It's not the kind of wedding ceremony we'd imagined, but it's the legal status we need to get through the next four years.
I met my partner in the spring of 2012, right around St. Patrick's Day. In his Grindr profile picture, he was wearing a suit, which made him stand out from the usual collection of hipsters on the east side of Milwaukee.
We soon arranged to meet at a nearby bar, neither of us expecting much more than a quick hookup. But after we went home together that night, something clicked. We continued seeing each other, and as days stretched into weeks, we suddenly had something going. That was four years ago. We've been together since then.
Our relationship has never been perfect—whose is?—but the love is real and girded by staying power. When he left his job and was unemployed for several months, it sucked, but I stayed. Laws in Wisconsin allowed me to extend my health insurance coverage to him as a domestic partner, and we managed to make it work. When a new job in the Chicago-area required him to relocate, it sucked, but I went. Now, after years of teamwork, we both have jobs we like and the kind of life we've always wanted together. But the mood of the country and the track record of unbridled hostility espoused by many incoming leaders has us both afraid that this is as good as it's ever going to get for us.
When the Obergefell ruling dropped last year, extending same-sex marriage rights to couples across the country, my partner and I celebrated with the rest of America—but at a distance. Marriage equality had come to Wisconsin eight months earlier, despite the best efforts of some very committed anti-gay advocates. While we were overwhelmed at how far LGBTQ equality had come since the days of the proposed constitutional ban, we were not racing to the courthouse to grab a still-warm marriage license. Those were for the scores of couples together for decades who were all-but-married in the eyes of everyone but an indifferent or outwardly hostile state. We felt confident that this victory preserved our right to marry when the time was right.
We're racing to the courthouse now. The morning after Donald Trump was named president-elect, my partner and I calmly discussed how his presidency might affect us personally. We concluded that the possibility of future same-sex marriage restrictions is very real, and that if we wanted to get married, the time is now or never.
It's been a queasy, surreal week for the LGBTQ community since the election. On one hand, Trump has made overtures to sexual minorities that surpass any given by his party's previous standard bearers. When the question of marriage equality was put to him shortly after his victory, he said the matter was "settled." Before that, he'd used gay people as a prop in his hardline stance against Islamic terrorism following the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and counted prominent openly gay men among his surrogates and supporters.
Beyond that, it seems like Donald Trump doesn't give a shit about gay people—in a good way. There's a big difference between acceptance and mere tolerance, but I'd rather have a tolerant president than one who's fervently anti-gay. Trump has orbited in close proximity to queer folk for so long he doesn't care anymore, if he ever did. When Caitlyn Jenner visited the Trump Tower, he told her she could use whichever bathroom she damn pleased. (Since then, he's seemingly reversed that stance, proving that you can never take Donald Trump at face value.)
Yet the LGBTQ community does have reason to worry their relationships will again be under attack. Trump's gay marriage proclamation following the election is at odds with the stances he campaigned on, including being "for traditional marriage," that marriage equality should be left to the states, and that marriage equality opponents can trust him. The curated list of right-wingers he paraded around as a buttress to the conservative wing of the Supreme Court doesn't inspire confidence, considering it includes judges who supported sodomy laws and politicians who compared same-sex marriages to people marrying bacon.
The possibility of future same-sex marriage restrictions is very real, and if we wanted to get married, it's now or never.
And while Trump himself might not care much about ruining the lives of queer folks, his transition team includes people like Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council who believes sexuality is a choice. Blackwell also once ran for office and insisted his (straight) opponent was secretly gay, and thus unfit to serve.
Then there's Mike Pence, an anti-gay true believer if there ever was one. Even before he was put on the national ticket, Pence was already famous in gay circles as the architect of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which effectively legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people in Indiana. Pence's playbook is being revived on a national scale in the form of the First Amendment Defense Act, which Trump has pledged to sign as soon as it lands on his desk.
Outside of the executive branch, other LGBTQ opponents or opportunists are lining up in opposition to existing law. The reinvigorated National Organization for Marriage released a post-election attack plan to unravel all measures of LGBTQ equality achieved since 2004, including a restriction on the definition of marriage. That's to say nothing about the surge of invective directed at LGBTQ individuals following the election. Even supposed unifiers like Florida senator Marco Rubio have gone on record saying the future of gay marriage is subject solely to whims of incoming judicial appointees.
That's not a future we're willing to risk. My partner and I had spoken of marriage before, and considered ourselves to be in a serious, committed relationship—sort of like a low-key, long-term engagement. But we weren't in any rush. Many of our straight friends dated for close to a decade before tying the knot, and while marriage was always the end goal, we both assumed it would happen sometime down the road, when we could afford to pay for a lavish wedding and honeymoon.
We no longer have the luxury to wait. Obama leaves office in three months—that's barely enough time for a ceremony. We don't know how dark the future will be for LGBTQ individuals in the four years to come, but we do know it will be harder to dissolve existing marriages than to prevent new ones, and we'd rather not take our chances.
So my partner and I are headed to court, before the haters do. It's not the ceremony we wanted, but it is the legal status we need. At least we'll have that, for now.
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