Colorado’s Civil Unions Act went into effect on May 1, 2013. Denver and Boulder County Clerks took the date quite literally and opened their offices to the public at 12:01 a.m. to begin issuing civil union licenses. Jodi is on the Board of Directors for OutBoulder, the local LGBT non-profit organization that coordinated with the Boulder County Clerk for the midnight celebration. Thus, she was already going to be present in her role as Board member and we took the Divine Miss M along to witness history.
We didn’t go there that night intending to get our civil union, though Jodi and I had been engaged for over a year. One night out of the blue, she had presented me with a scrapbook, on every page a different theme and pictures from our life together. When I flipped to the last page, I saw the words, “Will you marry me?” I said yes, obviously, as I’m wise enough to know how rare a find she is. We waited on a ceremony, hoping it would come with not only our own promises of faith and commitment but also legal recognition as well. When that hope was realized with the passage of the Civil Unions Act in March, we began to talk about when and what kind of ceremony we wanted. We had strongly considered May 1st but we are blessed with family members who quickly informed us they wanted to be present. So, we decided we would wait until late summer or fall so others could attend.
As the midnight celebration came together, the beauty of this event began to unfold. Businesses and people donated items, including an anonymous ally who donated a long-stemmed red rose for every couple. In what became known as the “Party Room,” there was a DJ and dancing. PFLAG of Boulder County and other groups brought cake, food and sparkling cider. There were gift bags for the couples. A local photographer, who was an absolute angel, set up in one corner and offered a free photo shoot to every couple. The generosity of the entire Boulder community was out in full force. In one hallway, dubbed “Blessing Alley,” numerous faith leaders, pastors and laity decorated the area with small tables, flowers and candles and were present to bless unions and conduct ceremonies, including our own Pastor Bruns.
And then there were the couples themselves who began to arrive, along with their children, families and friends! Couples of every single age group, some in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, many of whom had been waiting decades for a day like this. There were also people who weren’t there for any particular couple, but just wanted to be present for the moment it all began, who thought they’d never see the day and stood by into the wee hours to cheer and support and just experience.
The County Clerk’s office is on the second floor. OutBoulder loosely organized couples in sequential order, calling for them in groups of five or ten, some in casual clothes, formal suits, tuxes, wedding gowns, one couple and their friends all in pajamas. I watched from the crowd as the first five couples went up the stairs at 12:01 a.m. and into the office. The crowd below cheered and cheered and as each couple came back down those same stairs with their license, the crowd blew bubbles and cheered even more. Miss M was assigned the task of official bubble blower, a role she relished and performed dutifully, when she wasn’t trying to sneak more cake.
In all, there were between 250-300 people, they filled the party room, the hallways and the stairs. The excitement in the air, the happiness and the celebratory nature was the closest to palpable I’ve ever experienced. It was impossible to look around and not get choked up at the truly innocent nature of why everyone was so happy. We were being recognized as valid, we were being offered rights and responsibilities. That was all it was, and it was everything. Everyone was just happy. Or, maybe the right word is joyful. Laughter and smiles and a pure, simple unadulterated joy I’ll likely never be able to replicate in my lifetime spilled through the crowd, shining on everyone’s faces and echoing off the walls.
I began weaving through the crowd in the hallways and Party Room, peaking down Blessing Alley to watch a few ceremonies, always finding my way back to Jodi, who was helping near the stairs, to watch the ascending and descending couples. A woman next to me was smiling and clapping and said to her friends, “This is a lot different than when we were here protesting in 2004! Did you think we’d ever see this?!” I wasn’t here in 2004 so I don’t know that particular protest but I can certainly imagine. Taking it all in, I had to reflect on the road to get there, the good and the bad. How many hours of legislative committee hearings and endless floor debates had we listened to exactly? 30? 50? We’d met with legislators, trying to persuade them to recognize our family. One particular night we’d spent at the Capital sitting through a seven-hour Judicial Committee hearing. I’d squeezed Jodi’s hand until it surely hurt when they finally took the last vote, while also silently willing them to hurry because it was later than we’d told the sitter and we needed to get home. (Yes, it’s a radical gay agenda at our house, let me tell you.) I’d known this was supposed to be the year but I tried not to let my hopes get too high. Then, finally, the Act passed, the Governor enthusiastically signed and May 1st had arrived as the first official day.
It didn’t take long that night for us to realize we didn’t want to leave the County Clerk’s office without our own civil union. May 1st had been the day at the forefront of our minds since that final vote in the House in March. This was what we fought for, this was the culmination of talking, persuading, debating, getting knocked down but showing back up. It was historical and well, magical.
We talked with M who nearly bowled us over in the crowd with her enthusiasm. We spoke with our Pastor and asked that he bless our union and sign our license, and that we would do our full exchange of vows later with family present. He readily agreed. I told our friend, Aubree, who was organizing the couples, to add us to the end and about an hour later, at 2:15 a.m., we became the official “last couple up the stairs.”
And then unexpectedly, the County Clerk employees added a whole other layer of memories. When we ascended the stairs and went into the office, there were around 10-15 employees present who were utterly thrilled to be there – in the middle of the night – and made it clear they’d been looking forward to this night/morning for years. I read later that some even worked in different departments and had volunteered because they wanted to be a part of it all. There was as much joy upstairs as downstairs. Molly, the clerk who did our paperwork, was actually disappointed when we told her we were the last couple. Aside from what it felt like personally, when you have a 12-year-old child who has watched and experienced a government refusing to recognize your family, it was a marvelous, beautiful thing for Molly to sit across from all three of us and make us feel like it was her privilege and honor to usher in our recognition. I will never, ever forget her.
We filled out our paperwork and were given our license, then we descended the stairs to be greeted with cheers and shouts from the still present crowd. When we got to the end of the hallway with our pastor, I realized it was snowing outside, a perfect addition. I took Jodi’s hand and Pastor Bruns said a beautiful blessing over our union. Then he took our hands in his and said a prayer. And yes, for those that know me, I may have shed a tear or two and maybe even had our pastor choked up. There was much hugging and laughing and the Divine Miss M was beside herself with excitement. Then we signed our license, along with our Pastor and our friends, who acted as witnesses. We headed back into the Clerk’s office and it was official.
I’ve certainly tried but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe the evening in a way that feels adequate. We are going to start the adoption proceedings now and soon we won’t be Jodi, Jen and M, anymore, we’ll just be the Martins, a regular family.