Personally, I like that freedom, and I think most of my characters do, too. (What? They're real. We've had this conversation before.) But there's another side to it, one that I had the opportunity to experience myself six years ago this Friday, May 28: My Big Gay Wedding Anniversary.
We'd had disappointments before, thinking we'd be able to get married. We decided not to let ourselves get too excited or to make plans until we were sure we would be really able to do it. We even told ourselves we didn't need it, with a mortgage and eighteen years already binding us together, but we watched for the Massachusetts court decision, the last minute maneuvering, and, when it seemed clear it couldn't be stopped, we got our paperwork and blood tests in order (although we still reside in a marital gray area forty minutes from the Mass border in neighboring New York). It was really happening.
Then we found out that the state planned to enforce an archaic law--created to prevent interracial couples from traveling to Massachusetts to marry--to keep gay couples from doing the same.
A ray of hope came in the persons of several brave county clerks who were steadfastly ignoring the prohibition. Still hopeful, we traveled to the nearest of those counties to apply for our license. The marriage was on, just as soon as the waiting period was up. It was time to make plans. Plans I'd abandoned, even in my imagination, since sixth grade.
We called the families. With the date looming, all I knew was that I wanted flowers. I completely forgot about people taking pictures or that I might want something special to wear. After only three days of constantly changing lists of who would attend and who would stay where, I finally understood why there is such a thing as Bridezilla. But it was happening.
The day before the wedding, the news came that the four remaining county clerks risked arrest if they continued to marry out-of-state couples. With my bags packed and my flowers waiting, I called the Worchester County clerk. He assured me we would be married the next day.
Truth be told, I don't remember a thing about the ceremony, except that it poured like a tropical depression had settled over Massachusetts. There was no place to park. We all looked like we'd been swimming in our clothes. But after eighteen years together, my wife and I were married in Massachusetts. When I kissed my wife, it occurred to me that, in all those years, I'd never kissed her in front of my parents.
That was when the depth of what we were doing it hit me.
I had never let society define me or my relationship. My wife and I, like most gay couples, made our own rules. We set our anniversary based on when we'd started
Both of us have very supportive families, but it wasn't until we married that our families had a label for us, a way to introduce us, a date to put on their calendar. (For the first time, we get anniversary cards, from both sets of parents.) Our siblings' fierce support stunned us. (My sister declared that if they made a distinction between marriage and civil unions, she was getting a divorce and getting a "union.") And remembering the determination of the clerk--who, for his bravery, was arrested the following Monday--still brings a lump to my throat.
But despite the joy and pride I take in recognizing my marriage anniversary, the part of me that was able to define my love for eighteen years--without the help of society's labels--waves a flag of rebellion. Even before any official benediction, we accepted the responsibilities of this life-long commitment. We sure as hell deserve the same rights conferred on any other couple who promises to love and honor. And, even as happy as I am to have an easier label for significant other, life partner, or unmarried spouse, that rebellious part of me wants say, "Screw your definitions. We made it the hard way, without your support."
Every time my characters find their own unique way to defining their HEA, they're saying it too.