I married my wife, Tara, on November 20, 2012, in an intimate ceremony in NYC’s Central Park. At the time, the paper with the official seal mattered to both of us, but what mattered most was the statement we were making to one another. We were a family and in it for the long haul. We wanted it on the record, and we wanted our daughter to see it. We wanted her to know the commitment we had to one another and to her was solid and valid.
It was a joyful day, made more joyful by the love and acceptance we felt everywhere we went in that city, the warmth of fellow patrons at the office of the city recorder where we applied for our marriage certificate, the happy dinner Tara’s grandmother and aunt treated us to when we arrived at their home in Beth Page, Long Island, later that evening, and the stumbling pleasure we took in calling each other “wife” for the first time.
But coming home sucked, and it shouldn’t have.
Our marriage wasn’t recognized here in Indiana, and that annoying little detail made itself a nuisance everywhere we went. It showed up when we did our taxes, when we filled out forms at the doctor. Now the word “wife” made my tongue sluggish. I had to push it past my teeth, and I felt exposed every time I did it, bracing for the reaction.
Startling inequities surfaced everywhere, even in the benefits my employer at the time extended to us. My contribution to them was post-tax instead of pre-tax like my heterosexual coworkers. I applied, interviewed for, and was given a verbal offer for a dream job, only to have it snatched out of my grasp when I asked that the new employer cover my spouse on its insurance plan. “You aren’t the right candidate for us after all.” There was no recourse, and I wailed in frustration.
When the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in July 2013, for the first time it seemed possible that nationwide marriage equality might become a legal reality in my time.
We contacted our family attorney and asked about the possibility of bringing suit to have our marriage recognized in Indiana. He advised us to sit tight and told us he would be in touch. When he contacted us again to invite us to be part of a suit he was bringing in coordination with the ACLU, we hesitated long enough to ask my wife’s employees if they were willing to take the risk of the possible fallout to the business with us. Their answer was instant and overwhelming—yes.
The ensuing months were a maelstrom of legal briefs and media interviews, but we found support everywhere.
I left my large corporate employer and joined Tara in our family business, and our customers stopped us on the street and in restaurants to say thank you, good luck, or congratulations. Our families rallied around us, and our neighbors and daughter’s classmates’ families, too. We got stopped grocery shopping, walking the dog, and at the vet. Aside from a few predictable petty comments about our appearances in the Comments section, we felt positively embraced.
No experience, however, was more validating than being present during oral arguments before the 7th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, where Judge Richard Posner eviscerated the solicitor general of the State of Indiana on behalf of our children.
“What horrible stuff,” he said, calling prohibition of same sex marriage “a tradition of hate… and savage discrimination.” He asked what possible benefits to society could outweigh the damage being done to the children of same sex couples.
We clutched hands with our fellow plaintiffs, everyone’s eyes roaming the room to rest on the kids seated among us. One 7-year-old was carefully removing his shoes and socks and picking lint from between his toes during the arguments. A 12-year-old scrawled notes to his dads. We thought of our daughter, too young for this trip, at home waiting for us with her grandparents.
Normal kids. Ordinary families. Standard concerns.
Yet I’d never heard them addressed by a public official, someone outside of the LBGT community. We had cried angry tears elicited by the HJR6 hearings, where armchair psychologists intimated that our lovingly crafted families would be drains on the state. Now we cried tears of relief.
After the hearings we celebrated with a guided architectural boat tour of Chicago. The long morning of judicial drama meant I nodded off through most of it.
One week later the 7th Circuit affirmed Judge Richard Young’s ruling to overturn Indiana’s marriage ban, and in October the Supreme Court of the United States denied cert priori to Indiana’s final appeal, making same sex marriage completely legal in the state of Indiana. Nationwide marriage equality seems a foregone conclusion within the next 12 months. Although it would have been exciting to take the case all the way to SCOTUS, I’m glad our time in the public eye has mostly drawn to a close.
The experience has provided numerous civics lessons for our daughter. And for us, it’s a great honor to have been, with our co-plaintiffs, attorney Sean Lemieux, and the tireless folks at the ACLU of Indiana, a part of making civil rights history. We’ve seen ourselves on TV and in the newspaper more times than we can count. There are pictures and videos that will become part of a project by Indiana Historical Society and Mark Lee about the history of the LBGT community here in Indiana. Tara and I finally have an insurance policy with one premium and one deductible for our family.
I can say “wife” out loud in Indiana without flinching, and our daughter can say that her parents are well and truly married.
We love Richard Posner so much we’ve named our dog after him.
Melody Betterman-Layne is a former book factory employee turned general contractor. She and her wife own a property management and construction business in Indianapolis. She spends her spare time wrangling a 5-year-old, reading, knitting, and writing (OK. Mostly on Facebook). You can find her online @Wordgirlb2b.