David Cornelius – Commitment

“What are your colors going to be?”

Well, 25 years ago we had our first commitment ceremony. We’d only been together for a year. It was Rick’s idea. In fact, all of these [ceremonies] were Rick’s ideas. He thought we should do something and he wanted a commitment. He thought that was important to him. And it’s more understandable. He lost his mother and father when he was very young. [He] didn’t know his father. His mother died. He was raised by his grandparents who died while he was in college. He feels the need for stability in family and he doesn’t have it. His family is very dispersed, although he’s very close with his sister. For some reason, those things were more important to him.

I wanted to be careful because there was an age difference. I thought, “Why would you want to get hooked up with someone so much older? And in something that’s a real commitment,” and, “He can explore.” He was only in his 20s. “He still has a lot of dating and playing around he could do.” But he thought we should do it. We were visiting a friend in New York and decided, “Alright. We’ll go back to Spokane and we’ll have a commitment ceremony.” A good friend of ours was the campus minister at Eastern [Washington University]. He was a Methodist minister. He did the ceremony not as the Methodist minister, but as a friend, because it wasn’t endorsed by the Methodist Church, of course. Which still isn’t.

We held a very small ceremony. There were only about seven or eight people there, held in our house. It was really simple. What we did was we exchanged ID bracelets instead of rings. It was just a commitment ceremony. It was really just our close, close friends. Jim Edmonds, who was alive then, was there.[1] One of my former graduate students who teaches at James Madison, he was there. A friend from Montana and another graduate student, a friend, who was there. It was just this small group we got together. It lasted about 30 minutes. I can’t even remember serving food. We must’ve had something. It was just the ceremony. It was a ceremony of commitment and it was done primarily to please Rick. That was it.

The next time we made a public commitment was [as] domestic partners, when the state came up with that system. We thought, “Well, we should do this, just for the legal consequences.” As soon as it became possible, I filled out the paperwork and sent it in. We became domestic partners.

[The rules for domestic partnership] got a little confusing. We did it so that we would have the clear partnership. We thought that would be good for inheritance reasons. [That] is what we were concerned about. And although my family . . . there’s nothing to worry about with them. You never really know what happens. [I thought,] “We’ll make it clear that things are going to Rick.”

I mean, people said things that sound absolutely ridiculous when you think about it, but it was because there wasn’t the official marriage. Like relatives would say, “You’re leaving all your money to Rick? Why would you do that?” Whereas they wouldn’t ask any of my married brothers and sisters, “Why are you leaving all your money to your husband?” Or “to your wife?” It wouldn’t even have occurred to them. They thought, “Well, that’s so strange. It never occurred to me your leaving all your . . .” I said, “Well, because it’s the same.” But they never think of it that way.

That’s why we thought the commitment aspect was pretty important. [Before domestic partnership was available,] when we had all the wills written up by the lawyers, they were very careful. They made sure we had—this was 25 years ago—twice as many witnesses than is required so that people could not feel they could break this will. They were being very careful, because, they said, “There are a lot of people who don’t accept this relationship and feel that they can challenge it.” That’s why we thought that was important.

I’m trying to remember when [we first talked about getting married]. I was on a European cruise with my brother. I was traveling, and Rick couldn’t go on these trips because I was retired [and he was working]. Anyway, we would talk almost every night by Skype, whenever I could get wi-fi in Europe. One night he just simply said—then there was marriage in several states including New York—so he just said, “Tell you what. When you come back, we’ll go to New York, we’ll get married, and do it officially.” And I said, “Okay.” Because those things are very important to him. Much more important than they are to me, in fact, [with] the commitment aspect. I said, “Sure!” We both did. Well, we loved going to New York anyways . . .

I sent out Christmas cards to everyone with the announcement, “We’re getting married next year. We’re going to New York. You’re all invited. If you’d like to stop by, we’re just going to have a small civil ceremony.” Well, lo and behold! Things started moving quickly! The next thing you know we’re in a state in which marriage is legal! [Laughs.] I said, “Well, we don’t have to go to New York. We can just do it here.”

Then the whole thing changed. Instead of the small civil ceremony in New York, it became this $5,000 event at the Davenport Hotel in Spokane—but that’s because we were here. We thought, “Well, if we’re here, we want to have our friends.” Even then we had to keep it down to 80 to 100 people. There were a lot of people I’m sure were upset that weren’t invited, but we couldn’t afford it. It was a lot bigger than I ever thought it would be! It turned out to be very nice.

So then, I had to send out invitations to people and say, “Well, we were going to get married in New York, but now we’re going to get married in Spokane.” I made it so that all the people out-of-town did not feel guilty. I said, “We switched it on you. Don’t feel obligated to come. We know it’s expensive.” We sent videos of the marriage to people who couldn’t come because of that.

The marriage part actually seems to be fairly important because it changes people’s perceptions. Even my relatives can’t say, “Why would you leave your money to Rick?” Because it’s “Oh yeah. You’re married to him.”

People actually do use terms such as “husband.” They’ll talk to me about “your husband,” which means that they have bought into the marriage and they see us differently. “Partner” was always a weak term. It’s vague and unclear. It’s changed their language, which I know means it’s changed their perceptions.

People were very happy when we got married. It was very strange. I mean, they were just really pleased. Obviously that makes them feel quite differently about the relationship we have. People in my family were very pleased. My brother was the only one from my family who came. The others all watched the video tape, and sent nice cards and messages, and so forth. They were very pleased. Then there was some members of my family, who I know don’t agree with it, and they were nice and quiet. [Laughs.] In other words, they didn’t say anything! Whereas they usually post all this god-awful stuff on Facebook. I know what they’re thinking, because people just put their whole lives on Facebook anymore! I get to read all this racist, conservative, gun-toting, viewpoints from members of family. I kept expecting them to start saying something about gay marriage, but they know better because they know I’m on Facebook. I see everything they write. They were just very quiet. Politely quiet.

I do know that not all of them agree with [our marriage], but they don’t say anything. But then, so many of my other relatives just really like it and are just very pleased. It was important for Rick to visit [with my family in Kentucky] this last time after my sister’s death. They even had a dinner for him and everything. It was important. Everyone saw us as being together.

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It’s always more [involved] than you think [to get married]. We went with the Davenport [Hotel], because I’d rather just pay the money and have somebody else do all of the work. I wasn’t about to make hors d’oeuvres and try to organize food, and drinks, and so forth. Well, that just made it ideal. They were so nice. I was glad that I worked with them.

As far as the ceremony, I just made sure that I wrote it up because we had gone to [two friends] and asked them to become Universal Life ministers so they could run [it]. I’d already researched it; they just had no idea that all you had to do was go online and submit. You could actually get [the ministry position] for free. But if you want a license, you have to pay five dollars. They said, “Sure,” they would do it. They said, “As long as we don’t have to come up with the ceremony.” I said, “Oh, I wouldn’t want you to come up with the ceremony.” It was very important to me what was said in the ceremony. I took the responsibility of writing it out. There was certain things I wanted to include. I did that. All they had to do was read it, in essence, and do it in a way that was appropriate. They did a wonderful job, I thought. They were just right. So, I spent most of my time on making up the ceremony.

I ended up doing most of the work—because Rick was at work every day—on getting the names, addresses of people, and sending out the invitations. We printed up our own invitations. We had to save money somewhere, and that was an easy way to do it. Everybody has printers now. We went ahead and printed up our own invitations and mailed them out. That was a little hectic. I now understand how important it is for people to send back RSVPs! I was always a little lackadaisical about that. Even some of the faculty members at Eastern said, “Oh, I’m going to be there!” And I said, “Oh, you haven’t sent in an RSVP.” “Oh, is that important?” I said, “Well, that’s how we determine how much food there is.” [Laughs.] “Oh, well . . .” It never occurred to them. I was floored by the number of people who did that. It worked out fine. You know, a lot of people who said they were coming didn’t come, and then the people who didn’t say they were coming who did show. It all just evened out. So that was fine.

Anyway, it turned out to be a little bit of work doing all the invitations, keeping track, ordering food, writing out the ceremony, getting our tuxedos together, and so forth. But not as overwhelming as it could’ve been.

When we first presented to a group of people at Eastern at the Pride Center, this young woman said, “You’re getting married? What are your colors going to be?” And I said, “Colors? We haven’t analyzed our colors.” [Laughs.] Then, when I started talking to people at the Davenport, they asked me the same thing. “Oh, what are your colors?” “Oh, this is a little . . . We’re not ready for that part.” We then realized we just had to say, “It’s going to be very simple. It’s going to be a little more masculine than it usually is because it’s going to be simple. And so there won’t be flowers.” Then we did come up with a cake afterwards, but it was a very simple one. A very simple cake. I said, “otherwise we would feel uncomfortable.” So we cut out a lot of those things.

[At first] we were going to have flowers. I went to the florist at the Davenport and said I wanted to talk about flowers. They said, “Have you done your research? We need to know your colors. We need to know . . .” They started going through all this stuff. I realized, “I’m not doing any of this.” I said, “I’ll come back.” I left, went home, and told Rick, “We’re not having flowers.” You can’t just say, “Give me the standard package of flowers.” They want to know all this stuff. It goes way too far. The rest of the people at the Davenport were quite understanding.

We decided to have rings [at our wedding]. That’s the first time. We didn’t [exchange rings at the commitment ceremony] because neither one of us wears jewelry. We went, “Oh my God, I can’t.” It’s hard for me to wear rings because my knuckles are too big. But we decided we would do it. Of course, I immediately lost the ring, during the first month after we were married. It was too big and it slipped off in the garbage somewhere. I had to order another one.

But we planned on that, so we did not get expensive rings. We were waiting to see who was going to be the first one to lose [the ring], because we don’t wear jewelry! We don’t keep track of it. It’s very hard. So we got these rings, each one was $100. We figured you could [afford to] lose two or three of them. We had some friends who got married who did the same thing. They said, “Well, yeah. We just had it set up so that when we lose the rings, we could get another one, easily, because it doesn’t cost too much.”

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You know, what surprised both of us is, immediately after the marriage when people would say, “[Are] you going to feel any different?” And we’d say, “We’ve been together for 25 years. How could it feel different?” What did surprise us is we felt different. It was very unusual. We started to feel different about the relationship. It was little things, such as how we introduce each other. It took me a while to say, “This is Rick, my husband,” because that’s not a term . . . Boy, when you do do that, it’s different. It actually changed our view of our own relationship, which we didn’t think about.

After the wedding we went to Glacier National Park. My brother and my nephew came up for the wedding. They wanted to go somewhere, so we went to the lodge at Glacier. That was sort of a honeymoon. We worked that so that there was always something to do, and I made all the reservations beforehand. I reserved the big red bus tour. They have this whole fleet of these big long cars with rows and rows of seats. They’re very old—they’re from the 1930s—and they keep renovating them to get them going. They take the tours of the park so I booked one of those. We went there and it happened to be [Memorial] Day.

Our driver came, a real nice guy, and at the beginning of the trip he went around and said, “I want everybody to introduce yourselves. “Who are you? Why are you here? What’s going on? Who are you with?” So we went around the car. They came to me and I said, “Well, we’re here because we just got married. This is my husband, Rick.” Then I explained and said, “in Washington State it is legal now and so we just finally decided to do it.” The guy just looked at me like [eyes wide open], “Okay.” And then moved on.

He had nothing to say. He was just taken by surprise. He didn’t know what to say. After everybody introduced themselves, then he said, “Okay. How many of you are veterans?” Well, the only two people in that car were Rick and I. We raised our hands. Then he realized the two people that he tried to ignore, because they’d just gotten married, were the veterans that he was going to say all these nice things about. So he said [quickly]: “Oh! Well, thank you for your service.” [Laughs.] I went, “Well, I like this.”

Then, the women who were sitting in the row in front of us, after the trip, came up to us and said, “Oh, we were just so pleased to hear that you were married,” and so forth. They were from Montana, I think, and they wanted to know all about it. It was very pleasing. That was the first time I’d ever introduced him as “my husband.” From that point on, I realized, it was a change in perspective in how we view the relationship.

But yeah, it changes everything—even though I’ve always been in relationships. I’m relationship-oriented, so I would always date people. Then I’d start meeting and thinking about, “What happens when you move in together?” You know, I’d think. I’m always very comfortable in relationships. I view things that way. But having the official commitment, I see, really does change the nature of the relationship. So, it was worth it. It was worth it.

[1]Edmonds was a music professor at Eastern Washington University.

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Sources: Interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 15 November 2012 and 6 May 2014; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman.