By Joshua Feyen
The Moth is a storytelling event-based non-profit founded in 1997 in New York City by friends who missed the feeling of sultry summer evenings in the South, where friends would gather to spin tales while moths swarmed the light on the porch. Local groups across the US host Moth Storyslams, theme-based events where ordinary people are welcome to put their name in the bag and, if chosen, tell a 5-minute true story on that evening’s theme. Storytellers are scored based on the content of their stories, their storytelling abilities, and their resonance with the evening’s them. Joshua participated for the first time at the Madison Moth in December 2022. The theme that night was Anniversaries; here is his story.
I was so disappointed with Wisconsin voters when they approved a 2006 state amendment to ban same sex marriages. I had been working to encourage people to vote “No” so if I were to find a mate, we could get married in my home state.
And then I met him, we dated for a year, and moved in with one another. In 2010, we signed Wisconsin’s domestic partnership registry. It’s not the same thing as a marriage license, but in the eyes of the state and our witnesses, my two brothers and my partner’s best friend, it marked an important day in our relationship.
That summer we invited 200 people to celebrate a wedding without a marriage license, but we had one hell of a party. To this day people tell us, sometimes in hushed voices during other people’s weddings, that OURS was the best one they’d ever attended.
But the anniversary that’s most significant came as a bit of a surprise. In June, 2014 while driving home from work on a Friday afternoon I heard the news that a federal judge had struck down Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage immediately making gay marriage possible in Wisconsin. In the same breath, however, she said that she would stay her own ruling in the next week, closing the opportunity to get married in Wisconsin. So there was a bit of urgency to get married for those who were prepared.
That evening we watched news coverage of same-sex couples at courthouses across the state get licenses, and then get married. We would have gone to our own clerk of court, but my birth certificate was safely tucked away in a safe deposit box and the credit union had closed for the day.
The next morning was clear and warm, the perfect day for a wedding and we decided to get married. We drove to the credit union, we and got in line behind a lesbian couple also needing to get into their safe deposit box. While waiting, staff members told us that they had pulled in extra people to expedite access to boxes. Paperwork in hand, we went to the courthouse where joined a makeshift party in front of the courthouse. As we approached the courthouse we saw shoppers from the adjacent farmers market brining flowers to couples also planning unplanned weddings. As we approached the entrance, a 10-year-od boy looked up at me, said “Congratulations” and handed me a bouquet while his parents beamed at us.
Getting a marriage license is perfunctory, but even there I felt the energy of celebration. The staff were jubilant and efficient, and marriage license in hand, we stepped onto the sunny courthouse steps.
Judges, court commissioners and justices of the peace were milling around offering on the spot weddings. We asked two friends to marry us, and while waiting for the couple before us to say their vows, my husband’s sister joined our little party. She couldn’t attend our family wedding and rushed to the courthouse to be a witness. The five of us stepped to a quiet corner on the plaza and Judge Langford cited a few lines from the court decision from the day before. We exchanged our rings, again, this time for real.
On saying “Husband and husband” a group of people we didn’t know clapped and cheered. A small band played a tune, and someone handed us a plate with a piece of cake and volunteer took photos offering to send them to us later that day. After the activity of our wedding quieted down, we watched a few other couples get married and clapped when they were announced. Now a newly minted couple, we decided to go home, and as we walked away I spotted a couple coming up toward us, and I gave them the bouquet of flowers to help them mark their next anniversary.
© 2023 Josh Feyen
Josh Feyen was raised on a farm in southwest Wisconsin, went to college in Milwaukee, lived abroad for four years on three continents, and now finds himself with stories to tell. In the middle of 2021, Josh set about writing 50 short memoir stories in his 50th year. Today, the main focus of Josh’s 50 in 50 writing journey is to share what he’s learned with his four teenage nieces and nephew. Josh lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Find his other blog posts for True Stories Well Told here.