For me, getting married was relatively easy. Wayne and I walked into a chaotic office full of people, everyone at a different stage, in the process of getting their marriage license, pulled a ticket, and waited for our number to be called. When it was our turn, we were each handed a singled paged document to fill out using little golf pencils. The documents required copying information from our birth certificates. Once we were done, everything was reviewed to make sure all the information matched. We were asked us to raise our right hands and swear all the information we have written is true, “to the best of our knowledge.”
Getting married was easy for me because Wayne and I are US citizens. It is common knowledge that marrying a US citizen is one way to initiate the naturalization process for non-US citizen. Television shows and movies would lead you to believe that it is simple to marry a US citizen, but in fact the process is long and daunting. Interestingly enough, these marriages are the only marriages in which the legal contract stipulates any actual rational for marriage beyond wanting to. Wayne and I were never questioned about our living situation (we lived about an hour away from one another), motives (monetary gain, among other things), or any other questions that, had we not been US citizens, probably would have prevented us from getting married if answered truthfully. No one ever mentioned anything about love at all.
Once we swore the information to be true we were asked to sign the certificate. As Wayne signed the certificate, I thought about this person I chose to legally bound myself. Marriage was not our only choice to create a legal partnership with one another. We chose to get married, and in the process, I changed my last name, gave Wayne a valid claim to all of my assets and some power over my affairs, should I be unable to manage them myself, gained a new tax filing status, and would be recognized as an independent for the purposes of federal financial aid. Some of these things, like changing my name would have been relatively easy to achieve without a marriage certificate. In the case of my spouse’s ability to act on my behalf and claim my assets should I die, marriage is not even the strongest legal contract, as his rights could still be contested unless I also sign a power of attorney and will. There are some benefits, like tax filing status, that only come with marriage.
Then it was my turn to sign the certificate. Before the woman helping us handed me the pen, she asked if I planned to take Wayne’s last name. I had contemplated this for some time and until that moment was still not sure of my choice. It is becoming increasingly popular for women to keep their maiden name after they are married. In many cases this is considered the feminist choice. In an opinion piece for the Guardian, Joanna Moorhead claims her choice to keep her last name is “because the tradition of taking a woman’s surname away from her on marriage has its origins in a time when we were considered a man’s property.” Ultimately, I decided that I wanted the unification with my spouse that I feel like is more explicit when two people share a last name. I told the lady that I did intend to take Wayne’s last name and she told me “to go slowly if you haven’t been practicing” as she handed me the pen. It had not occurred to me to practice. For a moment I thought of the name I had been signing for so long it was second nature, and wasn’t so sure of my choice. I began to worry I would never be able to sign my new name without messing up. But as I slowly wrote the new last name, my fears were quelled. I did not mess up.
Once we are finished signing paperwork the lady gives us a slip of paper to take to a counter and pay. We walked over to a counter where a sign informed us that they take cash, credit (with a 5% service charge), and debit (with a $2 service fee). The man took the slip from us and commented that we, “are doing the whole kit and caboodle today” as he types in amounts on his register: $20 marriage license fee, $10 to waive the waiting period, $22 for a certified copy, and $100 for a mass ceremony.
Once we paid $152 for the whole “kit and caboodle” we were told that we had an hour before the mass ceremony. The man suggested we walk across the skywalk and get something to eat in one of the cafes on the first floor of the office building next door, but neither of us was hungry. Instead, we went to find a restroom. After finding several that were locked, we asked someone walking past. He told us the public restroom was in the basement. There was also a bench and a small barbershop in the basement of the municipal building, so after we rejoined each other we decided to sit and take some selfies. I thought about love for the first time on this day. I thought about how much I love the person sitting next to me, but how little that had to do with what we were doing.
I did not get married because I love Wayne. I got married because he would get more financial aid next year. I got married because I want to be his beneficiary on his health insurance. I got married because I am going to spend four months in California with him and I was afraid something would happen to me and I would be miles from home or something would happen to him and I won’t be able to do anything, but call his mom and hope that “girlfriend” would be enough for the physician “exercising professional judgment” to determine it “would be in the best interest of the patient” to discuss his care with me. I got married because marriage is a legal contract that gives me rights and protections as a spouse that I would not have otherwise.