Maybe I Do And Maybe I Don't

Gays get the freedom to marry—and for some, the freedom not to

This is exactly the kind of conundrum cohabitating straight couples of certain means have had to face from time to time.

Another financial disincentive: Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, a New York marriage would not allow them to file joint federal tax returns, or to bequeath their Social Security to each other.

They entered the week leading into same-sex marriage Sunday vacationing on Fire Island, as ambivalent as ever. They did not break previous plans they had with friends on July 24 in order to watch people get married or counter protesters from Westboro Baptist Church near City Hall.

C.S. Muncy
Kevin Beauchamp, left, and Howard Orlick, right, on the terrace of their Chelsea apartment.
C.S. Muncy
Kevin Beauchamp, left, and Howard Orlick, right, on the terrace of their Chelsea apartment.

And, despite the fact that you can just walk down the street right now and stumble upon people getting married, they have not attended a single wedding since the Marriage Equality Act went into effect.

Four days before what they hoped would be their big celebration, there was no ambivalence in Jeanette and Kawane's household. They'd entered the city's lottery for a slot to be wed the first day the law went into effect, a Sunday, when offices would be opened specially.

On Thursday—just a day after their bachelorette party—they got a personal call from a city clerk telling them that they'd won a place.

The fact that everyone had won the lottery (823 couples applied for 764 slots, and the city vowed to accommodate them all) only made Jeanette happier.

"People have waited long enough," she says.

On that muggy Sunday morning, after Jeanette and Kawane received their marriage license without incident from the Manhattan Marriage Bureau, they waited outside on a bench in the oppressive July humidity. Kawane, taller than life, was wearing a white zoot suit, Jeanette a white dress that showed off her dream-catcher tattoo (an homage to her late Cherokee Chief grandfather).

Smoking a cigarette, Jeanette couldn't help but feel the euphoria of just about everyone—gay and straight—camped out in the circus that was Foley Square that day. Yet her feet hurt in her heels, and she grew impatient waiting for their minister to show up after Sunday service.

"Come on!" she said at one point. "I'm ready to get married already!"

She perked up when her "maid of honor," Lieutenant Dan Choi, arrived in his dress uniform. With their Don't Ask, Don't Tell discharge connection, "it means so much to me to have him here," she said, her lips quivering.

When the minister, Reverend Pat of Metropolitan Community Church, arrived, everything happened quickly. A crush of media descended upon them. Vows were exchanged quickly.

And after they finally kissed, Jeanette screamed toward the heavens, "We're married!"

For Kevin Beauchamp and Howard Orlick, it's not important that they get married in order for anyone to validate their relationship right now. For Kawane Harris and Jeanette Harris ("If straight people change their name, so can I"), it is important.

This is not to say that either couple loves or cares about each other more than the other. It's just that, for the first time ever, they both have a choice in how to express that love and commitment. Like straight people, they have a choice about the less sexy economic and legal consequences marriage will bring them, too.

And they've made the choice that works for them for now.

Jeanette and Kawane may have committed their lives to each other in civil matrimony on July 24, as hundreds of other same-sex couples did that day. There is no data to predict whether their chance of making it to the grave without getting divorced are any better or worse than the 50-50 odds straight couples face.

But despite not wedding, Kevin and Howard appear no less committed, and they seem as in it for the long haul with each other as they were when Kevin took care of his dying David and Howard took care of his dying Peter—till death did they part.

In fact, if you want a glimpse of how much Kevin and Howard care for one another, listen to them talk about each other's lost loves, which they do so intimately you can almost imagine the four men sitting in a room together, even though that never happened. Howard speaks passionately about the homophobia David faced from his family. Kevin talks indignantly about the pain of Peter's last days, as if he had been there to witness it.

And when you're listening to this, look into these blind men's eyes. Notice the twinkle that appears when they discuss the man their beloved loved, years before they even knew of each other's existence.

You will see that it reveals the same glimmer of love that Jeanette's and Kawane's eyes get when one talks about the child the other gave birth to, years before they even knew each other existed.       

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