Here Come the Grooms

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.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela