Love wins: When a marriage license is more than a piece of paper

Catherine Gillespie (left) and André Hakes have been together for almost two decades, and every year on Valentine's Day they walk to the Charlottesville clerk's office and ask for a marriage license. Photo: Jen Fariello Catherine Gillespie (left) and André Hakes have been together for almost two decades, and every year on Valentine's Day they walk to the Charlottesville clerk's office and ask for a marriage license. Photo: Jen Fariello

Three wedding photos sit on a small side-table in my parents’ home. The one of my mother, circa late 1960s, has held my wonder and awe since I was a child. Nearby are pictures of my sisters—just as beautiful and radiant as my mother. While mine isn’t there (because it doesn’t yet exist), my mother has prominently placed a picture of me with my partner of 18 years and our precious son on a shelf next to the rest of her favorite family photographs. Every time I go home to visit, I am touched by this small, yet deeply significant act of honoring my relationship and my family.

When I first came out to my parents in the mid-’90s (the pre-Ellen era), nobody was tracking public opinion on gay marriage. No one I knew believed it would ever happen; images of pigs in flight came more easily to mind. At the time, figuring out I wasn’t straight clearly meant figuring out I wasn’t going to have a wedding photo on that table.

André and I fell in love in graduate school —not an uncommon occurrence among either our straight or gay friends. Outside of the question (and pressure) of future marriage, our relationship took a fairly natural progression from one stage of commitment to the next: friendship to romance, dating to roommates, renting to homeownership, DINKs (double income, no kids) to parents.

With the typically busy routines of working parents, our life today looks so traditional that I wonder if a reality show would be a good way to educate some of those who remain opposed to same-sex marriage. We’d simply bore the uproar away!

I may have been born gay (who knows?), but I was not born to buck the system—just ask anyone who knew me in high school. I had to learn the hard way to create my life for myself, no matter who approved of it, with a ton of support from great friends and family, of course.

While others debate whether or not people like André and I should have the right to marry, we will continue to live our lives as though we are. Our love grew and thrived not just in spite of the odds against long-term relationships, but in spite of all the societal pressure against our variety of love even existing. A piece of paper does not legitimize our relationship, and we do not wait for approval to stand proud of the life we’ve built.

Yet, I would be denying an important part of who I am if I said I didn’t hope to one day walk down that aisle on my father’s arm or have my wedding photo alongside my mother’s. There is both the traditionalist and the romantic in me yet.

But that’s not the only reason my partner and I walk into the Charlottesville clerk’s office and ask for a marriage license every year on Valentine’s Day.

In addition to all the legal and financial protections that marriage would afford us, which are innumerable, marriage would mean gaining the recognition deserved by two committed, loving adults who are willing to face the world together—a recognition granted almost indiscriminately to heterosexual couples, some of whom have shown far less respect for such a commitment than many same-sex couples who have been living that commitment for decades.

And a wedding would allow us to celebrate the glorious hope that love wins!—Catherine Gillespie

  • Thomas Kelo

    I can’t imagine it will be too many more years before this longstanding injustice is corrected.

    Until that day, keep up the good fight and thanks for sharing your story!

  • Greta Fleming

    Beautifully written.

  • Christian DeBaun

    Lovely story!

  • Impulse Gay Social-Club

    We meet Andre when she came into Impulse Gay Social Club and from the start we loved her…we opened the club for our community and people like them….. my hubby and i went to DC and got married on our 20 th yr together and are glad to see other’s like us that have lasted for years. This just shows we all are alike we can love just the same as straight people….and we it is time we have the same rights.

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