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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 07
To Bellingham with love
Section One
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To Bellingham with love

by Ben Crowther - Special to SGN

On Valentine's Day, two same-sex college students marched down to the local courthouse in Bellingham, WA, to demand they be given a marriage license. As expected, they were denied and turned away, but not without giving bystanders a show first.

As the Washington state Co-Lead of GetEQUAL, I started hearing about Valentine's Day protests several weeks ago. The stories and plans of other activists from around the country and the energy, passion, and creativity I heard from them inspired me to organize an event in Bellingham.

The night before the action was to take place, I asked a group of my friends to see who among them wanted to try and marry me the next day. Danny Canham volunteered to be my partner in crime. While Danny doesn't view marriage as a necessity for equality or something that should be aspired to, actions for equality are still actions for equality. No matter the cause, even if one doesn't believe in marriage equality specifically, this was an action worth participating in.

While neither Danny nor I intend to get married in the near future, we want the opportunity for this to be available in the future. Additionally, institutional inequality is inherently damaging because it establishes a system wherein some identities are designated as inferior.

That afternoon, Danny and I met to plan the action. Together we filled out the application for a marriage license. As we reviewed the application, I noticed the gendered language of the form and quickly decided to correct it so the form read 'male' and 'male.' We then alerted our friends and reporters from the campus newspaper and within an hour were headed to the courthouse.

Knowing the reality that we would be rejected, Danny and I approached the demonstration to prove a point. We wanted to challenge the state office, forcing them to justify the law while simultaneously showing how ridiculous it was. Further, we aimed to raise awareness of this as an important issue. As I learned from reading the article in the school paper the next day, this was the first time the Whatcom County state auditor had had a same-sex couple apply for a marriage license in her 23 years.

Entering the Licensing Office with an entourage of media in tow and forms in hand, we took our place in line. A county records clerk called us forward, and as we explained our intent to apply for a marriage license, the clerk became uneasy and explained that Washington does not allow same-sex couples to marry. The clerk suggested that we instead apply for a domestic partnership, which offers all the state benefits of marriage. When we questioned the value of domestic partnerships and demanded to know why we were excluded from marriage, the clerk quickly called in the state auditor.

By this point, others in the office were taking notice of the fuss being made at the counter, their heads peeking over cubicle walls. The state auditor approached the counter. When I asked why we couldn't get married that day, she urged us to speak to the state legislature attempting to remain polite as possible while clearly becoming increasingly frustrated.

I immediately pointed out that she was the one who ultimately decided whether or not we would walk away with a marriage license that day; as the person in a position of authority at the moment, she was the one saying no, and I would be approaching the legislature regardless.

When she made the argument that she was not legally allowed to give us a marriage license, I countered with the fact that she was under no obligation to follow a law that is unconstitutional under multiple court rulings specifically that stating laws against marriage equality are against the constitution. I made similar arguments to President Obama at a protest before the fall elections when it was first ruled that 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was unconstitutional.

I then asked how she would react if we were an interracial couple. Would she deny us in that instance even though it has been ruled unconstitutional? I was met with the same lines. 'Talk to the legislature to change the laws,' she said. 'Talk to the Secretary of State's office about getting a domestic partnership.' The problem with domestic partnerships is that they create a separate but equal system that is inherently flawed. If it were actually equal to marriage, there would be no reason for different names.

I brought up the point that even if Danny and I had been together for 20 years, regardless of our relationship, we would still be denied access to the 1,138 Federal rights associated with marriage, simply because we both had penises. Yet I could have married Eliza Chan who I've only known for about a week simply because she has a vagina. Comically, I stood between Eliza and Danny saying 'marriage' and 'domestic partnership' as I stepped from one to the other.

After one final question, I wished the room a happy Valentine's Day and walked out the door. I was told later that as the debate escalated, a security guard had entered the office.

Outside, Danny and I were asked what we would have done if the auditor had granted us a marriage license. I explained that we approached the action presenting ourselves as a hypothetical couple, the idea being to bring to light the failures within the system not to actually get married. Had we been offered, we would have accepted the license, being the first same-sex couple in state history to have received a license.

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