Our E-Marriage: Our Constitutional Right

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My partner, Dante Walkup, and I have been in a committed relationship for 10 years. We didn’t want to travel out of Texas to get married because many of our friends and family would not have been able to attend the ceremony. We were determined to wait until marriage equality finally arrived. We believed the courts would eventually rule that the ban on gay marriage clearly violates the constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for gays and lesbians.

As Dante and I reached the middle age of 50, we realized time was flying by and marriage equality still seemed several years away from reaching our state. Recently, Dante was in an automobile accident and my relationship was questioned before I was taken to his room. I lied and told the nurse he was my husband and demanded to see him immediately. Fortunately my white lie worked. Not having the ability to see each other in an emergency situation was not something either of us ever wanted to experience. So, the desire to get married legally became very important to both of us.

Dante and I are part of the “accidental activists” crowd. We became outraged over the passage of Prop 8, when gay marriage rights were stripped away at the ballot box in California. As we began to think about getting married, we explored creative ways we could import marriage equality into the unequal state of Texas. Our solution was E-marriage, and this eventually led to our Skype wedding.

Tech-savvy from starting our company online eight years ago, Dante and I began to explore the idea of getting virtually married via an officiant from a state that performed out-of-state weddings. Iowa was the first state we researched, but their law spelled out clearly that “all parties involved in the marriage ceremony must be in the same geographic location.” We eventually found a marriage law in Washington D.C. dictating that the officiant had to solemnize and witness the ceremony in their “said district” but did not mention the wedding party. When we applied for our license at the marriage bureau, we confirmed the law did not specifically state that the wedding couple had to be physically on D.C. soil at the time the marriage was performed.

We researched the subject of a digital wedding and discovered a scholarly article titled “E-Marriage: Breaking The Marriage Monopoly” published by the Michigan State University School of Law. One argument for advocating E-Marriage was made as a means to provide gay couples the ability to marry in states that have a ban on same-sex marriages.

We also discovered that two other Skype weddings had been performed and were considered legal by the state. One of the ceremonies had been conducted in Minnesota, where proxy marriages are not legal. The groom was in Iraq and they married via Skype. At first this marriage was not recognized by the military because they viewed it as a proxy wedding. The state, however, did recognize it as a legal wedding and issued the couple a marriage license. The military reversed their decision and granted the couple full military benefits.

The second wedding was performed in Texas, where proxy marriages are legal. The couple did not file for one. Instead, they submitted their application, explaining the groom was in Afghanistan and was absent from the state to physically register for their license. They were granted a wedding license.

Feeling empowered that technology had been used to legalize a marriage, we began the process of planning our digital wedding for October 10, 2010. First, we set up a Ustream channel, allowing us to live-broadcast and record our wedding on the Internet. We sent out electronic invites and asked people to RSVP online.

Dante and I contracted with D.C. activist, Sheila Reid-Alexander, to perform our ceremony. Sheila was very involved in the marriage equality battle in Washington D.C. Dante and I agreed she was the perfect choice to solemnize our wedding. Although Sheila could have easily Skyped from her home, we arranged to have the same A/V company handle the technology portion of our ceremony in both locations. We contracted those services through the W Hotel, arranging for Sheila to perform the wedding from a conference room in D.C., where four friends also attended and witnessed the ceremony.

As the wedding day approached, we experienced the jitters and nervousness of any soon-to-be newlywed couple. The technology portion of the ceremony made us most nervous. We conducted a separate “dress rehearsal” four days before the ceremony at the W Hotel in both Dallas and D.C.. Everything worked as planned and we felt a little more relaxed that the technology would perform well for our wedding.

Several members of our family participated in the wedding ceremony. We had another dress rehearsal the night before and even practiced syncing our timing with the music. It was funny to watch our family’s reaction as they saw how “cold” the conference room was. Many of them thought we were “out of our minds” for planning this type of ceremony. During the dress rehearsal dinner, many of our family members met for the very first time.

Our wedding day was nerve-wracking as we prepared for the celebration. The conference room was transformed into a beautiful wedding setting with gorgeous floral arrangements and lighting. We held a wedding photo shoot with both families one hour before the ceremony. It was just a typical wedding day for an anxious couple.

Thirty minutes before the wedding, 80 guests were entertained with some of our favorite love songs. Five minutes before show time, we played a video we produced, with background music called “Courage Of Our Convictions” by Julie Clark. The video showed several slides of our recent involvement in activism, such as attending the National Equality March and my arrest in D.C. for protesting against “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” The title of the video was “Welcome To Our Equality Wedding.”

The wedding ceremony was beautiful and, of course, the best moment was when Sheila “magically” appeared on the 6’ x 8’ screen. Dante and I fist-bumped, family members sighed with relief, and the audience clapped wildly for the success of the technology. As we exchanged our wedding vows, tears flowed throughout both rooms. You could feel immense love in the room as the ceremony continued and concluded with affirmations from the audience. Although it was not a religious ceremony, we were given Buddhist and Catholic blessings and a Jewish Mazel Tov. At the end, Sheila asked us to face her as she proudly spoke these words: “By the power vested in me from the District of Columbia, I now announce you legally married.” We kissed, gave each other a high five, and joyously exited the room. We immediately began celebrating our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was the best day of my life, filled with memories Dante and I will cherish forever.

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