With a tiny curled fist, the toddler next to me, held by her mother, pounds on the Plexiglass that separates us all from the Amscot employees on the other side.
She wails and points as she bangs on the bullet- and child-resistant barrier.
It’s barely decipherable, but I’m able to make out what she’s saying: want.
Makes sense. We’re all at Amscot because we want something just beyond our means. Her mother smiles apologetically for the noise. “She wants the candy.”
Eventually, a sweaty man wearing a blue button-down shirt and thick glasses slides a few Tootsie Rolls through an opening in the glass and the girl grabs them.
A shriveled elderly woman to her mother’s left is angry. She waves around a handful of papers and makes demands. She wants to speak with a supervisor.
To my right, a blue-collar guy wearily borrows cash against his next paycheck. He wants to pay his electric bill, too, he tells the employee – on time, ensuring it doesn’t get cut off.
I’m there with Julie, my girlfriend of three years, and we want to spend our lives together.
But before we can head down to the Pinellas County Courthouse and add our name to the county’s year-old domestic partnership registry, we need to get our paperwork notarized. For 10 bucks, Amscot will not only notarize it, but also throw in a few random witnesses to boot.
We didn’t know it then, but the next day, July 17, a judge in Monroe County would strike down Florida’s gay marriage ban. Within hours of that decision, the Republican attorney general Pam Bondi would announce she’d appeal it, forcing a stay on same-sex marriages in the state.
Like many living in the Tampa Bay area, we’re not actually from Florida. Julie grew up just outside of Washington, D.C., and I moved here five years ago from Long Island. New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011; D.C. gave gay marriage the green light at the end of 2009.
We could easily have gone to either area, where we each still have family and friends, to get married. But because Florida doesn’t recognize gay marriages legally performed in other states, we decided to wait until marriage equality comes to the Sunshine State. And it eventually will, as same-sex marriage bans throughout the country are being overturned one after another.
So for the time being, we’re left with a domestic partnership as the only step that will allow us to move our relationship forward. It will afford us a few extra legal protections – just six in total. They primarily involve parenting – though we don’t have or want children – as well as hospital visitation rights and health care decisions. Marriage offers couples over 1,100 legal protections and responsibilities.
And while the word “marriage” conjures romantic images of white weddings and celebratory love, the phrase “domestic partnership” is much more cold and clinical.
Domestic partnership. Are we domestic? Sure. I’m like a lesbian Donna Reed in plaid, whipping up impressive vegan meals, cleaning our home and caring for our cats. But the word “domestic” also makes me think of abuse, the war on terror and kept household pets.
And of course any good relationship is based on a partnership. But to call it a partnership in the legal title – no husband or wife here – feels impersonal, unemotional. Are we playing tennis? Are we opening up a Subway franchise together? Or are we building a home, a life together?
When we leave Amscot at noon, we rush to the courthouse. Julie has to work at 1 p.m. and we know we’re cutting it close.
We pull a number from the ticket dispenser in the records division, the kind you see at the deli meat counter, but we’re told the clerks in that office aren’t following the number system that day. A middle-aged blonde woman with teased Jersey hair calls us to her desk immediately.
She smiles at us and reaches for our paperwork. Julie and I look at the clocks on our phones nervously. It’s 12:15. To make it to work on time, she needs to leave in 15 minutes. As the woman processes our papers, I elbow Julie and hiss, “Ask!”
“I hate to ask this, but how long will this take? I have to get to work,” she says.
“Oh, you don’t need to be here,” the woman says without looking up. “Your paperwork is already signed and notarized.”
“I don’t need to be here?”
“No, you don’t need to be here.”
So Julie leaves for work and I get domestic partnered alone.
I call her when I’m done five minutes later.
“Damn it, I could have stayed and we could have taken a picture together,” she says.
When she arrives home from work that night, I have her favorite meal, champagne and flowers waiting for her. She gives me a kiss and asks about my day. We wash the dishes together when we’re done eating dinner, straighten up and then climb into bed.
We’re just like any loving couple that wants – no, deserves – to spend their lives together.