I met Joan T. Sherwood after she left a comment on the post entitled: Big Love, Alimony and Same-Sex Marriage. From our email exchange later, I learned that she traveled with her partner to Toronto to get married. Her reasons piqued my interest and she agreed to write a guest post on the experience. These are her words…

Joan T. SherwoodIn 2003, after a long frenzy of anti-same-sex marriage legislation on state and federal levels here in the U.S., an Ontario court ruled that same-sex marriages were valid. Ontario law changed immediately, and the Registrar General of Ontario began accepting registration of same-sex couples’ marriage certificates. On that day I proposed to my long-term partner, Deb. Granted, not in the most romantic way possible.

To: Deb
From: Joan
Subject: proposal

Would you like to go to Toronto for our vacation? We could get married.

There are no citizenship requirements.

And I hear Toronto is a wonderful place to visit. And they’re probably desperate for tourists now. And I love you with all my heart.

Joan

Believe me, I still haven’t lived that down. But in my defense, she and I had exchanged rings and vows a decade earlier, and we both felt as married as we thought possible. We’d called each other “wife” for years. What difference would a piece of paper make? It wouldn’t make us feel any different. And why go to Canada?

In the summer of 2003 you could go to Vermont for a civil union, or to California to register for domestic partnership, or to Hawaii to declare your Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship. Talk about romantic. None of these civilly unioned partnership-recognition deals came with any significant benefits that you couldn’t already arrange on your own. And those state-granted benefits did not travel beyond the states’ borders. I didn’t want a domestic partnership, civil union or reciprocal beneficent relationship.

Ontario said, “Come get married. We’d love to have you as our guest.” Yes, married, the same as everyone else. Even if the U.S. wouldn’t recognize our marriage, the fact that it was a real marriage meant something to me. I’d be happy to go to Canada to get it.

First, we did what we could to secure the rights available to us in the U.S. through wills, living wills, and powers of attorney. If you really want to show your commitment to your partner, get a lawyer and get these documents taken care of. What are you waiting for?

We put the paperwork in motion and set a date in April 2004. When we filled out the application for our marriage license, I got a kick out of writing my information in the boxes designated for “groom.”

Deb approached our upcoming nuptials as a great excuse to have a nice vacation. As I faced more and more planning details, I started feeling the stress of a bride who gets overwhelmed with organizing. There was a hitch here and there, but it all worked out in the end.

When we arrived, we discovered that the city of Toronto and the people who live there accept and make a place for a myriad of cultures. Our southern accents prompted waiters, clerks and cab drivers to ask what brought us there. “We’re getting married!” we would reply proudly but uncertain of the response we would get. Every one … every one … even the full-bearded, turbaned Muslim driver who took us to the airport, smiled and congratulated us. “Good for you,” they said. “That’s wonderful.” We were amazed.

Same-Sex WeddingJustice Harvey Brownstone married us on April 19, 2004, at the North York Courthouse in Toronto.

Getting married was more than just a vacation. Our marriage license is more than just a piece of paper. We signed our names in the same book that records all the other marriages performed at that courthouse. Not a separate book or a segregated category. The same.

I was proud to take my destination wedding dollars where they were welcome. We spent a little more than $2,000 in four days in Ontario. It may not seem like much in comparison to most weddings, but that was a lot to us, and it was totally worth it.

When I say, “This is my wife” now, it’s not a euphemism. It’s the truth, and that does feel different. It’s priceless.

More about Joan T. Sherwood
Joan Sherwood is a magazine editor in Atlanta, Georgia. She and her wife, Debbie Fraker, have been married for three years and together for 16.

Joan is charged with managing the household finances and budget, and while always a frugal-leaning person, her passion for saving and money management has blossomed since her 40th birthday.

Wedding ceremony photo ©Molly Bennett