I was eight months pregnant this past February when I found myself driving through the grey freeze of winter in western New York state. My destination was Niagara Falls, and I was heading toward my own shotgun wedding. As this was a same-sex marriage, it would be held on the Canadian side.
To many Americans, these facts are cascading cultural contradictions: marriage, pregnancy, same-sex. But to contemporary gay New Yorkers who have lived in the era before same-sex marriage they are familiar landscapes. Geographical acrobatics shaped the contours of our lives as we travelled great lengths to protect partners, selves and unborn children.
My partner and I straddle the border between Canada and the United States. We own homes, hold jobs, pay taxes, live and love people in Syracuse, N.Y., and Toronto. We know couples who travelled from New York to Connecticut and Vermont to marry. We chose Canada, where the federal government legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. Last month, New York State passed legislation to allow same-sex marriage, but before that it only recognized same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
We decided to wed after consulting lawyers in Toronto and Syracuse to write our wills. This was something we should have done long ago, but eventually did – as many first-time parents do – in anticipation of a child whose security would depend on responsible adults with their affairs in order.
In Syracuse, my lawyer mentioned that if we married, Jennifer would also be listed as a parent on our daughter's birth certificate. We had wondered about these issues and the geographical quandaries they posed before, but the prospect of our daughter's arrival forced us to confront them more urgently. I realized marriage was the only way forward.
I telephoned Jennifer at work at York University. The phone reception was spotty. “Sorry, I couldn't understand you,” she said. “Who is getting married?”
“Sorry again. Who is getting married?” (I have learned that it is typically Canadian to apologize twice for things that are not actually one’s fault.)
“You are getting married!” I shouted into the phone.
We got our marriage licence at 4 p.m. on the Friday before the Sunday wedding. Invitations were issued by e-mail.
When my parents drove through Syracuse to pick us up on their way to the ceremony, we were in the maternity store at the mall, frantically buying suitable outfits and rings we found on sale. I was married once before and now, marrying a second time at eight months pregnant, wearing white seemed inappropriate. I opted instead for an irreverent zebra-patterned dress. Jennifer wore black suede pants and a silky grey jacket.
You might expect a wedding planned in 48 hours to be a small affair. But we are lucky to be loved by spontaneous people. Fifteen friends and family members attended. These included a surprise appearance by my Canadian bride's mother, who flew red-eye from Edmonton, and my friend Graham, who flew from Vancouver on a flight purchased the same day.
Jennifer and I have often noticed that we are recognized as a family once we cross the border into Canada. On our wedding day, a friendly border guard ushered us in after hearing the purpose of our visit. At the hotel, the woman who checked us in gave us a room upgrade.
We married on the 40th floor of the Embassy Suites in a bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the falls and the border that divides the Rainbow Bridge in two.
We had asked our guests to document the affair by bringing cameras in lieu of gifts. When we entered the room and assembled before the wedding-chapel officiant, a paparazzi-like row of cameras flashed. We wed in front of two grocery-store bouquets, people we love and the thundering falls below.
Like any mother, I will do whatever I can to protect my child. Multiply that times two. At the hospital a month later, the state licensing official asked Jennifer to complete paperwork for a declaration of paternity. This is how unwed fathers make their way onto the birth certificates of their children. Jennifer actually complied until they realized that she was not the father. Out of fear, pride and protective instinct, she refused to remove the hospital bracelet declaring her “father” until the birth certificate arrived weeks later with her name on it.
While Canada and the U.S. share a border and many traits, on the issue of same-sex marriage they have remained distant cousins. Like me, my hairstylist migrated north from the United States, settling in Ontario with his husband. I wonder how many of us are here, Americans living, loving and working in Canada.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and countless advocates finally succeeded last month in making New York the sixth state to grant same-sex marriage, bringing momentum to the national movement. Although legal discrimination continues, so too does social change. I hope that Americans follow in the footsteps of Canadians and make these border crossings history by the time our daughter is old enough to read this. Meanwhile, we have decided to submit our application to become Canadian.
Alison Mountz is a geography professor in Syracuse, N.Y., and will relocate to Ontario this September to begin a Canada Research Chair in global migration.