Love in the Time of Cert Denials 

Love—and marriage—in the dunes.

Photo by Jean Cawley

To be completely honest, when I set out with my husband before dawn on Friday morning, headed for a romantic weekend on Nantucket, I really didn’t want to think about the Supreme Court for a few days.

Thinking about the court—and talking about it, and writing about it, and often boring everyone around me about it—is what I do for a living.

Being married for going on 19 years, raising two teenage girls, housetraining the puppy (named after a Supreme Court justice)—that’s when I’m actually living.

I’d spent all of last week—the week before First Monday, or the start of the Supreme Court term—explaining the court to people. That’s because the justices got together a week ago for a really long day in their little private room (I call it the JudgeCave), and talked about the court, and what it should do, and which cases it should hear. And out of this daylong meeting we thought we might get to find out whether the justices were ready to speak to marriage equality once and for all.

The court had a bunch of cases before it, all ones in which federal appeals courts had declared that the U.S. Constitution guaranteed a right for all people to get married, regardless of the genders of the partners.

But last Thursday, the court didn’t say a word … about marriage, at least.

I have to admit that I was pretty relieved. The court’s silence meant that I could really have a break, a time to reconnect with my husband and figure out—yet again—what marriage really meant to us.

When we checked into the lovely Veranda House right in the middle of Nantucket town, honestly, all we wanted to do was sleep. I’m not using a euphemism here. Really. Sleep.

We did. Still no euphemism.

Kind of ironic, right? Romantic getaway? On an island so romantic that somewhere between 35 and 50 weddings take place there during peak weekends, and at a hotel so romantic that the gingerbread trim on the porch railings is shaped like hearts?

Veranda House’s romantic porch trim.

Photo by Lisa R. McElroy

But bright and early on Saturday morning, we started to walk around the island.

Guess what was happening everywhere we looked? Weddings.

We didn’t see a same-sex wedding taking place, but I’m told that Nantucket is becoming a very popular destination for them. They’re so unremarkable these days in Massachusetts that the Nantucket town clerk has no way to estimate how many there are on the island every year. One florist told me that she’s done quite a few gay weddings over the past few years, but again she didn’t have a firm number. In other words, the same-sex marriage thing doesn’t stick out in anyone’s minds on Nantucket. It’s just another marriage license, just another bouquet or boutonniere.

When I got married in 1996, not a single same-sex couple in the United States was legally married—except in Hawaii, sort of, and that didn’t last long. My husband and I talked about that. How lucky we were, thanks to nothing but the particular genitals with which we’d been born, that we could commit to each other for life and have everyone recognize our commitment as legitimate.

Over the past 19 years, I haven’t always loved being married. Like every couple, we’ve had our ups and downs; our promotions and letting-gos; our sickness and health. At times, I think, we’ve stayed together because of the kids; at others, for financial reasons; at still others, for real love.

And I don’t think this is unusual. Neither is getting to a romantic hotel room after a full day’s travel and having not a single euphemism take place. Almost anyone who’s telling the truth will admit it: That’s the nature of marriage.

But, at least for the past 15 years or so, I’ve been exquisitely aware that other couples had to stay together for the kids—or one partner could lose a legal status as parent. Other couples had to commit—because one partner wouldn’t have a state-granted right to make medical decisions for the other, if something terrible were to happen. And that meant that other couples—make that same-sex couples—had to love. Because, otherwise, it would just be all stick and not even a little bit of carrot.

Today, on First Monday, I didn’t follow the goings-on at the Supreme Court at the moment they occurred—something very unusual for me; usually, nothing will drag me from the computer at the so-called moment of truth. I was sitting on a Nantucket beach, holding hands with my husband, enjoying the last few minutes of actually living before returning to making a living.

Steve and Lisa in Nantucket.

Photo by Lisa T. McElroy

But then we got the news. The Supreme Court, without comment, had declined to hear appeals from three federal appeals courts.* The stays on marriage in those places would immediately lift. Hundreds of people who loved each other would start getting married today.

Probably there would be euphemisms, too. At least I certainly hope so.

But then—and this is the certainty I regain whenever a romantic weekend getaway ends—then these happy couples would get back to the business of making a living, and actually living, and doing what it is they do.

For life.

With a swift stroke of a pen, on First Monday 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court made the first day and night of marriage possible for thousands of couples. But that’s not all. On First Monday 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court made my marriage more meaningful. Because I can now share, and argue about, and analyze my experience of marriage with pretty much everyone I know. And over the next year or two? It will probably be everyone I know, everyone who wants to and chooses to and doesn’t gag at the thought of a ceremony and a ring and maybe even a bouquet or boutonniere.

I don’t think my teenage kids will hear too much about the gay marriage controversy when they grow up. Because, by then, I sincerely believe that people will have figured out that marriage is not about the first day, or the romantic weekend. It’s about the day to day. The actually living.

Someday, the Supreme Court may even state that affirmatively, too. 

Correction, Oct. 6, 2014: This piece misstated the number of federal appeals courts that the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from. It was three circuits, not five.