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For Better or Worse 

The beauty and bureaucracy of (gay) marriage

In some ways, it was like any other Monday. I woke up before my fiancé, took the dog out, started coffee and oatmeal. And while I rarely missed work, on this day, I called in. "I have a personal commitment that I cannot reschedule," I told the supervisor who answered.

It was true, if somewhat vague. Like so many other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Oregonians, last Monday I was anticipating a ruling in the lawsuits challenging Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage. My partner and I have been engaged some 18 months, and wanted to get our marriage license on the first day it was legal.

"What are you going to do about your name?," my fiancé asked from behind his laptop screen as we finished breakfast. "The marriage license form asks for your 'name after marriage.'" It was the sort of question we had casually discussed, but like most of our wedding "plans," never reached a consensus. It's hard to make decisions about an event scheduled to happen, you know, someday. Like the number of guests we hoped to invite, who we wanted to officiate, and what to wear, it was just another slippery thread in the ephemeral event that was our eventual nuptials.

I told him I'd figure out my future forever name before he got home from work. The rest we'd have a whopping 60 days to decide. That's the expiration date on a marriage license application.

Despite our apparent lack of preparedness, I wanted to make sure the Deschutes County Clerk's office would be ready for us, and the five same-sex couples that would arrive earlier in the day. When I called at 8:05 a.m., the deputy clerk sounded surprised when I asked if the county was prepared to issue licenses to same-sex couples. When I noted that the decision was expected at noon, she put me on lengthy hold and then told me they were waiting for instructions from vital records and to check back later. I called again at 10:50 am. Different deputy clerk; same story.

As I fretted over whether we'd be able to get our license on decision day, eager couples were already lining up outside the Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland. The Melody Ballroom was prettied up in anticipation of the 70 couples who would exchange vows there later that day. It was clear that Portland was prepared. But then, they'd done this before, in 2004 when the county issued licenses to same-sex couples, before the dream died with the now defunct ban brought by Ballot Measure 36. We arrived at the clerk's office in Deschutes County at 3:55 p.m., 5 minutes before the cut-off time, hopeful but not expectant. A lesbian couple ahead of us was finishing their application. Up next, we were directed to an online form with sections for "Party A" and "Party B." We made a last-minute decision to hyphenate our last names, and each checked the box for "groom" (the gender non-specific "spouse" was also an option). The "keepsake" certificate, however, still listed "bride" and "groom." "We didn't have time to get new ones," the deputy clerk explained. "But you can just cross that out and put whatever you want."

(Note: Deschutes County Clerk Nancy Blankenship says revised certificates are now available.)

The anti-climax continued when a reporter asked if we wanted to comment on the day. She didn't need our comments, she disclaimed, but if there was something we wanted to say, we were welcome to share our thoughts. I'm sure it was her way of saying, "No pressure," but it was just another way in which the day was both totally a big deal and yet somehow humdrum.

But I suppose that's the essence of marriage. Promising to stick by someone "'til death do us part" is a serious commitment sealed by what is often (and hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime event. But the daily reality of married life is mostly routine—and largely similar regardless of the gender make-up of the couple. So while it was easy to envy the boisterous celebrations Facebook told me were going on in Portland, it felt somehow fitting to start this chapter of our lives in this way—with a quiet excitement and just enough twists and turns to keep us on our toes.

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