He was shorter than his partner, although they both looked nice in their “of the era” tuxedos, and his name was Scott. He was about 25 or so, short and yet stylish brown hair combed back and perfectly moussed.
In 1996, I went to the State Capitol building to see a handful of gay and lesbian couples take part in a “gay wedding.” A member of the group “The Lesbian Avengers” officiated the event and friends gathered to support these 15 couples who were tying the knot.
The State Journal sent me out there on a Friday, which meant I had absolutely no time to prepare. I was also working under an editor who remains the litmus test for everything I do in journalism: If she would do X, I clearly shouldn’t. I ran out there to interview people, hoping to find out more about what was happening and why when I got back.
After the guests showered the couples with rice and released the balloons, I started nosing around to get interviews. Some declined because it was supposed to be their day and they didn’t want to waste a moment of it talking to a twerp like me. Others declined because although they wanted to do this, they weren’t doing it to make a statement.
My favorite answer came from two of the most pleasant women I ever interviewed, one of whom said, “Don’t bother talking to us. We’re just a couple old dykes. Go talk to the kids. They’re the future of this thing.”
That’s what led me to Scott and Eldert.
They didn’t want to talk, but they did. They feared repercussions for taking part in something so “out” as this ceremony, and yet they both sported simple gold wedding bands. Eldert didn’t say anything after that. Scott, however, explained he worked at a law firm (or a conservative business, I forget) and he worried about losing his job.
They wouldn’t give me their last names, something my editor berated me for when I got back to the office.
“You can’t use them without last names,” she said with an exasperated tone.
“But they had good stuff to say and they have real-life concerns about what might happen,” I pushed back, using that journalism law/ethics education I got at the U.
“If we DON’T use their names, it looks like they’re ashamed or hiding,” she said.
I had no ground to stand on, as she was the editor and I was a part timer with about six months under my belt. Still, I got to keep them and one quote:
“That was a good dress rehearsal,” Scott said. “I hope to have the opportunity to do it for real some day.”
I could never remember Scott’s partner’s name. I had to look it up among the yellowing newspaper clips I saved from my working journalist years. I never forgot Scott’s name, possibly because I knew five gay guys in college really well and they were all named Scott or were dating someone named Scott. Still, I can see him all these years later.
I really thought about him when the Supreme Court essentially slapped people over the debate on “same-sex marriage” this week. The court basically said, “Quit acting like assholes” and refused to deal with states hoping to keep “teh gayz” from going all “Adam and Steve.” At the time I wrote about the ceremony at the capitol, not a single state in the union recognized marriages that were not between a man and a woman. The closest thing to it was the 1993 ruling in Hawaii that said the denial of licenses to gay couples was unconstitutional. The case went back to the lower court and had yet to be fully settled at that point.
Even then, the Hawaii thing seemed to be a freak-show/tourism ploy. A number of friends who had been in long-standing relationships realized that even if they did this, in spite of the “full faith and credit” clause, were going to be outlying anomalies.
The 15 couples who gathered were hopeful, but realistic. They held out hope that if more people could see gay couples committing to each other and understand that a life-long partnership was a life-long partnership, regardless of gender, the tide would turn.
Eventually it did. It went from one or two states to five or 10 states and then suddenly the majority of the states figured this out. More and more people heard the term “gay marriage” and saw neighbors and friends, who were normal, loving couples. They stopped thinking every person who was gay was spreading disease, engaging in bestiality and trying to fuck their kids behind the 7-11. News stories stopped running the 1970s footage of leather boys partying on Fire Island with every story on gay rights issues.
Anyone who understands politics, or who watched the original Star Wars trilogy, knows the empire will strike back at some point. However, the courts, the legislatures and the sheer numbers finally seem to back the idea that this issue might finally become something we eventually see as antiquated. After all, people in this country (mostly) stopped saying “inter-racially married couples” so maybe we’ll get there on gay marriage some day as well.
I spent the last couple days scanning the marriage licenses in Dane County, looking for Scott and Eldert. Without a last name it was hard, but I figured there couldn’t be too many Eldert’s out there. No dice.
Maybe I was even being too optimistic. They could have moved away. Hell, they might have gone their separate ways. Statistics indicate about 40 to 50 percent of marriages end up in divorce and those usually last a median length of eight years.
Still, I have to hope that Scott and Eldert are still together and that they are planning to get that piece of paper they fought so hard for.
Every victory starts with one or two minor steps toward a goal. Saying “I do” when it didn’t count for anything to anyone but each other fits that bill.
Because of that, I’m going to raise a glass to them tonight.