On the Occasion of Same-Sex Marriage in California

A few counties in California got started on it Monday, but today is the first day that every county in California starts handing out marriage certificates to same sex couples, and then allowing those same couples to marry. In honor of this really excellent day in the state of my birth, allow me to repost something I wrote, four years and one month ago, when a similar day happened in Massachusetts (with suitable updating where necessary).

A Quick Note to About-To-Be Married Gays and Lesbians

I have married eleven people. One of them I am married to; the other ten I have married to each other (two at a time). So I have some experience on the whole wedding and marriage thing. Please allow me the honor of sharing some of it with you.

Remember to breathe.

It’s all right if you stumble over words during the vows, but don’t screw up the name of your spouse.

If you feel yourself crying, go with it, but remember to sniffle strategically — tears are endearing in a wedding ceremony, a runny nose less so.

Don’t lock your knees.

The old saying that if the ring gets jammed as you slip it on it means it’ll be a troubled marriage is a contemptible lie, so don’t let it worry you. But strategic use of talcum powder wouldn’t hurt.

You will almost certainly have trouble focusing on anything but the face of your beloved during the ceremony; that’s why there’s a third person up there to direct traffic.

Even if you’ve written your own vows, you’ll barely remember what you say. So don’t sweat most of the words. It’s the “I do” that counts.

Speaking of which, I think it’s always better to say “I do” than “I will.” You’re going to be married in the future, but you’re getting married now.

But remember, it’s your wedding. Anyone else’s opinion about what the two of you should do or say during the ceremony is strictly advisory.

When you’re told to kiss your spouse, do it like you mean it.

Be aware that this last piece of advice will be almost entirely unnecessary.

When you plan your wedding, try to cover all contingencies. When the one thing you forgot could go wrong does go wrong during the wedding itself, accept it and keep going. Weddings are often imperfect, like the people in them. It doesn’t mean they’re not still absolutely wonderful (like the people within them).

Before the ceremony, pee early and often. I know. But look, you want to be up there with a full bladder? You’ll be nervous enough.

Some people don’t think you should invite your exes to the wedding. But I think it’s not such a bad thing to have one person in the crowd slightly depressed that they let you get away. They’ll get over it at the reception. Trust me.

There will not be nearly enough time at the reception to spend all the time you want with all the people you want to. They’ll understand and will be happy for the time you can spare them.

Smashing wedding cake into each other’s face is strictly amateur hour.

It’s your best man’s (or the equivalent’s) job to remind people that at a wedding reception, as at the Academy Awards, speeches are best very short. You didn’t spend an obscene amount on the catering just to have it grow cold as Uncle Jim blathers on.

Remind the DJ or band that they work for you, and they’ll damn well play anything you want. For some reason I think this may be less of a problem at gay weddings. Thank God.

There will be drama of some sort at the reception. If the wedding party lets any of it reach the newlyweds, they haven’t done their job.

Don’t fill up on bread. You’ll have to dance later.

The first dance should be a song people expect from you. The second dance should be a song they absolutely don’t. It gets things going.

Try to remember as much as you can. Don’t worry if you don’t; what you absolutely will remember is how it feels to be with those who love you, who are pouring their love and happiness over you. Weddings are testimony to your clan of family and friends. You put them on to give them a chance to share your joy. They come to them to remind you that they already do.

In case this is in any way an issue, let someone else clean up the reception hall. You have better things to do on your wedding night.

There are very few things in the world that are better than the very first time you wake up next your spouse.

In some ways, your marriage will be like every other marriage out there. In other ways, of course, it won’t. Those of us who are married now will certainly offer you advice, whether you ask for it or not. But there are some things where you’ll be the first married people to experience them. In some ways, those of us who are married now will be glad we don’t have to go through them. In other ways, we’re deeply envious.

Marriage is work. It never stops being work. It never should.

I’ve been married 13 years as of this very day. During all that time, there hasn’t been a single day where I haven’t said “I love you” to my spouse — several times if at all possible. The two facts are related.

Other short phrases which also occasionally come in handy: “I’m sorry,” “You’re right,” “I’ll get that” and “Of course I’ll go down to the freezer and get you some ice cream, even though it’s 3am and you woke me from a dead sleep. There’s nothing I’d rather do.” Okay, so that last one is not that short. Think about all the times you’re entirely unreasonable, and then go get the ice cream.

The thing about marriages — even the really good ones — is that human beings are in them. And you know how people are. Keep it in mind.

I have no advice to give you for the people who have decided that your marriage threatens their own. Only remember that some of us out here would wish to give you the strength to endure them.

I cannot speak for all married people, but I can speak for myself. Marriage has been so good to me that I cannot imagine not sharing it with anyone who wants it. I celebrate your weddings, and I offer the greatest gift I have: That you receive in your married life the joy I have had in mine, and that you share that joy, every day, with an open and loving heart. You’re about to be married. There is nothing better.

To those about to be married: Welcome, friends. It’s good to have you here.

62 thoughts on “On the Occasion of Same-Sex Marriage in California

  1. sniff

    That’s beautiful.

    Okay, I’m feeling very sappy tonight. Even though I don’t believe it’ll last :(.

  2. I had an eye exam today with a new doctor and she was just so excited and happy and unable to stop smiling as we were going over things that I had to ask her what was up. Turned out she’s getting married in less than two weeks. I’d never even met her before but I felt like at that point only societal norms stopped us from hugging and jumping up and down together for joy.

    My own wedding someday is a long way off, but this really made me feel good. Thank you.

  3. You made me smile. =)

    When we got married last year, my husband was so nervous about people not hearing him say “I do” that he practically shouted it, when the rabbi asked him. It was wonderful and adorable and just another reason why I love him.

  4. This was about the sweetest thing I’ve seen in ages. Relationships aren’t easy. We can all learn from each other’s advice, whether we know it or not, whether we take it or not.

    I am deeply in love. I’ve been married for 28 years. To everyone starting on the journey, enjoy what you have, and trust, as I do, that everything eventually turns out the way it is supposed to.

  5. Just remember that it really doesn’t take very long before people stop thinking of same-sex marriage as a big deal. That’s my experience in Canada at least. It was a big issue in the media for a month or two, then people realized that it doesn’t affect them and stopped caring.

  6. Thanks for this. Beautifully written, and great advice for anyone, gay or straight, casual or formal. This will be the second time I’ve linked to your blog in the past week. Keep this up and I won’t have to write another original word myself! ;-)

  7. So we often tell you how insanely lucky you are to have your wife. I gotta say, I think she’s pretty lucky too.

    Nicely done Mr Scalzi.

  8. The last comment I left on Whatever on this topic was so jaded…sheesh! As a queer Californian with no immediate (or long-term, for that matter) wedding plans I hadn’t expected to get so teary today. Then the photos started showing up on the internet. And then I read your post. Wow, if today ain’t a victory for love and commitment and family and all that’s good I don’t know what it is.

    Thanks Scalzi. Mwah!

  9. Good advice. And, congratulations to everyone getting married today.

    Also, happy anniversary to you and Krissy! Holy CRAP! I can’t believe it’s been 13 years already. 13 years, and I still have that engraved lava lamp in my living room. (Clearly, I’m still not married.)

    Happy anniversary!

  10. Wow, John, that was lovely, and made all the more poignant by the fact that the woman I’ve been in love with for four-and-a-half years suddenly told me the other day, clear out of the blue, that she realized she doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage and doesn’t want to play.

    Sigh.

    And I was hoping to dance our first dance to “These Arms of Mine,” by my man, Otis Redding.

  11. Nice but a bit skewed to those that love parties. Introverts like me favor a simple ceremony and a quick dash towards door and the honeymoon. Screw that dancing in public in uncomfortable clothing!

  12. Wow – that certainly confirms the impression which OMW made on me.

    No longer living in a place that believes such things about weddings and marriage is a true blessing – but then, a 50% divorce rate and the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the industrial world speaks volumes about what living in a fantasy world results in.

  13. Not married but I was best man to a lovely hetero couple a month or so back and from that perspective this is pure gold.

    If you don’t mind I’m going to post a link to this on my LJ.

  14. Coincidentally, a study was released this week suggesting the brain scans of homosexual men resemble those of heterosexual women, and the brain scans of homosexual women resemble those of heterosexual men. Proving perhaps once-and-for-all that homosexuality is a g-d-given trait.

  15. I don’t know what other coincidences link us, but happy anniversary too you (Yep, 6/17). And what IS it with the DJs? Now they bring a laptop so it’s not like they are lugging CASES of records about and you ask for music and they nod at you like someone on a musical mission from god when they’ve got a frickin’ play list there and more music than most radio stations.

  16. TransDutch @ 16; there was a study published a few years back by either Time or Scientific American that showed the corpus callosum —or tissue between brain hemispheres of gay men and women (in general) were thinner than that of hetero males.

    I initially thought you were referring to that particular study…but I see that it is ‘new news.’

    Until I read the ANI publishings I won’t make any further comments: the news articles leave a lot of information to be desired.

  17. Happy Anniversary, John and Krissy.

    My marriage didn’t have quite the happy ending and I’ve been a bit jaded ever since. Reading that however, I’ve softened around the edges. Thanks for putting the romance back into the idea of marriage.

  18. Today is my anniversary as well. It’s been a wonderful, enchanting 13 years for us.

    Concentrate on the big stuff, be partners, and leave all the petty stuff behind. It doesn’t really matter in the end. Saying “I love you” and meaning it is everything.

    Happy Anniversary John & Krissy.

  19. True dat!

    This is awesome. Worth looking at for straight and gay couples alike. I’ll be sending it along to friends in CA. No doubt it will come in handy.

    And marriage is work. Work that is fun. ONly job where you have to have sex on the job. Sweet!

    Okay, not the only job.

  20. No fair making me cry first thing in the morning. This is really lovely, thank you for reposting.

    I’m so proud to live in California, particularly the Bay Area: home of diversity, inclusion, and just some damn common sense.

  21. Good stuff John. When I read pieces like these from you (JS), I wonder why you doesn’t write non-fiction like the kind Po Bronson writes (for example). Me thinks it would be popular and we know you can write some kick-ass stuff. The non-fiction, almost-self-helpish, feel-good section of the bookstore is crying out for a book by JS.

    Not that you should listen to me, since I am neither a book publisher, nor an author, just a book-reader and infrequent blog-commenter, way down in the food chain.

    But, I’m just saying.

  22. Nice job John
    Everything you say here is true, no matter the gender of the spouses.
    My wife and I will celebrate 28 years in August and I truly believe the smartest thing I’ve ever done was to make sure she didn’t get beyond arms length.

    I tell people I know that are getting married the same thing every time “If you are 1/2 as happy as my wife and I have been, you’ll still be fantastic.”

    Happy anniversary to all sniffle sniffle…

  23. I’ve been sniffling over today ever since I read that George Takei is finally able to marry…

    The best wedding advice I ever heard was from the minister at my best friend’s wedding rehearsal. He said that even if the church caught fire during the ceremony, they’d put out the fire and continue with it, and she’d still be just as married. “Just as married” was almost my mantra when I was planning my wedding, also 13 years (and a few months) ago.

  24. Wow. What good timing for me to check Whatever and find this today. I’m tying the knot in two days and I really needed to hear this advice. I think I’m going to print this off for my family and future in-laws. Some of us involved in the wedding have forgotten that it’s a happy time and to just relax. Pee early and often. LOL. I would have forgotten that one. And then I would have been miserable. :) Thanks for sharing this.

    I’m glad I’m getting married at such a great moment in history.

    And a huge happy anniversary to you, John & Krissy!

  25. Wonderful!

    I participated in a wedding where the priest did a great thing you can add to your repetoire. When the bride arrived at the alter and greeted the groom, the priest had them both turn around and look out at the crowd. They took a brief moment to relax and wave at friends, then they did the ceremony. The groom in that wedding officiated at my own and we repeated the moment. As a bride who arrived at the wedding only moments before, it was nice to take a look around before jumping into the 38 second ceremony that followed.

    And another bit of unsolicited advice on a happy relationship – if you’re within reach, close the gap and touch. Even if you just brush hands as you pass each other in the hall.

  26. Well and beautifully said.

    I always figure if you can make it through the wedding planning and the ceremony (at least here in the South, and with a mother who thinks it’s her chance to have the wedding of HER dreams), and try to laugh about any disasters (the lights going out in the church, my grandmother’s racist remarks about the black groomsman) then BEING married will be a piece of cake.

    15 years, 3 boys, having a blast!

  27. You’re pretty good at this writing thing. Perhaps you should try to make some money with it.

  28. The one bit of advice I’ve started giving that has helped me avoind bad patche in various relationships is :

    Expect the person you’re involved with the behave in a manner consistent with previous behavior. If they change, good, but recognize that there’s a chance that any given behavior pattern is not going to change any time soon. It’s OK to be annoyed by those patterns, but you may still end up living with them.

  29. “Pee early and often”

    That brought a smile to my face.
    The first thing I said to my bride when she joined me on the alter was “I have to pee!”

    It was just nerves and I made it through the ceremony without incident. That was 5 1/2 years ago and I cannot love her more.

    Happy anniversary!

  30. Some more advice for during the reception, as I’ve found this the case in nearly every wedding I’ve been to, make sure the bride and groom get some water first thing. They are often dehydrated from the stress and all the goings on.

    Then make sure they get fed first. I’ve been to one or two weddings where the bride is so busy making the rounds that she forgets to eat. Not a good thing to almost pass out from hunger during the first dance.

    To many wedding parties have absolutely no clue what their jobs are. I’ve actually had to serve the duties of a maid of honor once for my best friend. Her MOH was too stoned and drunk to do anything.

  31. The old saying that if the ring gets jammed as you slip it on it means it’ll be a troubled marriage is a contemptible lie, so don’t let it worry you. But strategic use of talcum powder wouldn’t hurt.

    The advice I was given was to slide the ring up to the knuckle and then, if there was any awkwardness, let the other person do the rest.

    I have no idea whether we followed this advice or not, because large portions of the evening are a blur.

    Oh, and my own lessons about weddings are here.

  32. <3 this post SO MUCH.

    One thing I would add: If you, like me, hate the idea of your wedding being a media circus and hence decide not to do video, reconsider. There will be so much going on that you won’t see and/or won’t be able to process that you’ll be very grateful for the documentation.

    That said, insist that your videographer be invisible. The wedding is about you and your loved ones — bright lights and wandering interviews only distract from the real focus.

    One of my sisters just set up a camera in the back of the room and let it roll. I was so grateful for that, in retrospect, and I really wish her battery hadn’t died before I got to call my wife “my wife” for the first time.

  33. When I was married (the second time for the first marriage – don’t ask), my father, a Methodist minister, did the officiating. His advice, which I don’t know how it’ll be applied in these marriages, was that the entire focus of the wedding is the bride. When she’s at the back of the church, everyone turns to watch. When she’s walking up the aisle, everyone is focused on her. The job of the wedding party is always to be facing the bride. Bride, bride, bride.

    And it worked wonderfully. Any time I or anyone else didn’t know what to do? Look at the bride. This has served me in good stead as both a best man and a member of the congregation at other weddings.

    So how do you accomplish this with no bride? Or two brides? I’ll have to ask my dad…

  34. Happy Anniversary! Many, many more.
    I think I might just print out your advice and hand it over every time someone asks how my husband and I managed to be married so long, (33 years) because no way I could have said it better.

  35. Here’s to all those getting married, and hoping that they’re yes, at least half as content in it as I am. (Because being constantly happy is a strain, and probably impossible, but I can be content even when I’m grouchy, overall. O:>)

    Thank goodness for digital cameras. My film camera had auto-rewind and the last picture was taken on it, by my sire, just as we were about to do the vows…

    It was either kill him or laugh, so I laughed. The dress was hand-made by a friend and I didn’t want to get it messed up with blood.

    *grin*

  36. Thanks a lot for making me cry at work, jerk!

    It’s nice to see another piece from you as profound as ‘being poor,’ but with an uplifting feeling this time.

  37. Very well said, John. Happy anniversary to you and Krissy. My wife and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary in a couple of months, and I’m happy to say that our experience has been much like yours. It just keeps getting better.

  38. I just got back from my honeymoon! We were married on May 30th. After 8 years of dating, marriage hasn’t changed us. Yet at the same time, the workday seems to drag on as I wait to go home and see him. I get more phone calls and emails from him during the day than I ever did before. Maybe it’s newlywed syndrome that will pass, but I have to agree with John…it’s nice to be married.

  39. Don’t forget, fellow Californians: now that we’ve got this gate open, we’ve got to keep it open by voting down the ballot initiative that would ban gay marriage by amending our frigging state Constitution. Get registered to vote now if you aren’t already, and let’s send this steaming pile of legislative crap back to the Dark Ages where it belongs.

  40. I read this, cried, then got a phone call from my baby brother Craig to inform me that I was invited to he and his partner Jack’s wedding in San Francisco in October, then I cried again.

    Damn! :-)

  41. I was married over lunch by a judge on a break from a murder trial. Like most of life the start is not as important as showing up every day.

    It’s been great for me and I wish everyone, gay, straight or somewhere in between, the same.

  42. Congrats on the anniversary, John.

    I’ve performed a few marriage ceremonies, too, and been through one of my own, and I second all the little bits of advice.

    The first time I was going to officiate, I spent a whole day working the Princess Bride marriage out of my system first, to keep everything light. The Bride and Groom were amused.

    The latest one was a nice, “We’re getting married now, can you officiate? Out at the beach.” Informal, but very special for them.

    My own wedding was fun for me. I got to watch everyone else freaking out. My best man, hyperventilating behind me. My father in law, who my wife had to elbow twice when the minister turned out to be long winded baptist and kept going and going and going…

    But those were mere distractions. My wife was the point, and still is, 16+ years later. Yay long happy marriages. They may never be easy, but they should always be worthwhile.

  43. It’s all right if you stumble over words during the vows, but don’t screw up the name of your spouse.

    I didn’t screw up my spouse’s name. However, the Justice of the Peace did. Twice. After being corrected. Despite it being spelled correctly on the various pieces of paper. So if the person performing the ceremony is not an actual friend or acquaintance, you may want to check this sort of thing beforehand.

    OTOH, the guests were mostly amused. Seven years later, some of them still ask me how my marriage to “Erwin” is going…

  44. This was lovely. Happy anniversary, and happy marriages to all those getting married. I’m coming up on thirteen months, myself. I still wish we’d done a lot of things about the wedding differently, but not the marriage. (And on the actual day of the wedding, nothing upset me. Not the mosquitos eating me alive, not the first dance being cut off, not having hot coffee spilled all over me. My happiness was invincible.)

  45. I have to share the one thing that went wrong at our wedding. We had our reception in the president’s reception hall at a Catholic University in Chicago. My beloved’s friends set the room up. It was a long, rectangular room and the head table was set up along one of the long sides of the room, with the dance floor to our right (as we looked out to the guests).

    As the guests were arriving and taking their seats, I found it very odd as to who was sitting closest to the head table. When I saw my mom and her family (who I had assigned to Table 3) sitting in the far corner, I knew something was really, really wrong.

    I walked over to the table, and discovered that the friends had put the 12 table numbers based on the dance floor as the primary focus. So instead of tables 1, 2, 3, and 4 in front of us, it was tables 1, 4, 7, and 10! Enough guests had shown up that it was too late to try to shift everything around, so I shrugged my shoulders and went to her to apologize.

    My mom looked at me and said (with a big grin), “What, not enough money for you?”

    To all the newlyweds: the heartiest of congratulations and love to you all.

  46. My ex-wife and I ran away to Las Vegas to get married. Hmm, maybe there was connection….

    Well, good advice for those looking to stay the course. I find that treating my loved ones like I, well, you know, *love* them seems to work well. Though, of course, I do rather expect it to work both ways.

  47. Speaking as a straight single dude in Georgia, that was one of the greatest things I’ve read in a long, long time. This time is long overdue. I can only hope that, when I get around to tying the knot, I’m a tenth as happy as the wonderful folks who are finally equal under the law are today.

  48. As one relative who has been tagged to video several ceremonies — a little advice. Don’t hand a video camera to someone five minutes before the ceremony and say “You’re good with a camera… Can you tape the wedding?” It’s a big responsibility, and it takes some time to learn where all the buttons and such are. And provide a tripod!!! (happened three times now — I now keep a tripod in my trunk for weddings, just in case).

    And for the videographers — don’t go crazy with the zoom every five seconds. Sure, zoom in for the vows, but most shots of the actual ceremony are better if static, with slow pans or zooms. Get a shot of the singer if you can, but that’s also a good time to pan around the audience and try to get all attendees in at least one shot.

    From what I’ve been told, most people rarely watch the actual ceremony video, but enjoy the tape of the reception much more. Take the camera out every half hour or so, get a few candid scenes, then put it away for a while (except for the special events that occur.)

    Learn how to work the manual focus. In the dark the auto-focus won’t work as well — don’t let the bride and groom think it’s YOU going out of focus all the time, especially later in the evening. Well, maybe it WAS me, that one time…

  49. sniff..I must copy this. What a good bit of writing and good people making comments. All is right, or getting that way, in the world. Fingers crossed.

  50. sniff. I’m emailing a link to this to my 20 year old step-daughter,who’s getting married next year. This is great advice to any newlyweds,period.

    PS.I’m officiating at the wedding.Anyone here know the legal status of mail-order minister’s licenses these days?

  51. Depends on where you do perform the marriage, Trevor. Check with the local authorities to see what clearances, if any, you need to perform the marriage.

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