“We are changing the world today.”
“I feel like I can breath now,” Diane VanDorn told me on Sunday after being married to her partner Connie Greer on Saturday at the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office in Ann Arbor. Diane and Connie were one of the first of 300 same-sex couples that were married in Michigan that day.
Diane and Connie, both public school teachers in Ann Arbor, have been together for 17 years. They have four kids, Kaélan, 25, Nora, 8, and twins Hadden and Fletcher, 6, and live in Dexter with the three youngest children.
Diane left late from a conference on Friday night and drove past the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office prepared to get in line just in case one had started to form. She said it was raining and she didn’t see a line so she decided to go home, get a little bit of sleep, then head back in the morning. She returned at 5:35 a.m. on Saturday and waited in line with other couples wanting to be wed. Shortly before 9:00 she was given a little paper ticket with the number “6” on it.
I met Connie and Diane right after their number was called as we were entering the front desk area for Vital Records together. I asked if I could follow them through the process of getting their marriage license and being married. They gladly accepted.
The Clerk’s office, from the entrance to the basement and every nook and cranny in between, was packed with people. People were smiling and gracious despite the crowds and the nearly unbearable heat that comes from being in a small space packed with people. I couldn’t help being swept up in the collective celebration; nobody there could. Even the guards who had to restrict entrances and help maintain some sort of order were smiling. The guards all volunteered to come in on Saturday.
I followed Connie and Diane to the counter where they started the process of applying for a marriage license. The office was inadequately staffed, yet the staffers were patient and efficient. It was clear that they really understood the gravity of what they were there to do that day. As we were standing at the counter Connie turned around and pointed the window at the end of the room where three red-headed children had their faces pressed against the glass. She said, “those are our children”.
I asked the guard if the kids could come in. He reached around through the door to get their attention and asked if they would like to join their moms. They burst through the door and ended in a family embrace. I asked Diane if they understood what was happening and she said they did. It was a lot of waiting and very little room to move around, yet the three of them stayed on their best behavior.
After a bit of waiting Connie and Diane’s names were called. They went to the counter, signed the affidavit, took their oath, and were handed their official marriage license. I could see on Diana’s face that the reality of what was happing was beginning to set in. She looked over to me as I photographed and smiled in a way that brought tears to my eyes. She was brimming with joy.
Diane held the license up in the air as we left the Vital Records office and the lobby full of people cheered for them as we made our way to the basement for the wedding ceremony.
Downstairs we filed into a small room, again packed wall to wall with people and went up to a table where several members of the clergy were either performing a wedding ceremony or waiting for the next couple. They landed in front of a table where Rev. Gail Geisenhainer of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor was finishing up the ceremony of Martin Contreras and Keith Orr. Diane and Connie had been members of her church so it seemed fitting that they were to be married by Rev. Geisenhainer.
Once again we stood there waiting. It was common theme heard throughout the morning: “Well, we’ve waited this long, what’s a few more minutes?” Waiting seemed to be a non-issue to those moving through the marriage process.
Finally it was time. 17 years of waiting and Connie and Diane were about to be married. Rev. Geisenhainer spent a little time talking to the women before the ceremony started. I couldn’t hear what she said, but when I asked Connie about it later, she told me that the Reverend said a lot to make them feel comfortable. She told them that the ceremony that was about to happen was something quite special and helped create a peaceful space in a room of chaos. She told them that there were many people in the room who were there just to be a part of history. She held their hands and said, “We are changing the world today.”
Two women standing in a room surrounded by family and far more strangers, all watching and photographing and crying as they exchanged rings and vows and then kissed.
Dianne told me that, like so many girls, she dreamed of a day when she would wear a white dress and have a beautiful wedding ceremony. This is not at all what she had expected. Even though she felt a little robbed of an experience she had dreamed of as a young girl, she was now part of something so much bigger. Dianne and Connie were helping to change the world. I personally was moved to tears as I witnessed the most beautiful wedding I have ever seen.
Diane and Connie left the County Clerk’s office with their family and walked two and half blocks to a restaurant where they where they celebrated their wedding with family. They held hands all the way to the restaurant. Diane said that was the first time they had actually felt comfortable doing that. “But no one knew you were just married,” I said. “So why was this time different?” Diane said their legal marriage gave her a feeling of security and legitimacy.
Legal marriage offers couples the ability to enter into a state-created and legally secured bond of personal and economic significance. When a state decides to allow same-sex couples that same bond and security, they also do something much more significant: they offer those same-sex couples social confidence. I think Diane and Connie felt that confidence when they held hands and walked to the restaurant.
I hope they continue to do that. That is how they change the world.
NOTE: There are many more photos from the County Clerks’ offices in Washtenaw and Oakland counties on Saturday HERE.
All photos by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog