Doing It in Delaware (Part I): Marital Blitz and Butterflies
Both of us are still pinching ourselves (and one another) in moments of disbelief, but we’re really going to do it. And we’re going to do it in Delaware the very week this edition of Letters hits the stands. Yes, dear readers, John and I are flying up from Florida to be married in our old home state, at the Sussex County Marriage Bureau to be precise.
With 40 years of coupledom under our belts, I had imagined that if the time ever came when we could be legally married, the process would be stress free. Just sign a few papers and say “I do.” Still, as the date approaches, John and I are both as nervous as 20-year-olds slipping out of their parents’ windows to elope.
I don’t think either of us fully understands why our tummies are turbulent with butterflies, but it may have to do with the fact that we feel a little odd having so much attention focused on our tying the knot when we’ve been in a life partnership long enough to have grandkids of marrying age.
We’ve tried to keep our wedding day simple, with a few longtime friends participating in the ceremony and a celebratory dinner in Rehoboth. Still, even a modest wedding requires a lot of planning and coordination—especially when you’re doing it yourself (there is no father of the bride, and the mothers of both grooms are too elderly to do much more than send their much appreciated blessings). It’s also difficult when you’re making plans from afar, trying to coordinate events and schedules of the participants, especially the travel itineraries and accommodations of several of our relatives who are excited about attending. If only there were a Sussex County International Airport, Rehoboth Beach would become a much more convenient wedding destination.
We have had planning assistance from friends and family members spread far and wide. Local Rehoboth friends have offered us a place to stay and a home-cooked meal. One of John’s sisters in North Carolina is driving up with flowers and a video camera, and my elder niece has been trying to organize a wedding registry. Then there’s our energetic friend Gloria in Florida who not only took it upon herself to find us memorable wedding attire (the results of her search being two smashing vintage smoking jackets) but also is putting together a CD of some of John’s and my favorite music from the early years of our relationship. Exactly when or where we’ll play Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” is uncertain, but John asked Gloria to include it: “I don’t care what Hillary says, I love that song.”
Some of our pre-wedding jitters also stem from our esteem for the institution of marriage—the solemnity of a status that has eluded and excluded us for so long. Decades ago, we pooh-poohed matrimony as a “straight couple’s ritual.” That was a defense mechanism because we weren’t allowed to partake. Later, as many of us gay/lesbian couples realized how many legal rights we were missing out on, we began campaigning for domestic partnerships and civil unions even though we knew they would be separate and unequal to true civil marriage. It was not until very recently that John and I even dared to imagine that we might be able to become wedded spouses (with actual legal rights) in our lifetimes. The reality of what has happened in Delaware and federally in the last six months alone is nothing short of awe inspiring.
I think we may respect marriage even more because we live in a non-equality state where the goal that has been achieved in Delaware and 12 other states (and DC) still looms only on a far horizon. That is unless the federal government continues to find ways to make our state of residence irrelevant, as it should.
Progress on many fronts is coming quite quickly. When John and I decided two months ago to go ahead and “get hitched” (almost as cute and quaint an expression as “tie the knot”), the IRS had yet to announce that we will be able to file our taxes as a married couple regardless of Florida’s retrograde definition of marriage.
So our nuptials will have at least some significant recognition at a federal level, as well as in all the marriage-equality states. Still, with each advancement comes more questions, and for John and me a huge one pits the Social Security Administra-tion versus the IRS. As I have written before, the SSA allows individual states to determine which of their residents are legally married. That policy is part of the SSA’s code of law, enacted by Congress, so it’s not easy for the Obama administration to reject it. The administration might try refusing to enforce the rule because its effects defy equal protection under the law, much as the Justice Department decided to do this month with the Veterans Administration code that limited benefits to opposite-sex couples. (Even in that determination, only same-sex couples who live in marriage-equality states were initially included.)
At the moment, the conundrum involving Social Security and the IRS gives the two largest and most important federal agencies (when it comes to taxation) diametrically opposed policies concerning married gay couples who reside in most states.
Here’s where the dueling policies get sticky. What will the SSA do when John and I file our taxes for 2013 as a married couple? Will Social Security reject our jointly filed return because Florida doesn’t recognize our marriage? I already receive Social Security benefits (John is still too young), and whether I am taxed on those benefits depends on how much additional money I make. As a married partner, my income will show up as significantly higher than it had been when I was single, and that increased amount could open my benefits to taxation. Now, I can live with an extra tax burden if it means Social Security accepts not only my income as joint but also my marital status, which in turn means we would qualify for SSA marriage benefits. Otherwise, I/we could be caught in a situation of taxation without representation. And that’s simply un-American.
I know. Every time I bring up a contradiction in federal policies regarding gay married couples, people tell me it’s all going to work out. And clearly the President’s administration has been working hard toward equity for all citizens. But in a majority of states we’re not there yet.
As I said to John the other evening as we tried to sort out how our wedding will impact his health insurance, my Social Security and Medicare benefits, and all sorts of other financial doings, “We’re still pioneers in the gay-marriage movement, and that makes it an exciting time to be getting married. After four decades of standing up together for our rights, we’re still on the cutting edge of an historic adventure.”
I love it, and most of all I love my husband-to-be, John Theis.
Next issue: Our Delaware wedding and how to prepare for one. Email Bill Sievert