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Prop. 8 Could Invalidate This ‘Marriage’

Nguoi-viet, Commentary, Thanh Ngo Posted: Nov 03, 2008

I have been ''married'' three times.

Each time, to the same person.

The first time Andrew and I got ''married,'' we were in a mortgage office where Andrew’s cousin worked. It was March 2003 and we were there to get our domestic partnership notarized and take Andrew’s cousin to lunch. The notary checked our identification and pla-ced a red stamp on a document that both bound and protected our relationship. The paperwork took just a few minutes to complete. We mailed in the document that same afternoon. A few weeks later, another piece of paper arrived notifying us that we were ''registered domestic partners.''

prop 9That simple act gave legal significance to our relationship. We didn’t exchan-ge rings. There were no flowers girls or ring bearers. We were in shorts and T-shirts totally casual. His cousin, Julie, was not even in the same room. She was finishing a business call when we filled out the one-page document.

We registered ourselves as domestic partners as a way to protect our rights and give legal recognition to our relationship. Both being attorneys, we were very aware of the lack of protection and recognition of our relationship. Despite being together, then for seven years, I would have been treated as a complete stran-ger in the eyes of the law if anything terrible happened to Andrew. His family could have kicked me out of the house we bought together or even prevented me from visiting him in the hospital. His brother, who called us an insulting term during a family argument, would have had a right to our house. I don’t think my ''in-laws'' would stoop to that level, but it is all very possible within the limits of the law. And, it has happened to too many lesbians and gays in the past.

The second time we got ''married'' was on Valen-tine’s Day 2004. Again, the big Chinese banquet or tea ceremony was lacking. We drove to San Francisco’s City Hall to get married after Mayor Gavin Newsom declared that San Francisco would no longer discriminate against gays and lesbians with regard to marriage rights. We waited for four hours along with other coup-les for the right to have our relationship legally recognized. It was powerful to hear a judge declare us ''spouses.'' Then, several months later, the Supreme Court annulled our marriage, citing that Mayor Newsome exceeded his po-wer to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. So, we settled for the best thing the law afforded us at the time: a separate and unequal domestic partnership. Andrew became my ''domestic partner'' with some limited rights.

More recently, this summer, we got married yet again. And, again, it was a simple event.

There was no ceremony. My parents were not there. My siblings were not pre-sent. My adorable 6-year-old nephew was not able to be the ring bearer.

Like the second time, we drove to San Francisco. We went to the Hall of Justice, which is the criminal court building. As attorneys, we have appeared many times in those courtrooms arguing for justice and fairness for victims. It was only fitting that we came there to find justice for ourselves. My ability and right to legally marry Andrew came a few weeks earlier from the California Supreme Court. It was that court that saw the inequity of denying marriage rights to gays and lesbians. The court, in recognizing the importance of the institution of marriage to society, struck down laws that denied those fundamental rights to gay men and lesbian women. In choo-sing to get married this way, we gave up the chance to have a formal wedding ceremony because we wanted to get married before that right is overturned by Proposition 8. Proposition 8 on Tuesday’s ballot would eli-minate the rights of gays and lesbian to be married in California.

As I stood there before the judge in a black robe, exchanging vows with Andrew, it finally hit me. My dad always told me that they scarified everything so that we can have tự do, or freedom. I always understood that our family had to flee Việt Nam in 1975. We left Việt Nam in order to survive instead of a desire to be in the United States. Given our family involvement in the war, we would have been killed or at the very least been sent to ''re-education'' camp for many years if we did not escape. Coming to the United States had more to do with getting out of Việt Nam alive. Growing up, I never thought about the freedom and liberty protected by the highest law of the land, the Constitution.

My parents wanted to raise their family in a place where we were not limited by our family social status or political affiliation. My parents wanted us to grow up in a country where freedom and justice were not fancy words or abstract ideals. They wanted us all to have the same opportunities and rights to succeed and be happy. They knew it was only possible in the United States.

I finally understood my parent’s sacrifices as I stood before the judge holding Andrew’s hand and pledging my love to him. I finally knew what it meant to be treated equally before the law. I was marrying Andrew to be my spouse, my husband, my partner in life. Finally, we were getting married although we have been together for more than 12 years. We will have the same responsibility, rights and protection before the law as my parents and my sister and her husband. The law would now protect our union, our love as much as my parents’ marriage. If we are lucky, we will still be married 45 years later as they are.

The joy of marrying Andrew was also mixed with deep melancholy of not having my parents there as well as my sister and her husband. Each time I married Andrew, it was more of a way for us to protect each other and our relationship.

Each time we got married, it was not at the most romantic destinations. Andrew and I never had an opportunity to celebrate the love that we share for each other with friends and family. I’ve never had an opportunity to stand before those close and dear to us to declare how perfect Andrew is for me.

As we share the news of our marriage, many friends and family members inquire about the date for the wedding party. They tell me about the importance of commemorating and celebrating our marriage. Yet, any celebration does not seem appropriate yet because in a few weeks, people who don’t even know us may invalidate our marriage. If Proposition 8 passes, Andrew and I will be legal strangers once again. He will no longer be my husband. Any rights and protections we have now as a married couple would be stripped away. I worry that any rights we have under the domestic partnership may also be taken away as well.

Yet, I am hopeful that Proposition 8 will not pass. After being with Andrew for more than a decade †five times longer than many marriages last †I want to honor our marriage in a grand way as befits our commitment to each other, perhaps in an elegant hotel or a fancy Chinese restaurant. Maybe then, I will be able to finally celebrate our love and marriage with all of our friends and families.

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