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Dear Same-Sex Wedding Participants in Red States:

If you live in one of the 14 states that have to suddenly grant marriage licenses to same sex couples, you may be tightening your tie and singing Old Fashioned Wedding on your way to city hall. I’d like to help you navigate a few of the issues you may face when you go to get your marriage license. In 2005, my partner and I traveled to Toronto, Ontario with 12 of our closest friends to marry – same sex marriage was as new then as it will be for you in your red state. Many marriage offices will be unprepared. Here are 4 tips for dealing with the processes and people you encounter.

Rejoice if your clerk is kind and helpful. Of course you’ll feel a certain trepidation – maybe even terror – about coming out to your marriage court clerk. You may be surprised, then, when you catch a clerk – like we did in Toronto – who is excited to help a bunch of same sex people obtain the full liberty of government benefits. When you get a good one, celebrate them just like you celebrate the union.

Decide who is the “husband” – For the Form. To talk to the government, you fill out a form – getting married is no different. Until today, only marriages comprised of a “husband” and a “wife” were eligible to fill out the papers, so the forms will be gender coded. It can be an uncomfortable moment when you’re standing at the clerk’s counter, pen in hand, one looking over the other’s shoulder, and that’s the moment you have to decide which name goes over “husband” and which goes over “wife.” In advance, flip a coin, have a heavy talk, allocate a gender between the top and the bottom. But, work it out on the way. Our clerk in Toronto picked for us, and I still disagree with his choice.

If you get a bad clerk, take a minute…. You may encounter a nasty clerk. Don’t jump to the conclusion that the nastiness comes from hate – he might be an indifferent government worker. Just this year, at a city hall wedding, we encountered a cranky clerk and an imperious officiant – in San Francisco. It’s not always bigotry – sometimes, it’s just bad manners. You should still push back, but on their conduct, not their motive.

Make your own choice. Luck may not be a lady – you may get a bona fide homophobe, who hisses over his belly or her octagon glasses, “You want to get married to each other?” Of course, if the clerk refuses to issue a license or an oath, call Lambda or your own lawyer and enforce your rights. But, what if the knuckle-dragger starts the licensing process – with contempt? Should you stay and suffer, forever coloring your emotional memory? Or should you walk away, find another city hall, another clerk, another day? The answer is not as clear today as it was before Justice Kennedy spoke. When our rights were neither clear nor dependable, you owed it to yourself and our gay and lesbian ancestors to stare down disdain, stand your ground and get that license. But, now, the most powerful ally is on our side – the United States Constitution. Your dignity owes it to no one to take a punch, certainly not from a bureaucrat using the power of the counter to ruin your day – after all, you’re a human, a taxpayer, an adult and a fiance. Those of us who came before you brought an edge of defiance on an undercurrent of rage to our ceremonies. Today, it is so ordered that you can feel the same jitters and excitement and doubts as every other bride or groom without the political angst. You’re like everyone else – you can take, leave or complain about bad customer service, because now that’s all it is.

Mazel Tov and Happy Pride,

Coco Soodek
Chicago, IL

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