Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pilgrimage, Part III

First thing Monday morning, Göran, Glen and I drove to the county clerk's office in Riverside, California. It is housed in a complex of government buildings in a section of town just off a highway entrance where there doesn't appear to be much else. The buildings are clean and modern, though of typically boring, institutional architecture, and the grounds were pleasant, surrounded by the palm trees and flora that are everywhere here in southern California. There was a clear sign at the edge of the parking lot that said "County Clerk / Marriage Licenses." It almost made it look as if the only reason anyone would want to see the County Clerk was if they wanted to get married.

I think I somehow unconsciously had envisioned us arriving and having to wait at the end of a long line of same-sex couples mobbing the office in order to take care of this same long-overdue bit of business. But when we walked through the door that the signs directed us to, the office was calm and quiet and mostly empty. There were two other heterosexual couples there filling out the marriage license forms. During the entire time we were there that morning, perhaps a half dozen other couples besides us arrived to complete this legal formality -- all heterosexual.

I approached the receptionist and said, "We're here to get a marriage license."

She pointed at a stack of forms in a receptacle next to the window. "Just take one of those and fill it out with your, uh... with him." She eyed Göran with a bit of a flustered expression. The forms have been amended so that instead of having a column for "groom" and a column for "bride," they simply allow for "partner A" and "partner B." Even though the forms have changed, I guess the people are still getting used to the idea.

I wondered what it was like for the other couples in that room. For them, filling out the papers was probably just a minor hurdle, an inconvenience (along with an inconvenient fee) along the way to the main event. For us, this was a privilege. We were allowed to fill out the form and pay the fee. Göran asked Glen to document the event photographically, which he happily did.

We were reminded in bold lettering in the instructions that came with the form that we were responsible to check and double-check the accuracy of all the information both on the forms and on the license. Failure to spell names exactly could lead to legal complications down the road. We were also required to present government issued picture ID's and swear an oath that we were who we said we were, and everything in the application was true and accurate.

They specifically wanted to make sure that we had not been previously married, either to someone else, or to each other. The "or to each other" part was odd. Yes, we are already married in our own eyes and in the eyes of all our close friends and family. But not in the eyes of the law. So we swore in the affirmative, even though in our hearts, in our spirits, this was only a half truth.

With that formality out of the way, we now had everything we needed for the event itself. Since then, we've been vacationing with Glen. We did a tour of downtown Los Angeles Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday we spent two tiring but extremely happy days (from 8:00 a.m. until midnight!) at Disneyland -- which Glen loved! Yesterday, while I was waiting on Disney's "Main Street USA" for Göran and Glen to get some drinks, I spoke with the minister over the phone and answered his final questions. Then while waiting in the nearly hour-long line for the new "Finding Nemo" attraction, Göran and I talked through all of the final details -- who would participate in this small ceremony and in what way. We are planning to ask my mother to be a proxy for Göran's family -- both for the family that raised him and for the biological family we just discovered, who really wanted to be present but couldn't afford a last-minute trip to California.

There have been several quiet moments of prayer this week, moments of peace, happiness and clarity. In these moments I have reflected both on what this is and what it isn't. What it is: an earthly, temporal covenant. A swearing that we make before earthly functionaries and before our families that we will fulfill a particular set of obligations and responsibilities in relation to each other, in return for certain (being Minnesotan, still merely theoretical!) rights and protections. What it isn't: a sealing for time and all eternity. But what it is: a ceremonial affirmation of love and commitment that will provide an opportunity for future growth.

What it is: Being patient and true. Being faithful. Keeping the faith with each other and with God.


Bored in Vernal said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. It is very exciting to see. I'm looking forward to pics of the big day. Many happy wishes!

MoHoHawaii said...

This is truly a blessed event. Congratulations!