I Almost Cancelled My Big Gay Honeymoon to Arizona
On June 26, 2013, when the Supreme Court made its historic decision regarding the Defense of Marriage Act, I sent a text to Michelle, my partner of 15 years, “You want to get legally hitched?” She responded, “Is that your way of proposing? Where’s my diamond?” We were joking, but not. We were both at work, laughing through the tears at our desks, trying to focus on our respective jobs. I had always said that we’d be old by the time we could legally get married. “They’re going to have to wheel me down the aisle,” I’d tell people, smiling despite the reality that we live in a country where discrimination, in so many forms, is legal.
That afternoon, I made a tentative guest list but didn’t mention it to Michelle. When I woke up the next morning, I saw that Michelle had created a pinterest board filled with wedding dresses. On the night of June 27, we called our parents and made a facebook announcement. “On April 26, she’ll make an honest woman out of me,” was Michelle’s post. We set the wedding date for the twelfth anniversary of our commitment ceremony.
Our commitment ceremony was lovely, a celebration and public declaration of our love. But it wasn’t a wedding. There were no white dresses or veils, no bridal party, no tiered cake—nothing too “wedding-y.” I could say that we didn’t want those things, but the truth was that I didn’t want to make anyone too uncomfortable, and the fact that we were lesbians was a pretty big stretch for our working-class, Catholic families.
We’ve spent the past 12 years referring to each other as “partner,” not spouse, and trying to explain to people that, “No, we aren’t actually married.” After the DOMA decision, we decided to go all out. Beautiful gowns, our nieces as flower girls, a big gay wedding!
We debated on planning a honeymoon. We’ve been traveling to Europe every other year and if we hadn’t just invited 120 of our closest family and friends for dinner, we’d probably be going to London this spring. Instead, we are happily planning a wedding and I am counting down the days until I can finally introduce the woman I fell in love with when I was twenty years old as “my wife.” We eventually settled on a short trip, five days to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, to enjoy each other’s company, have our own private celebration, and relax. (I’ve wanted to go to the Grand Canyon since I was five years old and Marcia Brady was my imaginary friend. We plan to skip the mule ride to the bottom.)
Michelle and I love to travel. Since we got together in our early 20s, we’ve been to Boston and San Diego, Vancouver and Orlando, Edinburgh, Paris, and Barcelona. We do research before planning a trip, checking LGBT travel websites whenever possible and when in doubt, using a lesbian travel agent. One of the things we love most about having fallen in love so young is that we are getting to see the world together.
After deciding on Arizona as our destination, we cashed in frequent flyer miles for the flights, booked a cottage at a beautiful resort, bought the obligatory travel guide, and asked friends for recommendations. One night, we were reviewing the menu of spa treatments at the resort, debating between massages and scrubs (or both!), and the next day, Arizona legislators voted on a bill that would make it legal for people to refuse service to us, and other LGBT customers, based on their own “sincere religious beliefs.”
We had no idea when we booked a honeymoon in Arizona that we could be facing legally sanctioned bigotry. When we announced that we would likely cancel the trip if the Governor signed the bill into law, one well-meaning friend replied, “We’re talking about the Grand Canyon. Couldn’t allowances be made for that sort of thing?” The answer was no. We did consider that but, for a number of reasons, if Governor Jan Brewer signed the bill into law, my betrothed and I would not have gone to Arizona. We did not want to spend our money there. The lovely resort where we are scheduled to stay responded to the bill by posting messages of inclusivity on their social media pages and publishing an open letter to the governor. We appreciated that and were hesitant to punish the tourism industry but we would not have traveled to a place where we were clearly not wanted. Michelle wrote a grateful note to the resort to thank them for their vocal opposition to Bill 1062 but let them know that we would be cancelling our reservations if the bill passed. When debating whether we would go through with the trip or not, we initially considered how likely we would be to actually be refused service somewhere.
I know that discrimination happens but Michelle and I are fairly “girly” in the traditional sense and, for better or worse, people sometimes assume we are straight. Sure, we’ve had our encounters with prejudice. Once when we were checking into a hotel in Washington DC (that coincidentally is well-known as a place where legislators take their mistresses), a front desk attendant insisted that we needed a room with two double beds. Despite the reservation requesting a king-sized bed and the two of us standing there asking for the same, “No,” she said. “You need two double beds.” We had to ask for someone else to help us. The only good thing I can say about that incident is that we were checking into the hotel for a corporate function. It wasn’t a vacation. It wasn’t a significant personal event. We were frustrated and sad but it could have been worse. I drank an extra glass of wine that night, danced too much with Michelle’s colleagues, and chalked it up to one person’s ignorance. Unexpectedly encountering a bigot before a company party though is different from traveling to a destination for your honeymoon where they have decided that businesses have the right to treat you as though you are inferior.
We watched Governor Brewer announce her veto on CNN last night and cried as the people of Arizona celebrated. While we are relieved to be making our trip to Sedona and can’t wait to marvel at the Grand Canyon, my greater happiness is for the citizens of Arizona who deserve to live in a state that treats them as equal citizens. I’m not confident that Governor Brewer vetoed the bill because she is opposed to discrimination. Pressure from businesses, outcry from the tourism industry, and the threat of a boycott of the 2015 Superbowl all seemed to be contributors to the veto. (I’m quite amused that the NFL, a paragon of inclusivity, is even peripherally connected to this conversation.) This decision likely resulted from the potential impact on the state’s economy and the nightmare of becoming a national shame. Vocal conservatives have blamed the media for changing the focus of this bill from a religious freedom issue to an anti-gay one. They don’t seem to understand that discrimination is wrong and we’ve been through this already as a country, too many times. (Anderson Cooper’s interview with State Senator Al Melvin makes me question whether some folks even understand what discrimination is!) The days of segregated buses and refusing service at the lunch counter should be behind us. After 15 years together, Michelle and I are thrilled that legal advances will allow us to finally be married. Our honeymoon can now be a time to celebrate that legal recognition, not an opportunity to be reminded that we remain “less than” under the law.
We are back to eagerly planning for our honeymoon, but this is just another in a long line of battles for equality that we have witnessed and to which we have contributed our voices. After 15 years together, we have seen many and we know this is not the end. I will marry the love of my life in Delaware on April 26. And on April 27, we will drive home to Pennsylvania, where our federally-recognized, legal marriage will not be acknowledged by the state where we have lived our entire lives. We have so far to go.