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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What it's like to get gaymarried in Salt Lake City

Posted By on December 22, 2009, 11:58 PM

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It was one of those things we kept planning to do but were always putting off, like doing the laundry or reading Raymond Carver's biography.

It isn't marriage by a long shot -- the ordinance's narrow scope had to be carefully delineated so as not to invoke the Legislature's wrath -- but when the city's domestic partner mutual commitment registry went into effect April 2008, Dave and I figured it was made for us. At some point during the five or six years since we met, we had settled into a contented state of pleasant domesticity -- it seemed like we were married already, naysayers be damned. ---

We decided to sign up for the registry as soon as the initial rush died down -- so we could avoid the long lines and crowds we imagined were converging upon overworked city administrators.

Some 20 months later, we finally got around to it. Today, we took the trip to the city recorder's office to make our Official Declaration of Mutual Commitment -- which, despite the way it sounds, doesn't require any theatrics or oratory at all. It's really just a matter of getting a form notarized.

The day's snowfall was already starting to slick up the roads -- traveling downhill on 5th South where it crosses the Wasatch Fault, we realized it was a "slippery slope to gay marriage," indeed.

Under arched, high ceilings, the quiet, library hush in the city recorder's office was practically reverential. We must have arrived during a slow hour; a notary attended to our paperwork within moments. (That "initial rush" we were concerned about? If it ever happened, it's over -- in fact, we're only the 11th couple to sign up for the registry during the entire year.)

We presented I.D. and documentation that we're not Chuck & Larrying it (bank statements, insurance forms, etc.). After we forked over the $25, a couple of deputy recorders went to work generating our official paperwork, including a lovely certificate with a gold-embossed seal. (Actually, for some reason, we got two of those -- one for each, I guess, in case we want to frame and hang them proudly in separate offices.)

All in all, the experience was as enjoyable as such things can be. The City & County Building is a beautiful structure, and the city recorder's staff is a lot more efficient and attentive than the people you come across these days in the private sector.

They were a little solemn, though. Dave and I both have an involuntary habit of defusing polite encounters by being jokey and informal -- I think it comes out of a sense of working-class camaraderie -- but we were hardly able to get a chuckle out of these mannered professionals. Maybe we're just a little off-putting with our long hippie hair and beards. Or maybe the city government is slowly being assimilated by the Borg; who knows?

Of course, it would have been too much to expect a clerk to come out and throw rice at us. In past months, when I tried to picture in my head what the event might be like, I may have imagined there might be a hearty round of congratulations involved, or at least a secretly pleased expression on somebody's face. (Well, actually, one of them did warm up a bit and, showing me the gold seals that go on the certificates, said something like, "These are nice, eh?" I really did think they were nice, but for some reason I got self-conscious and made a silly joke about "a gold star" -- and immediately wished I hadn't, since I kind of liked this individual and didn't want to reject any small kindness.)

Maybe the staff has been trained to project a bland, affectless neutrality toward a potentially controversial subject. Or, more likely, I'm overthinking the whole thing because, even though that certificate means a lot to Dave and me, to them it simply represented one more organizational task to be completed that day. Which is fair enough.

Another individual did seem a little more determined than necessary to emphasize the limitations of our new status as a mutually committed couple. This person kept pointing out that it didn't apply outside the city limits, was careful to explain that it doesn't require employers to provide benefits, etc. -- well-known issues that affect the legal status of our family, and we're all too aware of them, thanks.

At first, I was irritated, assuming that somebody was deliberately trying to burst our bubble or subtly imply disapproval of our relationship.

Then it occurred to me that these people probably have to deal with homosexual yahoos from all over the county who heard they could come in and get a marriage license, or who think the certificate is their golden ticket to a whole slew of equal rights that simply don't exist for us in this state -- and who might return angrily to the city recorder's office when those hopes are dashed.

Who could blame the city recorder's staff for being careful? After working in an office where a surly journalist with a GRAMA request was about as dramatic as things got, they were suddenly saddled with the mutual commitment registry. Not only are there a significant number of people who believe that even the modest registry goes too far -- but now the office has to deal with gay and lesbian couples who, like me, attach a lot of emotional significance to it. Modest as it is, that registry is the only official recognition we can get that validates our families and de-facto marriages.

So, kudos to the staff of the city recorder's office for keeping things dispassionate and drama-free. We all shook hands and exchanged polite pleasantries. Then, after stopping to admire the building's architecture and mosaic floors, and to recklessly misidentify some objects in the Sister City collection, Dave and I, an official mutually committed couple, exited through the west doors. The snowstorm was starting to pick up a bit but it was nothing to worry about.

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