For Some Married Same-Sex Couples, Official Status Enhances Celebrations

14.12.2013 13:48

Introductions at past
holiday gatherings have
been comically convoluted
for Judy Bowman. “I used
to explain, ‘This is Amy’s
sister Vicky’s husband,
Joel,’ ” said Ms. Bowman, a
casting director in New
York. “Now I can just say
‘my brother-in-law.’ ”
That’s because last month,
Ms. Bowman, 42, married
her longtime girlfriend,
Amy Levin, 55, an
executive assistant, and
the women will experience
the holidays as spouses
(spice?) for the first time.
Many same-sex couples
believe that their newly
official status will make
seasonal celebrations more
meaningful, and
introductions around the
eggnog bowl more
conventional, putting to
rest various permutations
of “partner” or the
dreaded “friend.”
“The language about what
to call each other is
bizarre,” Ms. Bowman
said. “We’d just gotten
comfortable with ‘partner,’
even though we’re not at a
square dance or a law
firm. But ‘wife’ isn’t sexy
— it implies a flannel
nightgown, not a lacy
negligee. I’ve been saying,
‘This is my girlfriend,
whom I just married.’ ”
“Marriage changes things
in subtle ways,” she said.
“We’ve gone separately to
our families for holidays,
but other couples wouldn’t
be expected to split up that
way. Now that we’re
married, we’re going to act
like every other married
couple: we’ll alternate
families every other year,
like my grandmother does,
which is weird.”
Since the right to use the
same terminology as
heterosexual couples was
hard-won, some
newlyweds are embracing
it. “I love the word ‘wife,’ ”
said Lauryn Hegarty, 26,
who works in Internet-
technology sales in Orange
County, Calif. “Girlfriend
sounds sexier, but we’re
not 18 anymore.”
Even before her marriage
to Desiree Ekno, 27, a
special-education teacher,
Ms. Hegarty felt embraced
by her extended clan. “But
marriage makes me feel
validated,” she said. “We
have a nice holiday
routine: her family for
Christmas Eve, my parents
for Christmas Day. We
don’t have any uncles that
make us feel
uncomfortable.” And if
anyone does make an
inappropriate comment —
like “the occasional weird
cousin’s little dig” — they
give it right back. “Family
is family,” she added,
“whether you’re straight
or gay, especially with the
addition of alcohol.”
After John Livesay married
Oscar Ross in August, the
latter took the surname
Livesay. “And when our
first holiday card arrived,
it was addressed to ‘The
Livesays,’ which was very
touching,” said John
Livesay, 54, the executive
director at Condé Nast
Corporate Partnerships in
Los Angeles. “We’ve been
together for five years, and
the way we feel about each
other is the same, but my
husband is a charge nurse
at U.C.L.A. Hospital, and
he knows that marriage
license is much more than
a piece of paper. He’s seen
people have to pretend
that a lover was a sister
because they had no rights
about any treatment the
partner was receiving.”
Oscar Livesay, 42, is
Mexican, and in the past
the couple went to Mexico
for the holidays. “But this
year we thought: ‘Why
don’t we change it up now
that we’re married?’ ” John
Livesay said. “We feel like
more of a family in a
whole different way — we
even have a puppy — so
let’s stay in town and
create a new memory.”
Jonathan Zipper and
Phillip Maljevic, both 29,
scheduled their wedding
and South American
honeymoon in November
to be back in time for
Thanksgiving and
Hannukah with family.
“We’d opted to go very
traditional for our
wedding,” said Mr. Zipper,
an actor and comedian,
“because we felt we were
getting married, we
weren’t getting gay-
married. To have missed
our first real holiday as
married people would have
felt weird.”
Mr. Maljevic, a national
manager at a large
insurance company,
agreed. “I’ve always been
an unofficial uncle to Jon’s
niece and nephew,” he
said. “It never felt
disingenuous. There are
people in life that you
refer to as uncle or aunt
who aren’t directly related,
but getting married sort of
legitimized that I’m Uncle
Phil now. It’s great not to
do the noun-and-pronoun
dance anymore.”
A future issue of
FourTwoNine, a new
magazine for the lesbian,
gay, bisexual and
transgender community,
will deal with the issue of
family, according to the
editor in chief, Kevin
Sessums, who hates the
term “gay marriage.”
“I don’t want to ghettoize
it,” he said. “It’s marriage.
But marriage is not just
about creating a new
immediate family. Perhaps
you can be folded into the
family that you already
have. Being married
makes everyone a little
more comfortable around
the Christmas tree. You
don’t have to explain the
relationship to cousin
“I think the holidays are
going to be interesting for
a few more years,” Mr.
Sessums said. “The lexicon
itself will get easier. You
won’t need a comma and a
clarifying clause, as in
‘John’s friend, Bill.’ Parents
always have a way of
putting that word ‘friend’
in quotation marks.
There’s a parental
inflection so everyone
knows what’s meant.”
There is welcoming
acceptance in the families
of Chris Young, 40, an
advertising executive, and
Perry Edwards, 34, who
runs a wholesale jewelry
business. They do the run-
up to Christmas with Mr.
Young’s family in New
York, and at 6 a.m. on
Christmas Day they fly
down to Tennessee, where
Mr. Edwards’s parents
have a time-share in the
mountains. But their new
marriage license doesn’t
change the local culture.
“When we arrive in
Tennessee, there’s no
hand-holding,” Mr.
Edwards said. “If we’re at
a shop or restaurant, I
won’t refer to him as my
husband, and I have to
remember when we’re in
public not to say, ‘Hey
sweetie, what do you want
to eat?’ ”
Living in New York is a
comfort zone for the
newlyweds. “It’s the gold
standard for gay rights,”
Mr. Young said. “And
going into the holiday
season, you really think
about the meaning of
family. My mom and dad
send a holiday card that
has included a picture of
us since the first Christmas
we were together, and this
year the card will say that
we got married.”
Their big holiday brunch
will include some people
who’d previously
expressed a lack of support
for same-sex marriage.
“But at our wedding, a few
of those people told me,
‘You’ve opened my eyes,’ ”
Mr. Young said. “It
becomes real, rather than
something you see on
CNN, and not to sound like
Huey Lewis, it becomes
about the power of love.
Love trumps religion, and
love trumps the national
The newlyweds Wesla Bay
Weller, 52, a jeweler and
graphic designer in Los
Angeles, and Jane Engle,
63, a freelance writer and
editor, plan to wear
complementary Mrs. Claus
hats this year. “And maybe
some hideous matching
Christmas sweaters,” Ms.
Weller. “We know that we
have a pretty great story
for a holiday letter this
year and a photo from our
wedding in July. Maybe
we’ll make some special
ornament for our tree,
although we bought a
marimba, which takes up
half the living room, so we
may hang ornaments on
Despite the Supreme
Court’s decision in June
striking down the Defense
of Marriage Act and
allowing same-sex
marriage to resume in
California, the two are not
legally wed if they cross
state borders into Arizona,
Nevada or Oregon. An
accident on icy winter
roads could put them in
legal limbo. “We travel
with documentation,” Ms.
Weller said. “That
marriage license says,
‘Here’s who I am, and I
matter.’ ”
Same-sex couples are an
attractive new
demographic of holiday
consumers. Paul Rubio was
delighted to see Crate &
Barrel’s “Mister and
Mister” and “Mrs and
Mrs” notecards. “When we
got married, not one of our
guests could find a card for
two men,” said Mr. Rubio,
36, a travel writer in
Miami. “It seems that the
only place you can buy
them are rinky-dink gay
novelty stores, and most
grandparents don’t want to
brave those shops.”
Florida is not one of the 16
states that recognizes
same-sex marriage, so Mr.
Rubio and 30-year-old
Gildas Dousset, a
marketing student,
married in Boston in the
summer, with a reception
last month.
“Something about that
piece of paper has
prompted us to indulge in
the holiday greeting cards
we always wanted to do —
with our pooch, of course,”
Mr. Rubio said. “We’re
going to do the cheesy
things: the Christmas tree,
the Christmas outfit for
our dog. My husband’s
family is in France, and
I’m half Cuban, but we’ll
be with my mom’s side of
the family that celebrates
Christmas — my Jewish