This is what it’s like getting married 4 years after marriage equality
If you know me at all, you know that “love wins” is one of my favorite sayings. It’s even tattooed on my arm in turquoise ink. These two little words encompass so much of what I believe—that no matter how broken this world may seem, love will always show up, wrapped in hope, and illuminate our world with light. The good people of this generation, the ones who we so rarely get to hear about over the noise of the negative, will make sure of it.
Just three weeks ago, I had the pleasure and honor of marrying the love of my life. I feel certain I will never be able to collect my thoughts and eloquently express just how much my wedding day meant to me (and for a list of reasons that go far beyond me feeling like the prettiest princess version of myself).
A few weeks before our actual wedding ceremony, Laine and I, just like everyone else in the world, had to go downtown to the county clerk’s office to apply for our marriage license. As we walked into the downtown Dallas skyscraper, hand in hand with giddy smiles on our faces, we quickly realized there was not going to be anything romantic about this process. We rode the elevator to a top floor to find ourselves in a cold room with white walls, zero decor and rows of old chairs to sit in while you wait for your name to be called.
“Fill out the information form on this computer,” we were instructed. And so we did. We filled out our personal information on a computer that’s definitely from the early 90s. And we sat back down and waited for one of the workers to call us back so we could pay our 83 dollars and receive the piece of paper that would be the start to making us officially wife and wife.
And then it hit me. I was invaded with an overwhelming feeling of both happiness and sadness. Both of these emotions hit me like a ton of bricks as I sat there realizing that just four years ago, people in the LGBTQ+ community didn’t have the privilege of visiting this dreary twenty-second floor. They did not get to visit this cold, white room because just four years ago, it wasn’t legal to marry someone of the same sex in every state.
Here we were, poking fun at how unromantic of a process it is to obtain our marriage license, all the while not realizing how many would have given up everything to be able to sit right where we were currently sitting. I was floored. To think of the devastation that I would feel, to be as in love with Laine as I am today, and to be told, “Due to the law, you cannot marry the one you love.”
It’s a gut-wrenching feeling, one that I cannot imagine facing if I’d met Laine just a few years sooner. Fast forward to our wedding day. I could not shake how I felt in that state office just a few weeks prior. I wanted to pay tribute to all of those equality activists who fought so hard to ensure that Americans like Laine and I would be seen as equals. I wanted to be certain that it was not lost on me just how lucky Laine and I were to be celebrating our love with a legal wedding.
I allowed my mind to wander to a time when this country would have told me that I am not allowed to marry the woman that I adore. And in turn, I felt an overwhelming feeling of gratitude as our wedding day unfolded. I felt so much joy as my mom zipped up my long lace dress. I felt my heart bursting with love as I tapped Laine on the shoulder for our first look, seeing each other as brides for the first time. I felt overcome by unwavering acceptance as I walked arm-in-arm with my dad down the aisle, staring at the ceremony site filled with friends and family who love us.
In all of those pivotal moments, my heart was hyper-aware of just how special those moments really were. It will go down as the most magical day of my life. But the road to my magic filled day was not always paved with smooth concrete or lined with sunflowers. I spent the better part of my young adult life navigating who I am today. I fought really hard and long to be the kind of woman who can sit here and openly write about being gay. For the most part, my fears about spending my life with a woman have subsided, and I’m proud of the life that Laine and I have built together.
But some of the fears that were the hardest to escape, the very hardest to shake, were the fears about my wedding day. And no, I do not mean fears like, “What if my dress doesn’t fit?” or “What if I trip down the aisle?” I mean fears that sounded a lot like, “What if loved ones don’t attend because they aren’t accepting of who we are?” or “What if my dad doesn’t want to be as involved in my wedding as he was in my sister’s and brother’s weddings?” or “What if a venue turns us down because we are a same-sex couple?”
And even worse, in my younger days, before ever meeting Laine but still dreaming of the day I would be a bride, I had fears like, “What if same-sex marriage is never legalized, and I am always seen as unequal to the majority of Americans?”
I spent so much time giving weight and validity to my wedding day fears that I was genuinely horrified they would come true. All too often, especially in my early twenties, I would hear stories of parents not attending their gay child’s wedding, or hate groups picketing LGBTQ+ functions. But I am here to report with a heart full of gratitude that our day included exactly none of the fears that I spent far too long focusing on.
We were surrounded by the most wonderful friends and family, who were there because they love and accept us just as we are. We were married at a venue that not only embraced us but treated us just as they would any other couple. Our photographer was an angel and our vendors all knew we were a same-sex couple and loved on us because of it. My mom helped me get in my dress, my dad walked me down the aisle, my sister gave the most amazing maid of honor speech and my brother danced his heart out with all of my bridesmaids.
All of my hopes and wishes for my wedding day were staring me in the face, and I was overcome by so much happiness when I stopped to realize what was happening all around me. Love won by a mile that day.
Back to that County Clerk’s office: I was so devastated and truly moved by the feeling that I had while in that tall, downtown building that I requested our officiant to read the words spoken by Justice Kennedy on June 26, 2015. I wanted to share one story in particular, about George Harris, 82, and Jack Evans, 85, who were the first gay couple to marry in Dallas. They did so just hours after the ruling was announced. They rushed to the Records Building in Downtown Dallas where they were legally married and finally able to call each other husband after a long, hard-fought wait. They were partners for more than 50 years and known throughout the Dallas gay community as one unit. Jack Evans died in 2016, just days before they would have celebrated their one-year marriage anniversary.
George and Jack are just one example of hundreds of LGBTQ+ couples with similar stories. A life long lived with the love of their life, waiting for the day they would be able to proudly hold a marriage certificate in their hands, one that showcased both of their names. So I requested that our Officiant humbly quote some of what was said that day in our ceremony.
It was one of my favorite parts of the whole day. I almost felt a duty, an obligation, to recognize this momentous moment in history by having a piece of it included in our special day. To all of those that endured the long overdue wait, I can’t imagine your struggle. I pay tribute to it and I hope to honor it by loving my wife well for the rest of my life.
To those who spent years fighting for equality, thank you. I feel profoundly honored to be a gay woman, married to the one whom my soul loves in today’s society. Because of all of you, love wins. And I am forever grateful.
My hope is that Laine and I can do our small part to treat this precious sanctity of marriage with respect, knowing that just four short years ago, it was not a union that included people like us. We will not take it for granted. We will hold onto it tightly and always remember that feeling we felt while sitting in those county clerk chairs, reveling in just how lucky we are. The fight is not over, but for now, at least for today, let’s be grateful for how far we have come.
All photos by Gloria Goode.
Kaila Strickland lives with her wife, Laine, in Dallas, Texas. She currently works in the alcohol industry and gets to sell wine for a living. She spends her free time writing, taking fitness classes, traveling and giving all of the rub downs to their two furball pups. You can find her online at The Comfy Closet.