After the ‘I do’
Dustyn and Scott's marriage is about the blissful and the banal, no matter what the Supreme Court rules
In the waning days before the U.S. Supreme Court was to hear arguments related to the future legality of Scott and Dustyn’s marriage, what most pressed on their minds was the exorbitant cost of grillable meat in their part of Georgia.
Above: Scott Singletary and Dustyn Batten kiss before Singletary heads off to work in Waycross, Ga. The pair were married in February.
“Have you ever had your steak freshly cut in the store?” asked Dustyn Batten, 23, when he stopped by his husband’s workplace that afternoon.
“We’re on a budget,” replied Scott Singletary, 22. “I am not paying for everyone’s steaks. It is BYO Steak tonight.”
Dustyn rolled his eyes, affectionately, as he was learning to do whenever he perceived Scott’s monetary concerns as verging on dramatic. “I am going to make my ranch potatoes and a baked mac ’n’ cheese, though,” Dustyn said.
Scott checked the time and saw that he was due back for rounds at the Lowe’s where he was an assistant manager, so he pecked the air near Dustyn’s head and disappeared into the plumbing department. “Love you,” he said.
“Love you,” Dustyn said.
There they were, married, three months and 19 days after they’d set their alarm for 4 a.m., drove across the Florida state line in their pajamas and became Nassau County’s first gay couple to receive a marriage license. The news cameras had been there, as well as the supporters with signs, and it was exciting and romantic and a little bit weird on that day, though not half as weird as when they drove back home and people they barely knew started congratulating them for being on TV. A reality show producer suggested a documentary about their wedding ceremony. The drive-through lady at the doughnut place, a complete stranger, told Dustyn that she was rooting for him and Scott. For a while, it felt as if they’d become the gay mascots of Waycross, public symbols of the changing times.
But the documentary fell through, and they purchased a heap of a fixer-upper, and their new puppy kept peeing on the floor, and now, as the rest of the country was debating the philosophical and practical implications of some 390,000 same-sex unions, newlyweds Scott and Dustyn were trying to navigate only one.
The news broadcasts they had seen were all busy focusing on the legal struggle and the gay weddings that spread across 37 states and the District of Columbia; nobody showed what happened once the happy couple was home. Scott and Dustyn were part of the booming younger generation now working out the “after” part of happily ever after — the marriage part, in all of its loving, magical, banal, petty, conventional, infuriating bliss.
Now, Dustyn carried a few hardware items to the checkout stand and greeted the cashier. “Wait, I have an employee discount,” he said, producing the card that he was entitled to use as Scott’s spouse and setting down his phone, which was emblazoned with an image of the couple in the matching white vests they’d worn to say vows on the beach. The vest, Dustyn later decided, made him look heavy and led to his decision to regularly wear a girdle.
There they were. Married.
Singletary and Batten crossed the state line into Florida to marry. Batten keeps photos from their wedding on his phone.
A few hours later, but still several hours before Scott’s late shift ended at the store, some of the couple’s friends came over with their steaks and the vague promise that they also might help paint the bathroom.
“Hey, Dustyn,” Courtney Smith asked. “Which one of you all was the bride?”
“Excuse me?” Dustyn asked, looking up from his cutting board.
Courtney explained. When she and her wife went to Florida for their own licenses, the forms weren’t yet changed to “spouse” and “spouse,” so they decided on the spot which roles each would fill.
“You know, what’s different about you and Scott is that you’re in your own world. We all go out and mingle, but you all just stay in and do married-people things.”
Dustyn found a copy of his license, dated Jan. 6, 2015, and there it was. Groom: Dustyn Batten. Bride: Scott Singletary. “I never noticed that,” he said.
“You know, what’s different about you and Scott is that you’re in your own world,” Jessica Roberts said. “We all go out and mingle, but you all just stay in and do married-people things.”
Dustyn didn’t argue because this was, in fact, a point of pride. Multiple states had legalized same-sex marriage by the time he was a teenager; neither he nor Scott had ever doubted they would eventually be able to settle down with some nice boy, in some nice place, protected under the law.
What they cared about wasn’t the paperwork of it, but the June and Ward Cleaver of it, the version of marriage that Scott’s devoted parents had. When Scott met Dustyn last year, these parents mostly cut off contact, being more comfortable with a gay son in theory than in practice — but not before instilling in him the domestic vision of a nuclear family on which Scott patterned his expectations.
Dustyn’s mother was on her sixth marriage, but he figured that warnings of what not to do could be just as useful as positive role models. So when Scott offered to move to Waycross — a town of 14,000 people wilting in the humidity of the Okefenokee Swamp — Dustyn had said yes. And when Scott put on a Jessica Simpson song, got down on one knee and produced a ring, Dustyn had said yes to that, too.
Batten heads to his job as an assistant at a hair salon. He recently finished cosmetology school and was waiting to take his licensing exam.
“Hi, honey,” Scott said, walking in the door shortly before midnight. Dustyn laid out a plate for him, and they talked about friends and television and the house and the dog, and they made plans for the next day when, in a rare occurrence, neither of them had to work.
“I had to get through 64 episodes of ‘Revenge’ with you,” Scott said, when the topic of quality television programming came up.
“You said you liked it,” Dustyn protested.
“You liked it.”
“You were just saying the other day that you missed watching ‘Revenge.’ ”
“No, I said I missed having time to watch things on TV together. I would never say I missed watching ‘Revenge.’ Are we really going to paint the bathroom tomorrow morning?” he pleaded.
“Yes,” Dustyn said firmly. “It’s a day we have off together.”
“Exactly. It’s a day we have off. Do you really want to spend it painting?”
“When else are you going to do it? Midnight, when you get home?” Dustyn asked.
Four months of marriage, they were discovering, was the proper time to establish bickering patterns for the next 40 years of marriage, with all future arguments to be measured against the very first, which happened several months ago. Scott had grown testy during a renovation project and Dustyn said, “You’re so ugly.” Scott, not realizing that Dustyn was referring to his current behavior and believing that Dustyn was being cruel about his physical appearance, reached over, grabbed Dustyn’s girdle, and pulled and pulled — “Y’all say I’m ugly, but you’re the one wearing a girdle,” he said — and he pulled, and then he released it, and it thwapped back, almost in slow motion, like a rubber band against Dustyn’s belly.
“Girdle Pop” became the shorthand reference for this incident, and it was a reminder of how far things should never go again.
“Maybe I should go paint the bathroom,” Scott said the next morning as Dustyn reviewed a list of things he needed to pack for his final exam at cosmetology school later in the week.
“I thought you didn’t want to paint today,” Dustyn said.
“I don’t. But I’d rather paint than do your bag.”
“You don’t want to help me pack?”
“I want to help in theory, but I’m scared you’re going to get down there for your exam, and something in the bag will be wrong, and it will be something I did, and you’ll fail, and it will be my fault. There’s a lot of pressure in that bag,” he said, and Dustyn rolled his eyes.
“Girl, you are ridiculous,” Dustyn said, which made Scott laugh.
Batten attaches a cabinet door with Singletary’s help. The couple recently purchased the home from Batten’s father and are renovating it.
They had dreams, a 10-year plan based on the success of a five-year plan, based on the actions they were taking right now. First, renovate the three-bedroom mobile home they’d purchased on the cheap, pulling up the cigarette-stained carpet and painting over the yellowing walls. Make it into a home where they could welcome the children they wanted to adopt. Pay off the Honda and pay off the used Lincoln. After a while, sell the renovated home for a profit. Dustyn would be ready to run his own salon by then, and Scott would see whether a job transfer was possible from the store branch he worked at in Waycross to the one on St. Simons Island, located an hour’s drive away. St. Simons was a quiet beach town, where they had decided to drive this afternoon instead of painting.
“Let’s go to Village Oaks,” Scott said as Dustyn piloted the car through a town that smelled like sea air instead of Okefenokee Swamp. Dustyn pulled into Village Oaks, the upscale subdivision they knew by heart. “This one is so Southern feeling, but also so beachy,” Scott said of one pastel plantation-style house.
“My favorite one,” Dustyn said, pointing to a two-story gray home, set back from the street via a winding set of steps.
“I know it is, but every time I look at it, I just think about having to carry groceries up those stairs,” Scott said. Suddenly, the door opened, and the home’s owner walked outside. Scott and Dustyn waved cheerfully as though they belonged but then quickly backed down the street and out the Village Oaks exit.
“Someday,” Scott said.
Singletary works long hours for his job at Lowes. He is shown here during an 11-hour shift.
These plans were tangible, reachable, and they had nothing to do with the United States government, as far as either of them could tell. If the court decided that Georgia had to honor their Florida marriage — the recognition of cross-state marriages was one of the issues scheduled for argument — then, as Scott had told Dustyn, they were stuck together forever. If the court decided that nobody had to recognize their union, then they were still stuck together, Scott said, because they’d still recited vows and because he didn’t believe in divorce. “It matters, but in a way, it doesn’t,” Scott said as they drove back home, holding hands over the console. “It matters, but it doesn’t change anything about us. We can’t control it. We’ve got our own lives to worry about.”
“It matters, but it doesn’t change anything about us. We can’t control it. We’ve got our own lives to worry about.”
They passed a shirtless man driving his riding lawn mower down the highway, and Scott shook his head. “South Georgia,” he sighed. They stopped at a Wal-Mart, where the car next to them contained not seats but rather lawn chairs latched to the vehicle’s floor by the presumptive owner, a large man thoughtfully scratching his stomach while leaning against the trunk.
“Is he standing in a Wal-Mart parking lot, picking lint out of his belly button, while next to a van containing patio furniture?” Scott asked.
“He is,” Dustyn confirmed.
“The things you see in south Georgia.”
That evening, when they finally got around to painting, they settled into a pleasant rhythm, Dustyn coating the dingy tub with liquid porcelain and Scott going over the trim with primer. On went the new light fixtures, on went the crystal knobs for the vanity, on went stroke after stroke of clean white paint. After a while, Dustyn started to toss out ideas for dinner. “Lasagna? Omelets?” he prodded Scott, who, now fully embracing the painting job, could not be pulled out of it. “I could run to Harvey’s and buy pork chops. You just have to tell me what to do.”
“You decide,” Scott says. “I’m not dying of hunger, but it sounds like you are.”
“No, I already died,” Dustyn said, and Scott was finally persuaded to put down his paint brush and to go to the Mexican restaurant that they’d been meaning to try. Paint-flecked, they squeezed into the same side of a corner booth, leaning into each other’s shoulders as they scanned their menus.
“That man keeps looking at us,” Scott said, nodding to an older man with a mustache and a blue baseball cap. “Over there in that side table.”
“Maybe he’s just looking into space,” Dustyn said. But Scott’s shoulders had already tensed, and the man in the ball cap did seem to be unnecessarily focused in their direction.
“Why does he keep staring?” Scott murmured, keeping his eyes glued to the restaurant specials.
“Maybe he recognizes us?” Dustyn offered. Maybe, he speculated hopefully, the man was staring because they were a gay couple, but not in a mean way. He could be just curious. He could have recognized them from television. The longer the man stared, unblinking, unsmiling, the less likely any of these possibilities seemed.
Eventually he paid and left, and Scott’s shoulders relaxed, and the evening went on, and this was just another part of being newlyweds.
Batten takes a selfie with his niece Rebecca, 1. Batten says that he and Singletary eventually want to adopt children of their own.
At the same time that attorneys on both sides were presenting their arguments to the Supreme Court, 690 miles away in Washington, Dustyn was picking up Scott for his hour-long break, having plotted just enough time to grab sandwiches and run an errand.
Their destination was Wayne Frier, a mobile home sales center that Dustyn and Scott appreciated for its sense of possibility and aspiration. Wayne Frier’s mobile homes, unlike the ones in their neighborhood, were carefully decorated and meticulously maintained. Scott and Dustyn had toured them many times, seeking inspiration for their own remodel.
“Who wants to look at some houses?” Dustyn asked when they approached Wayne Frier’s entrance.
“Who wants to dream?” Scott responded as they parked and headed into a four-bedroom decorated with dark woods. “Look at this black trim — do you think we should do black trim?” he asked, as a protester in the court back in Washington rose to call out, “If you support gay marriage, you will burn in hell,” an interruption that Justice Antonin Scalia deemed “rather refreshing.”
“Is that AirStone on that fireplace, or is it real?” Dustyn speculated, as Justice Anthony Kennedy pondered the concept of “millennia” and questioned whether it was too abrupt to institute same-sex unions after so many years operating under an opposite-sex definition.
“I’ve never seen a refrigerator like that,” Scott said, and Justice Samuel J. Alito Jr. wondered whether same-sex unions would result in polygamous unions, and where, exactly, the boundaries of consenting adulthood should be drawn.
Scott checked the time and announced that he had to get back to work; Dustyn drove him there and said that he was going to go let out the dog and start painting the bedroom, maybe inviting some friends over to help. Scott warned him not to let his friends eat all of the food in the house. Dustyn rolled his eyes.
“Love you,” Scott said.
“Love you,” Dustyn replied.
Later that evening, Dustyn asked, “What all happened in the Supreme Court today?” but neither of them had had the time to check the news. Dustyn put a lasagna in the oven, and his mom stopped by with her husband to examine the progress in the house. They talked about the proper techniques for paint application and Dustyn’s upcoming cosmetology school graduation. Scott got upset about a semi-flirtatious text message that an acquaintance sent Dustyn, a reaction which Dustyn thought was unnecessary but sweet, and they examined the lasagna and decided it needed a few more minutes.
“Dustyn, I’m burning my arms off here,” Scott said, as he struggled with a too-small potholder, and Dustyn went to help him.
“My husband,” he said, and they were still married for another day.
Singletary and Batten upgrade a lock on their door.