They didn’t hug. They didn’t kiss. They didn’t even sit together.
Many couples going to the Arlington County Courthouse seemed more like strangers than people applying for marriage licenses. A man named Sam often escorted them to the sixth-floor clerk’s office. Sometimes, there would be a furtive exchange of money in the elevator.
Before long, some of the same people would be back, filing for divorce, their court papers littered with mistakes — always the same mistakes.
“They misspelled ‘circuit,’ ” said David A. Bell, the longtime Circuit Court clerk. “It was obvious something was going on.”
Bell tipped off police, triggering a nearly four-year investigation that recently broke up one of the Washington region’s biggest and most brazen immigration scams: an estimated 1,000 fake marriages. The scheme was centered in the area’s little-noticed but rapidly growing community of immigrants from Ghana.
OK. I lied. I’m not gonna try not to get mad about it. But it’s not the immigrant part I’m mad about. I covered the whole “quickie marriage” thing a year ago, and I was wrong about the time it took to get married when I wrote that post. Twenty minutes was just the time the ceremony took. The trip to the justice o’ the peace may be a bit longer. If you’ve the right genitalia, it doesn’t have to take much longer than that.
Here’s the thing. If there hadn’t been so many of them, and a better speller had been involved, it would probably have gone on for a lot longer. Because, for such a sacred institution, the entry bar for heterosexual couples is pretty low. Hell, if you’re Britney Spears, you can be so drunk you can barely stand and still be a married woman when you stagger back up the aisle, even if it was all a drunken joke.
It all comes down to something Pink said about the Spears’ nuptials.
“If you wanna marry Joe Millionaire, go ahead. If you’re a celebrity and you wanna marry your high school sweetheart for 55 hours, go right ahead. If you’re J.Lo and you wanna marry 18 people, for six days each, hey! Go right on ahead!
“But if you happen to be reasonably minded and have fallen in love and wanna marry your soul mate and make a life of it, and you just so happen to be the same sex, then NO! How dare you! You demon creatures! We’d rather you just buy gasoline and support our war and continue to consume and fear in our country so we can make money off you. But do us a favour – don’t hold hands in public. “
I could marry first woman I sit next to on the bus or train, without having to do more than a fill out a form, pay a small fee ($45 in DC, $55 in Montgomery County, Maryland) and wait a few days (3 days from application to license in DC, 48 hours in Montgomery County, Maryland), and I probably wouldn’t have to answer more than a few questions if any. All I have to do is make the proposal tomorrow, and if it’s accepted we could theoretically even apply for the marriage license the same day. About the only wrinkle in that plan might be how long it takes us to get our blood test results. But even then we could probably be married inside of week, say, next Tuesday.
But when even fairly moderate people, who support legal recognition for same-sex couples, start to talk about what that legal status should be and what the criteria to qualify for it should be, they inevitably feel the need to require same-sex couples to provide way more proof of our relationships (shared expenses, length of time together, etc.) than they’d ever dream of asking a heterosexual couple. Even if we’ve been together for decades, we’d probably be asked for proof.
The random woman from the subway I’d marry would instantly — with no more “proof” of our relationship than was required to get the marriage license, have the automatic right to inherit my social security (if I didn’t have kids, though Parker would actually be first in line for that, as my legally adopted son). If I took time in the few days from the time we met on the subway to the day we get the marriage license (because we’d apply for the license the same day we met, maybe during our lunch breaks) to fill our the proper forms at work, she could inherit my pension too, even if she hasn’t know me long enough to know what I do for a living, or if I have a job at all.
She probably wouldn’t need much proof of our relationship to make medical decisions for me if I were in the hospital, and vice versa, even if we both had pimples on our butts that were older than our marriage. That’s because she’d be next of kin automatically, even if she hadn’t known me long enough to know if I had any other kin. If she’s wearing the ring (that is, if she remembered to put it on, because it takes time to get used to doing that) she might not have to say anything more than “I’m his wife,” and it’s highly unlikely she’d be asked to go back home (mine? hers? ours?) to get a copy of our marriage license. That is, if the ink is dry.
If I was in a coma and unlikely to recover, she’d be the one to decide to pull the plug. Oh, she might have a fight on her hands from some of my relatives, but if she’s got the right and the license, she’s got a fighting chance at having the right to make that decision. After all the courts ruled in Michael Schiavo’s favor 30 times, despite the fact that her family fought like hell, and despite the fact that his wife left no written evidence of her wishes, because he was her legal spouse.
She’d probably also have the unquestioned right to handle my funeral arrangements. And finally, even if I didn’t have time to make a will before the end of the week, and even with likely challenges from my surviving relatives, my wife of one week would have the guaranteed right to inherit at least part of what estate I leave behind. Even if I didn’t have time to learn her middle name during the life of the marriage. Even if she didn’t have time to learn mine.
All of the above could be more or less guaranteed to the next perfect stranger I meet on the train tomorrow, provided she’d got the right genitalia and agrees to accompany me to the marriage license office.
After six years together, and legal documents drawn up at significantly more cost than a marriage license, that nonetheless guarantee us far fewer rights and protections than a $35 or $55 marriage license, none of these rights are guaranteed to my husband.
Even if I spend my wedding night with my husband, while my imaginary commuter wife is perhaps picking up the next stranger on the train.
Which union is more sacred?