Thirty-eight years after our wedding, we became legally married on Wednesday, exactly 40 years after the day we met.
We remember Joni Mitchell singing in carefree 1972, “We don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall.” Turns out Joni was wrong; you do need that piece of paper. And life is seldom as simple as it seems.
Our wedding was on July 14, 1979 at the First Church of Deerfield. But because of some glitch that we still don’t understand, no marriage certificate was filed. Since then, we have bought a house together, raised two children, filed joint income tax returns, and thought of ourselves as being married.
We didn’t discover the problem until Betsy turned 66 and applied for spousal benefits from Social Security. She was told she must present a marriage certificate, but she couldn’t find one in our records.
She wrote to the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, which could find no evidence of a marriage certificate. She contacted Deerfield Town Hall, and the county seat in Greenfield, and the answer was the same.
We were living in Worcester in 1979. Fortunately, we had applied for a marriage license there, though we don’t remember doing so. This was from a time before the Worcester city clerk digitized the records, so someone had to search through dusty old books to find evidence of our application.
Without that, we would have had to hire a lawyer and go before a judge. But even with this filing of “marriage intentions,” we had to gather notarized statements from two witnesses to the wedding and a statement from the minister of the church.
So we went back to the church in Deerfield to meet the Rev. Liza Knapp (who, like Betsy, had been a religion major at Swarthmore). Liza had talked on the phone to the minister who officiated at our wedding, now retired and living in California. She signed a document stating that we had, indeed, gotten married in 1979 in her church.
So on Wednesday we drove to Worcester, where we met with the assistant city clerk. We showed him the documents, photos from our wedding and the newspaper announcements (“Former area newsman takes bride in Deerfield” was the headline in the Greenfield Recorder).
We raised our right hands, swore that the information was correct, signed our names, wrote a check for $24, and received a “certificate of marriage.”
It’s a humorous story, but it got us thinking about some serious things. For years, gay and lesbian couples could have a wedding in some churches, but couldn’t get that piece of paper that entitled them to benefits that straight couples take for granted. And it reminded us of a Russian visitor who said that in his country, marriage is a two-part process, with a civil marriage performed first and, if desired, a later religious ceremony.
So we jumped through the hoops, got the piece of paper and we are good to go. It’s been an adventure!
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