from people who knew us well. Did it hurt? It did. There's the natural, personal hurt: Aren't you happy for us? And the deeper sociological and moral pain: I don't get to vote on your love, why do you get to vote on mine? Truth is, that hurt — and the fear of it was partly the reason I'd been tempted to stay at home. But that would've been a big mistake.
When the day arrived, our friends did, too. They'd caught wind of our plan to do the ceremony at a nearby ski area, and they'd chartered a private boat to take them down the wintry lake. They rode the chairlift, non-skiers and skiers alike, bearing champagne and roses, and gathered in the cold outside a tiny midway lodge. The judge's black robe whipped in the wind.
Laurie and I stood there in pink coats and telemark boots and exchanged the vows we'd composed in the night and the rings we'd bought two decades earlier. We tossed our bouquets and cut cuffs of long underwear as garters, then — inexplicably, spontaneously — snipped bits of hair from each guest. They blew into the forest like rice or confetti, nesting material for the birds.
We tried to play the Partridge Family, but the portable speakers were not loud enough, so we sang instead, over and over, the song we used to sing years ago when our friendship seemed dangerously on the verge of something more: "I think I love you, so what am I so afraid of?"
Afterward, we took one last run in the alpine glow, trailing "Just Married" cans tied to our bindings with ribbons. Our friends told us they'd never seen us so happy. Ever.
Sometime that night, Laurie rolled over.
"It feels different," she said.
"It does," I said. "Completely."
This story originally appeared in the February 04, 2013 issue of High Country News (hcn.org)