When I texted my mom to tell her that Constantino and I were going to pick up our marriage license this week, she asked if I was excited.
“I guess so,” I replied. “It’s just something to check off the list.”
My response was what most who know me would call “classic David.” I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it to my mom except that I needed to confirm my dad’s birthplace. And I didn’t even think to tell my sister, who later texted me with a line of angry-faced emojis when she found out (quickly followed by, “That’s rad!”).
The experience of getting a marriage license is, I suppose, a kind of rite of passage. It’s the first legal step toward “making it official.” To me, I just saw it as a chore that was eating into my writing schedule—something in a long list of somethings that needed to get done before our wedding day. But I had to concede that this wedding errand was different from renting chairs or ordering food; it was an act that will forever change the trajectory of my life.
So when we actually made the trip over to the Multnomah Department of County Management, I tried to approach the experience with more reverence than I might otherwise. We entered the building, which was dull and utilitarian in the way government offices are wont to be, but lacking the metal detectors and hour-long waits I’m used to in Los Angeles. I immediately became anxious, not because of our purpose but because it reminded me of jury duty.
In the Recording Office, we were greeted by a woman whose face was slathered with makeup, as if she were compensating for the drabness of the office. She handed us a number and told us it would be about fifteen minutes. We sat on a bench and waited. There were fewer than two dozen people waiting for service of some sort: men with Bluetooth earpieces who looked to be getting tax lien information on a property; a gloomy-looking mother and son who I imagined were processing a death certificate for their husband and father; and yes, a jittery young couple holding hands, glowing with anticipation of their own marriage license.
It took me a moment to notice Constantino next to me, whose feet were tapping furiously in anticipation. His eyes held equal parts fear and excitement, like a kid standing at the edge of a spring board on a high dive.
“It’s feeling real now,” he said. His expression was conflicted, as if he wasn’t sure if he liked that or not.
I found his nervousness strange because I imagined that if either of us had a capacity to bolt, it would be me. It has taken me so long to come to peace with the idea of marrying a man, with so many reservations I’ve had to work through, that I’ve often imagined my confidence like a house of cards: carefully built but fragile if shaken. In that moment, however, I felt like a stone temple: an immovable structure that had been built stone-by-stone, methodically over the years. The long stretch of time I’ve sat in doubt was not just useless wallowing in a pool of uncertainty; it was a long, slow purging of apprehension. I may have waded in a pool of doubt, but it had a drain.
After only a few minutes, the monitor suddenly announced our number, and I beckoned Constantino toward the desk. The woman helping us was friendly and efficient, and the experience felt routine, like paying a traffic ticket. She didn’t bat an eye that we were two men. It surprised me, but it shouldn’t have; nearly two years have passed since same-sex marriage became legal statewide in Oregon. This was not Kentucky, and she was not Kim Davis.
As the woman processed our paperwork, I clamped my hand on the back of Constantino’s neck.
“I’ll trip you if you try to run,” I said.
Really there was no danger of that happening, but it felt good to be the comforter for once. Throughout our relationship, I’ve seen Constantino as the pillar of strength more often than me, and when it comes to our relationship I’ve rarely seen his confidence flag. On this occasion, I felt proud to be his strength, to be the one supporting instead of receiving. This was what made the errand to get our marriage license meaningful—not the document itself, but the experience of relationship in action.
We left the building with a thin envelope containing our marriage license and our decorative certificate. It was raining. We had a long walk back to the streetcar, and then more errands to run around town. Throughout the day, we took turns holding the envelope under our jackets, protecting our new marriage license from the rain, the cold, and all of the outside elements. It was as perfect a beginning to our new life as I could imagine.