"The person who would be considered 'family' no matter what."

Beth Benoit

Chelmsford, MA, United States

Beth's story

This is a chalice lighting I read at our church on our "first" anniversary.

I have a confession to make. Carole and I have so many anniversaries that we have never decided which one to celebrate. Sometimes we never get around to celebrating any of them. There's the anniversary of our first date, the anniversary of our first kiss, the anniversary of moving into our first apartment together, and the anniversary of our commitment ceremony. As for many gay couples, our nineteen years together have been constant movement along a continuum of intimacy and commitment.

But today is another anniversary. And we are remembering to celebrate it. Today is our first anniversary as a married couple under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

I think our wedding meant more for our kids than it did for us; I have overheard many a conversation in this year where our children have explained to their 6 and 8 year old friends that they were in our wedding, and that we 'got married twice' because some people didn't think two women should be able to get married. It made a big impression on them. They understand that history was made a year ago.

In all the debates that still go on, people forget that Carole and I still are really only one third married; a third of the benefits and rights of marriage are conferred by the State. The other 2/3's are conferred by the federal government, which does NOT recognize our marriage. Our employers, after a lot of head scratching, asked us not to change our marital status, as the benefits software doesn't distinguish between state marriage benefits and federal marriage benefits. They have asked us to continue being listed as 'domestic partners' while everyone sorts out what to do.

We did file our very first joint tax return, for the state of Massachusetts. It felt strange for both of us to sign a single tax return. We still had to file our Federal returns as single. Our accountant took great glee in telling us how many thousands of dollars we would have owed the IRS if the federal government recognized our marriage.

There was one moment this year when I was very grateful for the benefit of marriage. Shortly before Thanksgiving my doctor directed me to go to the nearest emergency room, because I had a chest pain that I could not identify. As I was answering the intake clerk's questions, she got to 'are you married', and it was a tremendous relief to just say 'yes'. Carlene once told me a story about her son's reaction to her and Norman getting married after many years together. It was something along the lines of 'thank heavens there's finally a relationship in this family I can describe with a word rather than a paragraph.'

Well, at that moment, I was very glad to be able to use a word, and not a paragraph to describe the most important person in my life. The person who was legally entitled to make decisions for me, in the event I could not, without having to produce a health care proxy form. The person who would be considered 'family' no matter what. That is the one time this year, when being married really mattered to us.

Today I close with a quote from Thomas Jefferson's first inaugural address:

"All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression."

I light the chalice in gratitude for the Massachusetts Constitution, and the wisdom of the founding fathers in setting up an independent judiciary to ensure justice for all.

Written 6/26/05