California or Bust
Local gay couple plans to make the trip to get hitched, but how will their marriage be viewed once the honeymoon is over?
Joseph Gutierrez awoke Friday, May 16, to a stream of text messages: Same-sex couples could be wed in California. And they didn't stop there. All day long, as word spread about the Golden State's decision, phone calls and texts came in.
For Gutierrez and his partner of eight years, Adan Branchal, it meant the flight they had planned to take to Canada—where gay marriage has been legal since 2005—would be a plane to San Francisco instead. Since June 16, same-sex couples have been tying the knot in the nation's most populous state.
Gutierrez says he wasn't really surprised by the high court's ruling. "I was pleased. It's another step," he says. "My only apprehension in California is that it still could be flipped around." In November, Californians will vote on a measure that would define marriage as strictly being between a man and woman. If voters support the bill, it will overturn the court's call.
It's unclear how marriages made in other states will be regarded in New Mexico. In 2007, Massachusetts officials determined New Mexicans could be married in Massachusetts because there is no law banning gay marriages in New Mexico. Attorney General Gary King didn't say one way or another how New Mexico would treat those marriages.
Phil Sisneros, spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office, says he doesn't know how New Mexico will view a marriage made in California. "I can't tell you until it happens," he says. "The Attorney General's Office won't get involved until there's actually a case and somebody brings a lawsuit. That's what the trigger's going to be."
Gutierrez and Branchal's walk down the aisle on Oct. 25 ends in a leap into the unknown. They don't know if their marriage will be voided in November, they say, and they don't know whether their home state will consider their marriage "real." So why are they bothering with it? "Just to say, This government and these people recognize our commitment and our union and whatnot," Gutierrez says. "It's sort of like, We're doing it anyway!"
Branchal says he knows there are people who wouldn't consider his marriage real no matter what the government resolved. Growing up in Taos and living in other small, rural communities has made Branchal realistic about reactions to his marriage, he adds. "There's different ways to look at it," he says. "Look, we're committing ourselves to each other. We're sealing the deal and going to stick around for life. That should be a really good thing. At the same time, you have people that don't really agree with the situation, and they're going to look at it and say, Well, that's just kinda silly. It's not really a marriage."
Still, he's hopeful, he says. "Lots of changes have taken place over the past 10 years as far as acceptance."
Aside from all the politics, Gutierrez and Branchal are under the same kind of pressure any other couple getting hitched faces. Which friends and family members will be making the trip? What will they wear? Where, exactly, in San Francisco will they get married? Who will marry them?
And they have answers to all the usual soon-to-be-newlywed questions: Neither has a case of cold feet. They haven't yet considered changing their last names. They don't want kids for many years. They will continue to live the same happy life they've been living in their home with their dog.
In April, the couple planned to witness the Canadian marriage of friends and fellow New Mexicans Maria Johnson and Heather Larkin. Before long, Branchal found himself asking Gutierrez to marry him in front of all their friends backstage at a Facade drag show. Branchal didn't get down on one knee. "Are you kidding? He was in drag as Dolly Parton,” says Branchal. “Down on one knee, I would have been below his high heel he's so tall." After the court’s ruling, both couples opted for a double wedding in California instead.
Gutierrez and Branchal made the cover of the Alibi two years ago during the Gay Pride coverage for their remarkable, years-long career as drag queens in the troupe Facade. But there have been no trips to bridal shops, as neither infamous drag queen plans to wear a gown. But tuxes won't do either, Gutierrez says. The couple will find an alternative that represents who they are and their relationship, he says. "Definitely nice," Gutierrez says, mulling over the wedding wear. "But different. We never do anything 'normal.' ”
At the time of the interview, Branchal still hadn't told his father about his plans to marry Gutierrez, though he says his father has become more supportive over the years. "To me, it feels like one hit after another," Branchal says. "First I had to tell them I was gay. Then I had to tell them we were moving in together. Then I had to tell them I was doing drag and tell my dad I was starting a gay mariachi group and I was going to be a hairdresser. Now we're getting married. It's like this snowball thing. He can't be surprised. I'm all, Here's another one. Hold your heart."
It's nice to be an example for younger guys, Branchal says, as a couple known for its longevity and commitment. "Everybody knows Adan and Joey," Gutierrez says. Because of their public life as performers and wide family of friends, they're receiving phone calls and a daily pelting of questions from some who Gutierrez says seem more excited than the happy couple.
But it's important, adds Branchal, to remember that theirs is a normal relationship. "We argue like any straight couple. We make up like any straight couple," he says. "We're a lot like our parents and a lot like our families. We still have them as role models for what we want out of life and relationships and our future. It's the same thing."
And though they were disappointed by the crowd's often negative reaction to the Gay Pride float in the State Fair parade, and though neighbor kids occasionally scream slurs at them from their bicycles, Gutierrez and Branchal are cheerful. "The love from our friends and in our home is enough to support a happy life," Branchal says. "That's what we want to show. It's a happy life, and it's going to stay that way."