Saturday, January 05, 2008

The First Civil Union in NH

A friend who is a justice of the peace and owns an inn was performing a civil union at midnight and suggested I drive up to be part of this historic event.

Hart's Location is about 20 minutes away. The inn is on the side of a mountain - and there is no light pollution - nothing but a few scattered homes for miles around. The inn is beautifully lit. I walk toward it, hearing the river to my right, through the stark white birches and the pines. The stars are so bright. It is perfect, so still, and so beautiful.

Inside, there's a fire in the fireplace, and the inn is decorated for the holidays. A reporter from NH Public Television is there - as surprised to see me as I am to see him. He didn't know that I live in the area, or that the owners of the inn are my friends. I didn't know he'd be taping the ceremony. We laugh.

I meet Neil and Jeff, the happy couple - and they are happy. There are no jitters - they are ready for this. We chat for a few minutes, and Neil tells me I look familiar - then he remembers, and asks, "weren't you at that hearing of the marriage commission in Littleton? Didn't you testify? You said you were the kind of heterosexual who gives marriage a bad name?" I hung my head and admitted that was me - and he threw his arms around me and said "We love you - that was so great!"

We all gather in the small living room, by the Christmas tree. Richard (from NHPTV) has the cameras set up. Neil and Jeff have a niece and a friend with them, and a few of the inn's guests trickle in to observe. Everyone is poised - and we begin the countdown to midnight. The new civil union law takes effect on January 1. I'm the timekeeper. As I coundown to midnight, everyone joins me - and after a quick cheer of "Happy New Year, " Ed begins the ceremony.

It is moving, and a little awkward - this is uncharted linguistic territory. There's a brief stumble over pronouns. It doesn't matter - we chuckle and move on. Jeff and Neil are radiantly happy. I forget that Richard is there with a camera. It's a very sweet, warm, and funny service. Ed pronounces them legally joined. They kiss. We all applaud - and we all hug one another.

There is champagne, and toasts, and cake - all of the things one would expect at a wedding. This isn't legally a wedding - but that doesn't change the way it feels. This feels like a wedding - only more joyous.

Civil unions are brand new (2 hrs and 15 minutes old as I write this) in NH. We don't know yet what this will mean for our state. Will this derail marriage equality? What are the legal differences between civil union and marrriage in NH? Will this have an impact on other states?

It's too soon to tell. What I know tonight is this - two people who love each other made a serious commitment to one another in front of friends, family, a handful of strangers, and two Bernese Mountain dogs. That it was two men didn't feel strange at all.

Note: I wrote this in the hours after the ceremony. This has not been published as an editorial in the Conway Daily Sun.

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