WASHINGTON – Wednesday was a long day for Ellen Kahn and Julie Drizin of Silver Spring. They roused their two daughters early, plying them with breakfast and offering a day off from school. By 8 a.m., everyone was dressed presentably and ready to get on the Metro.
Kahn fussed over Ruby Drizin-Kahn, 10, and Jasper Drizin-Kahn, 6. She offered lip balm and earmuffs and told Jasper to button her coat against the rain.
Kahn was a little wired on coffee. She and Drizin stayed up the night before filling out paperwork for a trip to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
After 20 years together, they joined more than 100 other couples in applying for a marriage license Wednesday, the first day same-sex couples could apply in the district. And thanks to a recent legal opinion by the state attorney general, their marriage will be recognized in Maryland, where same-sex marriage is illegal.
“I told a friend the other day that we were going to get the license,” said Kahn. “She said, ‘Oh, my God, you’re engaged!’ And I thought, ‘We’ve been engaged for 20 years.'”
The D.C. Council voted 11 to 2 in December to legalize same-sex marriage in the city. Last week, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler handed down a long-awaited opinion that found state agencies must legally recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The day the opinion was issued, Kahn proposed, however unromantically.
“Ellen sent me an email on her BlackBerry,” Drizin said. “It said ‘Wanna get married in D.C. now that Maryland will recognize it?'”
At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the family walked down the narrow maze of hallways toward room 4485, stopping to exchange hugs with friends along the way. At the end of the hall, about 150 people were already waiting. A clerk gave them a number: 69. Then they waited.
The line inched along for more than three hours. Ruby read. Jasper played a video game. Drizin threw imaginary rice at couples on their way out of the Marriage Bureau office.
Though the atmosphere was about as romantic as a trip to the Motor Vehicle Administration, Drizin and Kahn smiled. Together, they have survived graduate school, career moves, home ownership, parenthood and the death of Drizin’s father.
A few more hours of red tape were nothing.
Kahn and Drizin, both 46, met in 1989 when they were involved in AIDS activism. They had a commitment ceremony in Washington in 1997 where they exchanged silver rings inscribed in Hebrew with the phrase “I am my beloved’s, my beloved is mine.”
They signed a traditional Jewish marriage contract, stood under a chuppah and broke a ceremonial glass. They started their family the next year.
They never filed for domestic partnership in Maryland, since most benefits apply only to state and county workers. But over two decades, they have cobbled together a net of legal protections, including living wills and power of attorney.
“We’ve done pretty much everything we can do in terms of spending the money (straight) married couples don’t have to spend to cover all these bases legally,” said Kahn.
They never made the trek to any of the five states where same-sex marriage is legal because the license wouldn’t mean anything once they returned home to Maryland. What was the point, said Kahn.
“I wanted to hold out for Maryland,” Kahn said. “I thought we were living in a pretty progressive state, where the compass is slowly moving toward equality. I thought it would be a year or two or three (until we could marry). But with this announcement by Gansler, it actually means something in terms of legally protecting our family.”
Most of the couples lined up at the courthouse Wednesday were district residents, but a court officer said a about quarter were from outside the city.
Before Gansler’s opinion, a district marriage license would have meant little beyond a symbolic gesture for a Maryland couple like Kahn and Drizin, who have lived in Silver Spring since 1994.
Gansler’s opinion will now require Maryland state agencies to treat Kahn and Drizin as married. The state extends many benefits to married spouses, including waiving inheritance taxes and taxes on the transfer of property.
Married couples enjoy more than 400 statutory protections in Maryland, compared with a dozen offered by domestic partnerships, according to the advocacy group Equality Maryland.
Legal marriage also offers something less tangible, but harder-won: Legitimacy.
“I never in my life thought I’d want to be someone’s wife,” said Drizin. “We live as though we’re married, but we’ve really never said we were married. We’re life partners, spouses, moms …”
“We’re people!” interjected Jasper.
“We didn’t even call our commitment ceremony a marriage,” said Drizin. “But this is different. Now that we can do this, it’s a chance to reflect on why we are together, to re-commit.”
She stops for a moment. “I think I had bitterness around marriage because I couldn’t have one. But I’m releasing that now. I’ve been so surprised at how I’ve felt the past few days. I feel levity, joy. I’m reminded of the sacredness of our relationship.”
As a legally married couple, Kahn and Drizin will also have a new vocabulary for their relationship, one that their children recognize in the families of their friends.
“It could add a sense of likeness for them, from a child-centered perspective,” Kahn said.
Bills legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland have stalled in two previous legislative sessions, and one introduced this session is not likely to pass.
Legislation explicitly banning gay marriage in Maryland has died in committee for the past six sessions. But as Washington legalized gay unions and lawmakers awaited Gansler’s opinion, the issue of banning recognition of out-of-state, same-sex marriages gained new attention.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill banning recognition. Delegate Emmett Burns, D-Baltimore County, introduced a House version of the bill in January, which was defeated last month.
Any new law would override the attorney general’s opinion on the state’s obligation to recognize out-of-state, same-sex marriages. Burns has said he would like to see the issue brought to a referendum.
At 12:30 p.m., Kahn and Drizin handed over their paperwork to a clerk in a room cluttered with plastic roses. They raised their right hands and made a vow that the personal information on their form was accurate. Drizin danced in her chair to the piped-in music: Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?
“Go to room 4201 and pay the $45 fee,” the clerk said.
“Congratulations!” came from the rest of the people in line.
“The kids didn’t fall apart!” said Kahn. “That’s the real victory.”
Wednesday was a day long in coming for local advocates of same-sex marriage. It was a long day for Kahn, Drizin and their daughters.
And there’s still a bit of waiting left to be done. Couples that applied Wednesday can pick up their marriage certificates next Tuesday. Civil ceremonies will begin the following week at the courthouse.
Kahn and Drizin will have a small ceremony soon at the Washington Ethical Society. Then they’ll open their home to friends and family for an informal celebration. They need to make up for being too busy to celebrate their 20th anniversary in January.
Is it strange for your parents to have a wedding when they are already married?
“No,” said Ruby. “Because this is a really big deal.”