Married and Happy—Again
Couples with at least one transgender partner choose to renew their vows and, in some cases, have no choice
By Meghan Russell
Michelle McKay underwent sexual reassignment surgery in July 2008. In October of that year, she married her husband Cameron out of state, without a celebration. One year later, their relationship took an interesting twist—Cami also became female, making them wife and wife. Today, the couple wishes to renew their vows as two women in Williamsburg, Va., where they live. “We are trying to do something that family and friends could come to,” Michelle, 58, explains.
Cameron and Michelle with their marriage license in 2008
Yet the McKays find themselves trapped in the middle of wanting to be viewed in every way as a same-sex couple and Virginia’s Marshall-Newman Amendment, which defines marriage between a man and a woman and declares all same-sex marriages null and void. Michelle also feels a sense of guilt over the loophole in the law that allows her to continue reaping the privileges of marriage simply because she and Cami, now 30, were an opposite-sex couple the day they said, “I do.”
“Cameron and I were lucky to be in a situation that allowed us to get married legally,” she says. “But the fact that there are people who would annul the marriage if they had their way—that’s what’s wrong.”
Although undergoing a sex change after a heterosexual marriage does not make the marriage invalid, many trans couples still face issues such as what to call their marriage before the birth certificate of the transsexual partner can be changed, and copious legal fears. This leads some couples to renew their vows, even if just for the sheer principle of it.
Kristina, left, and Susan, both 62, also from Virginia, say it has simply been too long since their 1976 “hippie” wedding in the woods before Kristina’s transition. They are already planning a celebration with friends and co-workers for their 35th anniversary next May. “Perhaps we’ll do something a little more upscale this time,” Kristina suggests between reminiscent chuckles.
She would also like to celebrate how supportive they both were of each other throughout their lives and her 2007 transition. “I’m sticking by the vows I made 34 years ago, but I would like to refresh them in my new identity and just from the standpoint of renewing my commitment to my partner,” she affirms.
Like the McKays, Kristina and Susan lucked out. For Tina and Jesse R., below, however, the state of Connecticut obligates them to remarry before October, when same-sex civil unions automatically convert to marriages. When this happens, Jesse’s marriage license will forever bear his female name, since he and Tina married prior to his transition.
“I’m actually concerned that my civil union certificate will bear my gender at birth, locking us into a same-sex wedding,” Jesse, 31, says. “That would be really difficult to explain if ever we needed to produce our marriage certificate to prove we are married for any reasons down the road or if we move to a different state.”
“To say that I’m peeved that we have to [remarry] on someone else’s timetable just to get around inequities in the law would be an understatement,” Tina, 37, adds. Nonetheless, the couple recently lived it up for their second wedding, when the remarried in front of all the participants of Pride on June 19, when their local LGBT community center in Fairfield performed a mass wedding ceremony.
Although it might not be as glamorous as their 2007 New Year’s Eve wedding when they surprised their party guests with a ceremony immediately following the ball drop, this year’s vows are still something to celebrate, considering the support they have shown one another for three years. “I’m so proud of [Tina] for sticking through the tough parts, and for starting a group for partners of trans people at our local LGBTQ community center,” says Jesse. “It makes me feel like a king that even after my transition, she still loves me enough to marry me again.”
Meanwhile, Nicole and Chris Martin, below, of Ithaca, NY, face another problem. Even though Chris, 29, was male when they filed their marriage paperwork back in December, his birth certificate has yet to change from female to male. In order for this to happen, he will have to either undergo surgery and complete the physical transition or appear before a judge in Missouri, where he was born.
While New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and offers insurance benefits to same-sex spouses, the federal government does not. Their greatest fear while they await their wedding is that the government will have legal questions regarding Chris’s gender and will notify the pastor performing their marriage. Torn between living in stealth in their church and celebrating openly, the last thing they want is for their pastor to find out and refuse to perform their ceremony.
“We’re both Christians,” Chris explains. “Regardless of me being trans, I don’t see myself as a member of the GLBT community. I feel like a man who was born female,” and this man wants his wedding to be viewed as a heterosexual one. “I think people want to make this out to be some huge issue that it’s not.”
Laughing, Nicole, 27, stresses that whatever happens, she wants their wedding to be a joyous occasion. “We made a rule: We weren’t inviting anybody who didn’t support us. We didn’t want people in the back who’d be like, ‘I object!’ with pitchforks.”
Likewise, Michelle and Cami McKay just want to have a new ceremony, traditional, formal and normal, surrounded by all those who support them. But at the same time, they wish to renew their vows as a model for other trans couples who may have forgotten that no matter their post-transition marriage statuses, they still belong to a minority community for which they should fight and celebrate.
“I feel [vow renewals] are important, because I know some trans couples,” Michelle says. “One of them has transitioned, but they always still call themselves in a straight relationship, and you have to tell them, ‘No, you’re not.’ I don’t think we’ll have equality until we include all people, and that includes the L, the G, the B and the T.”