So, just before Christmas a federal judge in Utah ruled the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. It was a bit of a shocker to most people, but couples from all over rushed to take advantage, resulting in startling scenes of queues dozens deep lining up to get married; clerk offices staying open around the clock to deal with the sudden influx of people desperate to get married; and even the Boy Scouts delivering pizza so nobody had to leave their desk while the madness unfurled.
The images that came out of the state over the Christmas period were moving in a hundred different ways. Couples posted pictures of themselves on social media with their marriage licences or certificates, children witnessed their parents getting wed, and the atmosphere certainly seems to have been carnival, despite the state’s attempts since the rulings to be granted a stay. There is still every chance that later this year these marriages will be declared void, although I hope given the SCOTUS ruling on Prop8, the state won’t go that far.
While most people are celebrating this unexpected win, I can’t help feeling a little bit sad at the same time.
Getting married is a momentous occasion in anybody’s life. The planning, the preparation: hiring the right venue, dress/suit fittings, picking bridesmaids and groomsmen, choosing the cake and the food and the table decorations, the flowers and the champagne. Bridezillas are a thing of legend, and the US wedding industry is worth a staggering $40 billion. Yet here are literally hundreds of people getting wed at the last minute, with no notice, no friends or family, no special outfits. They’ve arrived in the middle of the night and queued for hours along with hoards of strangers to say their vows in jeans and sweatshirts, before the opportunity to do so is taken away from them again.
I can’t help but wonder, if this was any other demographic we were speaking of, if any other group of people were denied the right to marry the person they loved, if there wouldn’t be an international outcry. If scenes like this wouldn’t shock the civilised world to its very core.
Yet when I look at those images, from Utah and elsewhere, I don’t see sad faces. I don’t see people lamenting the lack of a thousand-dollar dress or a pretty cake or groomsmen in waistcoats dyed to match the flower arrangements. Those things don’t matter. What matters is saying those magical words to the person you love – words that even people of my generation never thought they’d get a chance to say – and having your relationship legitimised in the eyes of the law. It’s not for the photo op these people are getting married, not for the presents or the honeymoon or to make themselves feel special. It’s so they can file taxes jointly, visit their partner in hospital without being obstructed by doctors who refuse to recognise their relationship, inherit joint property without getting crippled by a tax bill.
Yes, what’s happening in Utah in those photographs isn’t a string of weddings being performed, but a string of marriages being officially recognised for what they already were. Our detractors may claim we’re demeaning the sanctity of marriage by getting wed, but I suspect we’re the ones who understand what the true meaning of marriage actually is.