Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Marriage Equality Night with Judge Yu

Where to even begin? At the beginning, I suppose.

The day after Election Day, my friend Takao (and Judge Mary Yu’s bailiff and law clerk) responded to an e-mail and dropped this bomb:

Oh, and between you and me, try and be in town on December 9th. Midnight would be the first time for gay weddings and Judge Yu is thinking of putting together a mass wedding for the first gay weddings in Washington State. If we pull it off I would need help and I know you'd love to volunteer.


As it turned out, Judge Yu (who is amazing) didn’t host a mass wedding, but a series of 13 incredibly intimate and personal weddings for 26 joyful brides and grooms. And I got to be there for each one of them.

Judge Yu started each wedding by thanking the couple and their friends and family for the privilege of letting her celebrate their wedding with them and noting the history that was being made that night. I believe she was absolutely correct: I cannot describe how grateful and privileged I feel to have been able to share those moments with the 13 couples who were married in Judge Yu’s courtroom on December 9, 2012.

There was nothing but the deepest love in that room and the most immense joy. I cried for every single one of those beautiful couples, some who have been together for more than twenty years, just waiting for the moment that someone, anyone would declare that they were legally married spouses and partners for life. I cried because I was just so happy. I’m always happy at weddings: for my friends and for their families, but these were the tears of “we live in a better world than we did a minute or an hour or several hours ago, because YOU, perfect strangers, can get married in it.”

In the hours leading up to the weddings, I thought a lot about myself and why this night meant so much to me, as a heterosexual, cis-gendered woman. I remembered how civil rights and civil liberties have always just intuitively made sense to me. I think I was about eight when I joined the ACLU (I never renewed, but that’s because joining the ACLU meant getting spammed with solicitation mail from every progressive cause in the country…and I was eight), because I believed so strongly in civil rights. I remember my mom taking me to see Anthony Rapp (Mark in the Original Broadway Cast of Rent) when he visited a college campus in Indianapolis – I made her go so early that we were quite generously invited to the campus LGBT group’s private meeting with him beforehand and, when asked, I said that I didn’t know anyone who was gay (I’m sure this was a matter of me being naïve, rather than not actually knowing anyone who was gay). I still remember the acceptance and empathy my mom displayed though and how her heart broke for the young men and women whose parents had rejected them or who were too afraid to come out: she will always be my role-model. Now, I can’t even begin to imagine not having friends who identify at points all along the sexual spectrum.

Anyway, the couples. I like how Gawker did their recap of the mass ceremony at City Hall during the daylight hours of December 9, so I think I’m just going to copy them.

1. Sarah and Emily. 12:01 AM. The first same sex couple married in Washington State (or nearly…I think there were at least a few other couples doing 12:01 ceremonies), which apparently means sharing one of the most important moments of your life with a TON of media. The couple got the honor by contacting Judge Yu the day after the election; they wanted her to marry them, because she’d been the judge who completed the second-parent adoption for their (adorable) nine-month-old daughter (who was wearing a rainbow snuggly suit…*dies*). There wasn’t a dry eye in the courtroom at the moment that they were declared legally married and the CHEERS. It was like making it official that love and joy had friggin’ WON.

2. Brendan and Jesse. 12:30 AM. I didn’t really get to interact with them very much, sadly. I know they were one of the first couples to get their marriage license three days earlier and that one of them is a professor at Seattle Law.

3. Cynthia and Julie. 1 AM. I loved them! They brought their four-year-old twins, dressed up in the cutest matching purple shirts (and one of their moms told me that they had their PJs on underneath, because that way they could put them straight to bed when they got home). They’d even brought a miniature wedding cake that Cynthia had made that afternoon out of Mexican wedding cake batter (they had regular Mexican wedding cakes, too). Julie wore a veil that their neighbor had brought over in her nightgown right before they left for the courthouse: it was the neighbor’s mother’s veil and she wanted them to have it as their “something borrowed.” *tear*As they walked up to the “altar” hand in hand, one of their friends played “Marry You” from Glee on their iPhone. And the boys were reluctant to join in, even though they were the ring bearers. One of them played keep away with the ring when he was supposed to hand it over! They are the most beautiful family.

4. Vanessa and Daphne. 1:30 AM. I’d been tweeting with Vanessa earlier in the night, so it was exciting to meet her! These two are roller girls and they’d spent the day shopping at Goodwill for wedding outfits (which looked fantastic) and rings ($7.99/each: a steal!). I LOVE the expression on Vanessa’s face and her comment right after the wedding: “DID THAT REALLY JUST HAPPEN?!?!”

5. Jenelle and Jodi. 2 AM. One of our biggest weddings. One of their friends had made felt hearts in different colors for everyone to wear. They exchanged rings on ribbons, because they wanted to wear them as necklaces, close to their hearts. Their friends blew bubbles. Jenelle had huge tears running down her cheeks. Someone had taken two wedding toppers, extracted the brides and joined them in a new wedding topper on a miniature cake. After the ceremony, they formed a huge circle to toast the newlyweds (with sparkling apple juice), which was lovely. It was quite the party!

6. Anthony and Andrew. 2:30 AM. Can I be completely biased and say that this was my favorite wedding of the entire night? Andrew and Anthony had two guests: a couple with their very new baby. Well, three: they used FaceTime so that Anthony’s mom could watch from Minnesota. I held the phone so that she could watch and, because of that, I was the only one who could see her. I cannot begin to describe the emotions I went through watching this ceremony: Anthony’s mom was sitting by herself in a dark room, wearing a corsage, where it was 4:30am, drinking a mug of tea and crying tears of joy as she watched her son marry the love of his life. I just can’t…it makes me cry: I was just so happy for them.

7. Stephanie and Margaret. 3 AM. They picked 3 AM, because that’s the first time they could do after Margaret finished her shift driving a METRO bus. Their story is INSANE: they met because Margaret was driving by Stephanie’s apartment building, stopped when she noticed it was on fire, rescued Stephanie and her dog, and started chatting after Margaret’s car got blocked in by the fire trucks. Also, Stephanie’s dress was friggin’ adorable (and definitely the most “traditional” of the night.)

8. Groom A and Groom B (whose names I can't seem to find). 3:30 AM. Our only bilingual wedding of the night, these two were so much fun! They’d driven up from Portland for the wedding and made the comment: “Yeah, this is basically like going to Vegas for us!” Best yet, they opted for finger puppets instead of rings, which was pretty much the best thing ever, even if it hadn’t been 3:30 in the morning. We were treated to some great lines: “Do you have the finger puppets?” “With this finger puppet…/Con esta muñeca…” So cute!

9. Thomas and Kevin. 5 AM. Sadly (or happily), we had a break from 4 to 5:30. Next up were two lawyers, one of whom teaches immigration at UW Law. This was special because they’re good friends of Judge Yu, so it gave the ceremony just a little extra sparkle. I loved that they had matching wedding ties. And OMG, the little girl who was their ring bearer was so excited that she couldn’t sleep the night “before” the wedding, although she was a little confused because she thought she was supposed to be the ring BEAR. From somewhere, Judge Yu produced a teddy bear and gave it to her!

10. Jessica and Joyce. 5:30 AM. This was their third “wedding,” since they’d had a commitment ceremony in 1994 and were married when one county in Oregon briefly issued licenses to same sex couples in 2004 (those marriages were later invalidated). The white dresses they wore at both of those weddings are now on display in a museum in Oregon. Their joy at FINALLY having a wedding that was legally recognized was overwhelming.

11. Caitlin and Glow. 6 AM. Small world: these two are actually friends of my roommate’s, so that made this extra special. So sweet! One of them said: “My cheeks hurt from smiling so much” and I could hardly contain myself watching their faces during the ceremony, there was just much emotion. Adorably, they had “just married” sashes to wear as they left. I didn’t realize until then that Judge Yu was writing a personal note to each couple on a copy of their vows, which I thought was really lovely. Before they left, they were sitting in the hallway on a bench. One of the guests for the next wedding told her son (maybe two-years-old) to go tell them congratulations, so he walked up and handed them his precious toy truck. It was the most heartwarming and sweetly innocent moment in an evening full of them.

12. Leanne and Rachel. 6:30 AM. Another couple whose second-parent adoptions had been completed by Judge Yu and felt that she was the only person who could marry them, since she was already such an important part of their family. I loved this wedding because it was so clear that Leanne & Rachel have surrounded themselves with an intentional community: one that is bursting with the life and energy of young children. I overheard another mom saying to a bride: "Your message said 'we're getting married, but it's at 6:30 in the morning.' There shouldn't have been a 'but,' it should have been an 'and.' We would never miss your wedding!" They held their daughters’ hand throughout the ceremony, punctuated by little kid noises, and hugged them right after hugging and kissing each other. Judge Yu thought it would be ok if all four of them signed one of the marriage certificates.

13. Bride A and Bride B. 7 AM. This was an older couple, who brought a few close friends with them (and requested that they not have media attention). They were so adorable in their coordinated sweaters and each one wore a black hat, to which friends had affixed matching flowers. I think they’d been together for more than twenty years, but still: one of them clapped with absolute glee when the marriage was finalized. It was so cute. I love these couples, who have withstood so much to be their true selves and may have thought that they would never be able to marry the person they love most in the world. Afterwards, the brides, their friends and Judge Yu took a photo where they were all jumping, per bride family tradition. (Also, when I’m old, I still want to act like a little kid with my best friends.)

And with that, the night was over. It was hard to believe and I think we would still have been there marrying people if Judge Yu hadn’t had a 9:30 flight booked long anyone knew when same sex weddings would be legal.

It was an amazing night. I loved that the couples were nervous and a little unsure about what to do with their paperwork: I’d imagine that’s what all soon-to-be married couples do. I loved that we had lots of random strangers who stopped by, just because they wanted to be part of these moments. I loved that many of the couples wrote their own vows, but all pledged to join their lives together. I loved how many of them replied with “absolutely” to their vows, instead of “I do” or “I will.” I love that people have marriage certificates that document that they were married at three o’clock in the morning. Best of all (because I’m a lawyer), I loved seeing people receiving their full rights under the law and the joy that this recognition gave them and all of us.

Two other quick things:

1) Two freelancers from NPR spent the night with us and have put together an incredible audio slideshow. Be prepared to cry:

2) If you’d like my full album of photos, they’re on FB at