Gay marriage in the District

Rick Imirowicz and Terrance Heath
Same-Sex Couple
Wednesday, March 10, 2010; 1:00 PM

With the issuing of the first marriage licenses to same-sex couples Tuesday, the District follows five states -- from Iowa to Massachusetts -- in allowing gay couples to marry. Same-sex couples were first able to apply for licenses in the District last Wednesday but, like all couples, had to follow the city's three-day waiting period before getting hitched.

Rick Imirowicz and Terrance Heath, who were married Tuesday, were online Wednesday, March 10, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the new law in the District and what it means to them and others in the GLBT community and the nation.

Imirowicz, 43, is a doctor and a practicing Catholic. Heath, 41, is African American and practices Buddhism. Both are long-time District residents who have been together for 10 years and have two children.


Terrance Heath: Hi, I'm Terrance. My husband Rick and I married yesterday in Washington, D.C., at the same church where Mayor Fenty signed the legislation that made it possible. We're looking forward to chatting with Washington Post readers and answering your questions!


Mazel tov!: Congratulations on your marriage! It's so exciting to finally see my friends and neighbors granted the equal right to marry, which I've always been able to enjoy. I hope your kids were able to participate in the ceremony!

I was really saddened to see the strong negative reaction to the Post printing, on the front page, a picture of two men celebrating their marriage license with a kiss. With all of the bad news out there, you'd think people would be relieved to see something joyous on the front page for once. Have you encountered similar reactions to public displays of affection, or do you find that is not so much of an issue?

Wishing you many years of marital bliss!

Terrance Heath: We're fortunate to live in a community where our family is treated no differently than any other family. In ten years, I can count on one hand the times we've gotten a negative reaction. The positive reactions have far outweighed the negative.

As for public displays of affection, we usually have our hands full when we're out with our children.


Rockville, Md.: No question from me. Just wanted to say congratulations. I'm sorry it took this long for it to happen. I wish the federal government would repeal DOMA. You should have all the rights and benefits that I get. What two adults do is their business, and nobody else's.

Rick Imirowicz: I whole heartedly agree. Thank you for your well wishes.


Chester, Pa.: Best Wishes to you Both!

What does your marriage mean for your children -- now and in the future?

Rick Imirowicz: For our oldest son, we went as a family to Annapolis to speak with our legislators to "change the rules" so daddy and papa could get married. Our oldest knows he, like most kids in his class, has two parents who and love and care for him. Now he knows that change is possible and he has married parents like many of his friends and all of his cousins,aunts,uncles and grandparents.Our two year old is happy just being two, he is over the moon just getting a balloon.We hope as parents that our boys will one day get married and be in loving committed relationships as adults too.

Terrance Heath: Our seven-year-old was excited about the wedding as soon as we told him, and even more excited about playing a part. (In one video, he can be seen giving us a big hugged when we kissed after the vows.

What it means for the future is that I hope my children will benefit from what I had growing up -- a stable, loving home with two parents who love each other, are committed to each other, and married to each other. We hope both our sons marry when they are adults and will be thrilled if they have families of their own.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Congratulations to both of you, and kudos to both of you for putting yourselves out here to answer questions from a potentially hostile crowd -- you're braver than I am, for sure. My soon-to-be husband and I got our license today and it's hard to describe just how incredible it feels. All my straight friends are very supportive, but I don't think most of them truly understand just how momentous this is. It's hard to describe to someone who hasn't experienced it what it's like to spend most of your life being exposed to media and people who tell you that the way you love is somehow wrong, or not as important. Getting this license is a real affirmation that we are, in fact, just as important as everyone else.

Terrance Heath: Congratulations to you and your husband-to-be! May you have many, many, many happy years together.


Washington, D.C.: I'm glad that the District has finally recognized gay marriage. The problem is that if you cross the river into Virginia, you are suddenly "unmarried" according to state law.

So, suppose a gay couple marries here in D.C. and a year down the road they have to move (job, take care of elderly parent, etc.) to a state that doesn't recognize same sex marriages, is there any benefit to being married?

Terrance Heath: Unfortunately, our marriages are not recognized in most states. It's something we hope will change in time, and I believe it will. If you live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages, there are definite benefits to being married, even if it's not recognized by other states or the federal government.


Tampa, Fla.: Are the newly-married gays and lesbians in D.C. aware that with gay marriage comes gay divorce, gay custody fights, gay alimony fights, gay child support fights, gay attorney fee fights, and all the other fun aspects of marriage and divorce which straights have heretofore had all to themselves but must now share with the gay and lesbian community?

I support gay marriage, but marriage in general ain't a bed of roses. That's why most of the incidents of people who walk into law offices and start shooting involve family law disputes.

Rick Imirowicz: As you say there are legal ramifications to being married and legal ramifications to not being married. This being a town rich in people with law degrees, I did see an attorney post on a community forum for gay and lesbian families the advice to potentially consult with an attorney before getting married. Having said that, I am not an attorney and I don't think my parents or brothers or most people I know do so before marriage. With a legal framework of marriage then the legal framework of divorce can come into play as well.


Olney, Md.: BTW, who proposed first?

Terrance Heath: Rick first proposed to me years ago, on a beach in Hawaii. It was very romantic, and I said yes (of course).


Northwest D.C.: I am a straight, married woman; you'll be glad to know that my marriage wasn't suddenly rendered worthless in light of your happiness. It's so odd to me that others can't feel this way. More legal marriage = more stable families. You'd think all these "pro-family" groups would see that.

Rick Imirowicz: I'm glad your marriage is doing well too. My parents marriage is also intact after 50 years together. I think it's a wonderful thing when two adults can commit to each other in a loving caring relationship and supporting their relationships' is a wonderful thing.


Olney, Md.: Congratulations, guys. A long time coming.

For those of us in Maryland, we too have some hope that we can be married soon as well.

Do you feel that your relationship has changed because of the piece of paper?

For gay male couples who are in monogamous relationships, I guess this seals the deal. Regardless of the piece of paper, gay men have loved each other wholely for quite a long time, in committed long-term relationships. Besides the legal benefits, do you feel there are other intangible benefits of being married?

Rick Imirowicz: In answering the intangible benefits, having the ceremony and legal protecton does help to solidiy and celebrate our relationship to each other. As two working adults, raising two active healthy boys, its hard to focus on just the two of us as a couple. A wedding and marriage helps us to do that and confirm our caring for each other.


Richmond, Va-: Congrats! Best wishes to you both.

Do you feel clergy should be required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies?

Terrance Heath: No. Nor should churches or religious organizations be required to do so, or host them on their property. Fortunately, there are a number of supportive clergy and religious institutions that support and celebrate our families' commitment. In many places, they're not hard to find.

Besides, I can't imagine many couples would want to have controversy on what is and should be a happy occasion.


Washington, D.C.: Were you already registered in a civil union in D.C. and, if so, why did you decide to get married?

Rick Imirowicz: We did not register as domestic partners in DC beforehand since we live in Maryland these days. Once the Attorney General of Maryland issued his opinion that our legal DC marriage would be valid where we live, we jumped at the opportunity to do so.


Arlington Gay: Congratulations, gentlemen. My husband and I got married in California almost two years ago. Great feeling, isn't it? But how much of the ceremony do you actually remember? We're glad we have paper copy of the vowels because it was all a blur to us.

We've talked about moving into the city, but it's not a good time to sell the condo. At least we have the option now, though.

Terrance Heath: To be honest, it was a blur, and went by faster than I expected. But I remember how I felt looking at my husband while saying our vows, and our family having a big hug at the end. Fortunately there are pictures and video to help us remember the moment.


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm so happy for you guys. I'm very happy for all of us who are now about to be able to marry our soul mates. My future-husband and I pick up our marriage license tomorrow and we plan on being wed at the Courthouse on the 19th of March. We wanted to take more time in planning something more intimate and appropriate but after what happened in California we figured we'd better get it done before the proverbial rug was pulled out from under us. It's a wonderful thing to finally be able to be officially married.

Terrance Heath: My feeling was, and still is: Why hesitate if we have a chance to provide more protection and security for our families. No one can say what will happen in the future, but that's never stopped anyone from getting married. It shouldn't stop us.


Silver Spring, Md.: First -- CONGRATULATIONS! I watched the Washington Post video clip and literally sobbed. It was incredibly touching and moving. I am a huge supporter of gay rights, and as a straight person cannot think of any reason why my love warrants any more recognition than anyone else's. I have a question, from one Catholic to another C -- I truly struggle with the church's views on this subject. I was wondering how you continue to be a practicing Catholic, especially in light of the Archdiocese's decisions in light of the recent passage of this wonderful legislation. All the best!

Rick Imirowicz: I like many in my family view religion as a private matter. I was raised culturally catholic by Polish immigrant parents.I don't think the Catholic church would view me as a practising Catholic nor would I. Like my mother I am wary of organized religion and would want a faith that affirms and strengthens my family.


Washington, DC: What are the possibilities of the courts ruling in favor of a voter referendum putting marriage equality in jeopardy? And, if the law is overturned, what will happen to those marriages that have been performed?

Terrance Heath: Like I said before, no one knows what might or might not happen in the future, and it's impossible to predict. So, there's no real answer to that question. But a number of us have decided to take a step to protect our families now, whatever the future holds.


Harrisburg, Pa.: If your only option was a civil union, would you have gotten a civil union? I presume you prefer marriage over civil union, or don't you? What are your thoughts on civil union versus marriage?

Terrance Heath: My experience in day-to-day life is that civil unions confuse people sometimes. They don't always know what it means in terms of how they should respond to our families, and sometimes need it explained. But when you can tell people "I'm married," they get it. They understand how to treat legal spouses.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Congratuations, and I wish you all the best. I have asked opponents of gay marriage why they want to cause harm to their neighbors and what concern is it to them? I hope you are greeted with warmth and respect by all, even those who disagree with you. Have you met many who disagree with you, and how are their attitudes towards you directly?

Rick Imirowicz: To be honest everybody has been extemely kind to us. So many poeple have come up to congratulate us and some have shared the joy they had when they married.Fortunately people chosing to attack newlyweds and parents of young children directly has not happened.


Arlington, Va.: First, let me wish you both many more happy years together. One thing that I'm not clear on now that the District has finally joined the 21st century -- does this mean 100 percent total legal protection for your children if something happens to one of you? That is my main reason for supporting gay marriage, to insure that your children aren't in legal limbo if something unfortunate happens.

Terrance Heath: It does mean more protection and less uncertainty. We are both our childrens' legal parents. Even before getting married we prepared all the legal documents we could to protect our family and our children. Still, though many same-sex couples have those documents drawn up (often at far greater expense than the cost of a marriage license), there's no guarantee that those documents will be recognized when and where we need them to be.


Washington, D.C.: First, congratulations on your marriage. Where can my partner and I find out about the legal implications of marriage? We already have wills, Powers of Attorney and Medical Heath Directives. What are the positive and negative legal consequences of mariage? For example, would medical bills of my partner become my legal responsibility? Does the house we share (which is titled in my name) become jointly-owned property? If so, are their gift tax consequences? Where can we find an attorney (or some other source) to help us address these types of legal questions?

Terrance Heath: There are a number of organizations that offer information on the benefits and protections of marriage on a federal level. The Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry are two that come to mind. Also the Lambda Legal Defense fund. You may have to turn to state government for information on the benefits and protections of marriage in your state.


Raleigh, N.C.: Should we try to marry at the courthouse or at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters?

Rick Imirowicz: Its your wedding, you should marry in a place that means something to you. The day we applied for our license a couple came into the courthouse to be married. The courthouse "chapel" has a very simple feel to it. My younger brother, the MBA, married at a courthouse, while my older brother had the full church extravaganza. We married at a Unitarian church were the marriage law was signed into effect. Also Terrance's best friend from college was a Unitarian Minister.


Maryland: I'm curious, how what's the precentage (so far) of negative questions/comments vs. postivie questions/comments with this chat? By the way, CONGRATS on your wedding. My you both have a happy lives together.

Rick Imirowicz: Almost all the comments are positive or neutral. Fortunately there does not seem to be many people wanting to directly attack newlyweds for which we are greatful.


Philadelphia, Pa.: I am glad you are able to marry. Many do not realize that gay couples can be living together for years and, in a health crisis, be kept from seeing a loved one because they are not legally "family" and that important health care decisions could be left to a distant relative who has had little contact or concern for the person in the hospital. I know this is more of a statement than a question, yet perhaps you may give some of your thoughts on this.

Terrance Heath: I have read and written about many such stories. One happened to a friend of ours. His husband, who are apparently healthy, collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. He was later found to have suffered a brain aneurism. Our friend arrived at the hospital only to be told he couldn't see his husband or get information about his condition until he could prove their legal relationship.

He had to drive home, not knowing what was wrong of whether his husband was alive or dead, retrieve their legal documents, and drive back to the hospital. He was finally allowed to see his husband, who died a few days later.

I told that story to our neighbor down the street. She related a story about her husband being rushed to the emergency room with an injury. When she arrived at the hospital she simply said, "I'm his wife." And the response was basically, "Right this way."


Washington, D.C.: Honestly, I'm Canadian and only just moved to D.C. in 2007. It's funny because although I remember when Ontario legalized same-sex marriage, I honestly didn't realize it was nationwide now. Plus I was living in Johannesburg when South Africa legalized same-sex marriage and it wasn't that big deal there.

Really shows to me how political this issue has become in the United States rather then based on fact. South Africa and Canada haven't falling off the face of the planet last time I checked.

Rick Imirowicz: My Canadian relatives were shocked that two men living together for ten years, house in the suburbs, and two kids were not married earlier.


Washington, D.C.: You both sound very reasonable and mature in expressing yourselves and answering the questions today. Did you ever think this would really happen in the District or was it not that much of a surprise, knowing how the City Council would vote?

Rick Imirowicz: Having watched how this issue played out in other states I was suprised, yet greatful that it happened in DC when it did. I was worried that I would be a grandparent before I could legally marry. I view being married while our children are still young as a wonderful gift. Thanks to all who made it possible.


Leesburg, Va.: I Know that neither of you are lawyers, but do you have any idea why DOMA hasn't been ruled Unconstitutional based on both the 14th Amendment and the Full Faith and Credit Clause?

DOMA has been around for a while, why hasn't this gone to the Supreme Court?

Terrance Heath: Not being a lawyer, I can't say one way or another. But my guess is that DOMA will be challenged eventually.

Rick Imirowicz: I think there has been some concern about taking cases before this more conservative court. However, Newsweek had a very good article called the Conservative Case for Gay Marriage that speaks to this topic.


Maryland: While I'm a supporter of same-sexe marriages, I'm wondering if things would be easier for everybody if the federal government makes one simple change. That change is to remove "marriage" and "married" from laws and replace it with "unioned."

The state would allow any two adults not currently unioned to get unioned (whether same-sexed or different-sexed). All legal issues (taxes, next of kin, inheritance, etc.) would be based on this union. Then, a religious entity could -- if they wanted -- perform a religious marriage on the couple.

All the people that talk about God would be able to continue as the marriage is religious and not legal. I, as a heterosexual, would be unioned by the state -- and everybody is equal. If I wanted a religious ceremony, I could have one (assuming I find a church/synagogue/mosque which would do it).

Heck, my wife and I had to get a state-issued marriage license before the rabbi would marry us. It would mean very little change. Just change the words so we're all equal. Make hetero couples get civil unions.

Terrance Heath: That's a solution I've heard suggested before, but I don't know how well it would work or whether it would be accepted. I think a lot of married people might object to having their status changed, even if only the words were changed. They might feel something was truly being taken away from them.


washingtonpost.com: The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage (Newsweek, Jan. 9)


Semantics?: This is a serious question: who's considered the "wife" and who is considered the "husband?" That's the definition of "marriage," right?

Rick Imirowicz: I thought I would try to answer a less positive question. As gay as we are, my partner and I enjoy being male and usually refer to ourselves as husbands or spouse. Same sex relationships are usually more egalitarian with both partners taking on some traditionally male or female roles. We both take turns changing our baby's diaper for instance.I usually make the family dinner on weeknights and my partner does the dishes.I do nursery school dropoff and my partner waits for the schoolbus with our first grader.


Washington, D.C.: No question...just wanted to say CONGRATULATIONS to you and all the other couples who were recently married and who can now get married. I hope the other states who haven't followed in D.C.'s footsteps wake up quickly...love is love no matter what form it takes!

Rick Imirowicz: I hope you are right. Thank you!


Washington, D.C.: Do your children's parents know you? If so, do they know you are a gay couple?

Rick Imirowicz: Veering briefly from our marriage, our children's birth mothers' chose us through an open adotion process from a pool of screened parents wishing to adopt.I wish we could have been married before being parents but now we are both.


Fairfax, Va.: Emma and I have been together for 13 years now, and we have both wanted to be married. We have already paid a lawyer for medical and legal power of attorney, just to be safe, but having a marriage license is important to us. Even if the state of Virginia is stubbornly denying our rights, we both feel it will be legal one day. After all, Loving v. VA was the same kind of issue -- a D.C.- based marriage denied in VA, and it was overturned. We applied for our license on Monday and I hope to get the paperwork Friday, for a marriage later this month.

Rick Imirowicz: Congrtatulations to Emma and you! We wish you all the best.


Buddhist-Catholic?!: Speaking from a Jewish-Catholic inter-marriage, I salute you. Do you mind if I ask how your sons are being raised? Congrats, too.

Terrance Heath: Our children are being raised in a home with the best of the values we were brought up with and have learned. They are being raised to practice compassion and to treat people the way they want to be treated. As our oldest son has asked me questions about it, I try to pass on what I understand of Buddhism to him, and why I think it's important. One of his favorite bedtime books is a childrens' book of Buddhist folk tales.


West Virginia: I am so proud of DC!! Now only if the rest of the country would follow suit. However, I fear that it will require national leadership to take the reigns and make this an option in EVERY state.

I really cannot understand why some people are so threatened by same-sex marriage. I feel like we are embarrassing ourselves on a global level by bickering over this issue.

Rick Imirowicz: I can't wait for the day when my children look back on this and wonder what all the fuss was about.


It's About Ti, ME: Congratulations and best wishes for you and your family! I'm so thrilled to see my friends and family members finally able to get some of the rights that most people take for granted. (I wonder how many straight marriages would be deterred by the legal and monetary hurdles gay couples have to go through?) Happy to report that I haven't seen any fire raining from the sky, wasn't swallowed up by the earth on the way to work today, and my straight marriage hasn't mysteriously dissolved overnight. Slainte!

Terrance Heath: Yes, and it's been years since Massachusetts passed marriage equality. The world kept spinning, and the sun kept rising.


Terrance Heath: It's been fun and informative answering your questions and reading your comments. Thanks to everyone for their supportive comments and thoughtful questions. We hope the day comes when couples like us can get married and not make headlines. Thanks again!


Maryland: "Terrance Heath: That's a solution I've heard suggested before, but I don't know how well it would work or whether it would be accepted. I think a lot of married people might object to having their status changed, even if only the words were changed. They might feel something was truly being taken away from them."

I see your point but given that most hetero couples were married by a religious officiant, they would have no change -- other than the box they check on their 1040s.

Rick Imirowicz: Mrriage is a term used around the world. My parents married in a foreign country under Communist occupation(1950's Poland). When they immigrated to the United States everybody knew that they were married and what that means.



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