Here Come the Grooms

To have and to hold: Tod Keltner and Don Standhardt want their walk down the aisle.
Emily Piraino

Tod Keltner and Don Standhardt want to get married, dammit. To each other. Hot on the heels of the Supreme Court's dissing of anti-sodomy laws, and Canada's recent recognition of gay marriages, Keltner and Standhardt last month filed an application for an Arizona marriage license. When the application was rejected, the couple filed a lawsuit against the state, demanding the right to marry. In an age when Wal-Mart has added anti-discrimination policies to protect its gay employees, and Bride's magazine is offering its first feature on same-sex weddings, Keltner's and Standhardt's demands seem somehow more plausible -- despite the usual blathering from George W. and the rumblings from others in the gay community.

Or maybe not. Last week Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard -- a staunch Democrat -- sided with George W. Only proves again that politics makes strange bedfellows.

New Times: You guys are already a couple, so what's the big deal? Why gay marriage?

Tod Keltner: The part about being legally married didn't come up until we started to consider things like shared property and starting the adoption process.

Don Standhardt: We're already in a committed relationship. About three weeks after we met, we were in Jerome, and we had a personal, private ceremony.

NT: That sounds sort of romantic. Where in Jerome?

Don: In a parking lot behind a store.

NT: Okay.

Don: It was the view. The view was really beautiful there, and we just did it.

NT: And then six years later, you filed a lawsuit against the state demanding the right to marry.

Tod: It was specifically our attorney's idea. We'd been talking about going up to Canada and getting married. Then one night our friend Mike Ryan, who's an attorney, called and asked if we were interested in doing it this way.

NT: Why not just go to Canada?

Don: Because our marriage wouldn't be recognized here, and there wouldn't be any of the legal benefits. We're in a committed relationship whether we have a piece of paper saying we're married or not, but that piece of paper is what gives us the legal tax rights and next-of-kin rights.

Tod: That's the legal part of it, but there's also the fact that people will have a better understanding of our relationship. People know what "married" means. They know what "husband" means.

NT: Well, that's a good point: We'd finally have a word we could use to describe our relationships. "Boyfriend" sounds like you're a couple of teenaged girls; "lover" is too sexy. "Partner" sounds like you work together.

Tod: We use "spouse."

Don: That's our term for this week. It might change for next week.

Tod: "Fiancé" is actually more accurate right now, I guess. We're life partners. Soul mates.

NT: Ooh. I'll pretend I didn't hear that. So, some local and national gay groups have criticized you for not aligning yourself with their agendas.

Tod: We've heard things like "We'd like to strangle those guys." There's a lot of concern with our court case because of the backlash, the implications, the expending of resources in Arizona.

Don: And for that reason, we're not asking any gay group for anything, and we never plan to. We plan to do this on our own. I guess I'm a bad fag, but I didn't know any of these agencies even existed. I didn't know the Arizona Human Rights Fund was around, I didn't know about Freedom to Marry was there, or Lambda Legal. And once we did hear of them, and we did call them, they were just so pretentious and negative toward us, I just said, "Fuck you."

Tod: Don, you can't say that.

Don: I can cuss!

NT: No, really. It's okay. I use "fuck" in this column every week. I promise.

Tod: Well, but we don't want to come across that we said "Fuck you" to AHRF.

NT: But I think I hear what you're saying. The title "gay community" suggests a group of like-minded people working toward similar goals. And it sounds like you're hearing from a bunch of different gay groups who want you to promote their agenda.

Don: Exactly. Regardless of what we want to do.

Tod: But we may need their resources in the future, so I'm not interested in saying anything negative about them. They don't support us or oppose us; they're trying to be neutral. But in the future, if this moves up the ladder, we may need their support and resources.

Don: I know. But we had this meeting, and Eleanor Eisenberg from the ACLU was there, and someone from Lambda Legal was there, and two pastors from different gay churches. And they were all in a panic about why we were doing this.  

Tod: There were people there to talk us out of doing this. "If you win it'll be bad, and if you lose it'll be bad."

NT: Gay activists were at this meeting, trying to talk you two out of marrying. Who the hell are they?

Don: Well, they presented their cases. And I asked them, "From your heart, what do you think we should do?" And they all said, "We'll support you in whatever you decide to do." Not one of them has followed through. They're not being supportive. They're being two-faced. They said something to my face, and behind my back they're doing something different.

Tod: The biggest opposition is coming from the national organizations, though. The support we've gotten from the local community has been positive. But their loyalty to organizations is what's splitting people apart.

NT: Is it wise to fight this battle in the courts rather than through legislation?

Tod: Yes, because the judicial branch is set up to protect the rights of minorities, and it's the only way we're going to get the proper protection. Since the Legislature is based in popular vote, we can never hope for any victory there. So it makes more sense for people like us to go to the courts to demand constitutional rights.

Don: We think every gay couple should go to every county in the U.S. and file a suit like ours. Flub up the court systems and make them do something about it.

Tod: Interracial marriage would never have won opinion polls; it came about as a right through judicial action, not legislative. The entire civil rights movement is our model.

NT: Like you've said, you're already a couple. What difference would marrying make?

Tod: I don't want there to be another generation of gay kids who don't have positive role models or the freedom to pursue happiness with the partner of their choice. The next generation needs the option of being respected as a moral, married couple. It's our duty to do that for them. And being married is a fundamental right. Why shouldn't we be allowed?

NT: Well, President Bush believes that marriage is between a man and a woman. Who are you to question that?

Tod: Bush is a politician who follows the polls. A few percentage points' worth of change is called a "mass backlash" by the media, and he knows that. He's not going to go up against public opinion. And public opinion says we shouldn't be allowed to marry.

NT: If only gay people could learn to stop having sex with one another, the conservative vote might swing their way.

Tod: Right. "Repent and be celibate."

Don: Traditionally, marriage has been between a man and a woman of the same race. That was changed, just recently. Tradition needs to change with the times. And I think it will happen in our lifetimes. It's happening in other countries, and it will happen here.

NT: Bush said in a recent speech that he's "mindful that we're all sinners." What happened to the separation of church and state? Why is Bush talking about sin?

Don: Because he's self-righteous. He's lost sight of how he's supposed to be the main guy to maintain that separation between church and state. But if Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter wanted to get married, you bet Bush would be in attendance at her wedding.

NT: Bush has the pope on his side. He's warned Catholic lawmakers it would be "gravely immoral" to vote for gay marriage. Which is pretty amusing, considering the recent revelations about gay priests and altar boys.

Don: Yes. They're being abused by priests, who turn around and tell them that it's wrong to be gay.

Tod: The pope has put Catholic people in a horrible place, because he's asking them to choose between his authority and their gay loved ones. It's so screwed up and so blatantly wrong.

NT: Are you guys patriotic?

Don: Yes. We love our country. We're very patriotic.

NT: How can you be? France passed a law in 2000 recognizing homosexual unions. Belgium has begun registering gay partnerships. Germany grants gay couples benefits and protections normally reserved for straight couples. Then there's America.

Tod: When I think of patriotism, I think of ideals like liberty and freedom. I don't visualize the bureaucracy of our government and the invasion of other countries for money. I'm not patriotic like that. I'm patriotic about freedom. And I know we'll be free one day to marry and adopt kids.

NT: Adoption? My God! One thing at a time!  

Don: No! We're getting old, and we need to do these things now.

Tod: We're not worried about the "how." We know we want a family, and we're just going to keep praying on that and throw it up to the universe.

NT: So you guys are religious?

Tod: Spiritual. I can't get Don to church. But we want to see more gay people active with churches, because most of the right-wing conservative people don't realize that we have deep religious beliefs, we're part of the family movement, that we stand for the same things they do. One of the things we're trying to do here is break down the stereotypes about gay people, like how we're all about parades and bathhouses. There are a lot more gay people who are just normal, who want to settle down and live the American dream.

NT: Right. Some don't even own a Bette Midler record. So, if you're granted the right to marry, what part of the traditional wedding ceremony would you change?

Don: The ceremony isn't the issue. I already have the right to get married, as long as it's to a woman. That's the part I want to change.

NT: Okay. Just promise me that one of you won't be wearing a big white gown.

Don: Don't worry. We don't do drag. But we get asked that a lot: "Which one of you is the girl?"

Tod: We want the right to marry, and we want it for other gay people. Heterosexuals say, "Marriage is special, and we want to keep it special. You can't have it!" Well, we want it. And we're going to get it. And our weddings will be special, too.

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