Ted Clark – Commitment

“I bought matching wedding bands.”

We do know lots of couples that have been together 25-plus years. It is not uncommon at all in the gay community and/or in the lesbian community to have long-term relationships. I think [the long-term relationships] tend to be less visible. Therefore, the society as a norm doesn’t recognize them. But [LGBT couples in long-term relationships are] there, leading very quiet, unassuming, productive, “not spectacular” lives that nobody pays attention to. [Laughs.] [Except for our marriage, we] did not have any other kind of commitment ceremony per se. The marriage, [on the] first of October [2013], was essentially the completion of a legal document. The commitment, the marriage, the forming of a union, had occurred years and years ago, just naturally. If I had [previously] done anything that I would identify as emotionally significant . . . On our 20th anniversary we were on a cruise through the Panama and the Caribbean. I bought matching wedding bands for Gene and I. I think that was a surprise to him at the moment. That was sort of like, “We need to have some little symbol that says there is a commitment here. There is a bond.” And when had it occurred? It just grew naturally, obviously. When I came back to Spokane and first met him, at a given point it was like, “Well, we can continue to run back and forth between two houses. Or we can live in the same house and save a lot of mileage.” [Laughs.] I did ask him if he would like to join forces at that point.

Of course, we were registered as domestic partners as soon as that was available. Technically our marriage license kicks back to ’07, when we registered as domestic partners. But those issues, to me, were essentially defining the legality of our relationship, defining the structure in the state. It’s good to have that. I just, in fact yesterday, completed our tax returns, “married, filing jointly.” And it’s like, “Whoa, that’s easy!” Those kinds of endorsements and recognition are good.

For the marriage we went down to the courthouse, got the license, and the person there said, “Now we can give you a list of the court clerks if you need someone to perform the civil marriage for you.” I just flashed in my head, and I said, “No. I have someone that will take care of it.” I have a college friend who’s a retired Presbyterian minister. I thought, “I want something a little more significant than just a court clerk.” We came home, we called [my friend]. I said, “If we come to Wenatchee and buy you a lunch, will you marry us?” He laughed, and he said, “I would go anywhere in the United States to marry you guys. I would consider it an honor.”

We went to Wenatchee. Around his kitchen table we had a very simple ceremony, comments and commitment, filled out the paperwork, took him to lunch and had a nice visit. Probably the significant thing for us on that was, more than our emotion, was his [emotion]. As he did the paperwork, he said, “You guys changed my life. As a minister, I would’ve been 100 percent opposed to this . . .” His point was that, “Over the years”—and this has been 35 years that he’s known us—“I have come to understand what this is all about, and to be perfectly comfortable with the fact that the church needs to recognize this type of relationship, this care, and this love.” He was the one that was emotional. We were like, “Oh.” That’s a little different than we expected.

We did have a nice ceremony. We’ve had lots of friends that are saying, but we didn’t have a party! So we’re saying, “Okay. Our anniversary is August 2. We will have a reception for our 38th anniversary and recognition of the fact that we are married.” That will be a larger event and it will satisfy the people that said we needed a party.

So, we have the event in Wenatchee. We went on [to] Chelan and spent the night up there because we were doing [some other] stuff. [We] went out to dinner. Had a nice dinner. [The server] came up, “Would you like to see the dessert menu?” “Oh, sure. Why not?” This is funny: one of their dessert options was Italian wedding cake. Gene looked at her, “Well, I think we have to have that!” [Laughs.] The poor little innocent waitress came back with the wedding cake. I said, “It’s very appropriate you know. We were just married today.” And she went, “Really?!” [Laughs.] She handled that okay.

A couple of days later we were running around the house. Gene said, “So do you feel any different?” It’s sort of a joke question, but we both said, “Yeah. We do. It is just a little different.” Since then I’ve had two or three incidences where there’s been a question about marriage: “Married?” “Yes.” “And your wife’s name?” [Meaningful cough:] “It’s my husband. His name is Gene.” Gene has had similar incidents. It is different. It’s nice to feel recognized, I guess, and part of the mainstream. Emotionally? Yeah, it makes a difference.

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Sources: Interview with Susan Williams on 3 December 2006, held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture; interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 30 November 2012 and on 27 February 2014.