Oct 24, 2014 2:43 AM

With gay marriage comes question: I do or I don't

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) When gay marriage became legal in Pennsylvania earlier this year, Elissa Goldberg was ready to say "I do." Her longtime partner's reaction, however, was "I'm not so sure."

The couple had been together more than 20 years, which Anndee Hochman figured already made them good as married. They owned their Philadelphia home together, kept their money in a joint bank account and were both named as parents on their 13-year-old daughter's birth certificate.

"I didn't really see what the additional benefits would be," says Hochman, a freelance writer.

But deep down, she acknowledges, there was another reason.

"It had to do with coming out as a lesbian at a time when there was a certain pride in living outside the box," said Hochman, 52, adding she wasn't ready to give up a lifestyle she'd come to embrace.

That's the kind of conundrum facing gay couples across the country as marriage barriers many thought might never fall have come crashing down in the wake of this month's Supreme Court refusal to take up the issue.

"We thought once upon a time that it would be much later if we ever saw it in our lifetime," said Steve Martin of Boise, Idaho, who watched in awe as his state joined some 30 others earlier this month in allowing same-sex marriage.

The gay rights organizer and his longtime partner had held a commitment ceremony in 1998, a non-binding civil ceremony in 2001 and, finally, a wedding in Washington last year after gay marriage became legal there. Now that it's legal in their home state they aren't going to bother.

"Four might be pushing it," Martin says, laughing.

Meanwhile, first-timers on the fence find themselves facing the same daunting questions that have dogged straight people for years: Is this person really the one? What's so bad about just living together, anyway? If we do split, am I going to lose half of everything I earned while we were married?

"With rights come responsibilities," says Los Angeles marriage and family relations attorney Lisa Helfend Meyer. "When you lawfully marry somebody, you have certain obligations to that spouse. You have fiduciary duties as if you were business partners."

As a result, Meyer says, she's helping draw up prenuptial agreements for more and more gay people these days.

"Whether a straight couple or a gay couple, the ways they communicate, the way the deal with me indicates whether they are going to stay together," she said, recalling one couple who got into a shouting match as the agreement was being written.

"Unfortunately, that marriage did not last."

For Hochman and Goldberg, it was never a question of splitting or staying. It was love at first sight, Hochman recalls, when Goldberg walked into a coffee shop to answer an ad for a writing partner.

Still, Hochman dawdled for months as Goldberg, 53, attempted to sell her on the benefits of marriage after it became legal in Pennsylvania last May. If one should die the other would receive federal survivor benefits, she explained. Plus, the survivor wouldn't be on the hook for estate taxes on half the house.

"We did the math and that was a big number," Hochman acknowledged.

Still, it wasn't big enough to push her down the aisle.

"Then she finally said, and this was the thing that pulled me over the fence, she said, 'Look, you don't have to like idea of marriage. You can still have all your ambivalence. You can hold onto your ideological reservations, and we can still go to City Hall and get the license.'"

They were wed last month by a rabbi in a small ceremony in front of their parents. It came 24 years and two days after they had told each other they were in this for the long haul.

Hochman came to realize she'd made the right decision when her mother raised her glass and proclaimed, "We make rituals because they deepen the meaning of an occasion and they allow witnesses to be there and celebrate with you."

"And that," added Hochman, "was very much how it felt."


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