Here's the scene on March 5, 2004: Jeff Fisher, a self-employed graphic designer, was in a limo, on his way to the Cedar Rapids airport after a conference in Waterloo, Iowa. The sixth-generation Oregonian was excited about the trip back home because he was planning to get married to Ed Cunningham, his partner of 14 years.
After hearing the news about Multnomah County's decision to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on March 3, Jeff and Ed spent just four days planning their ceremony.
Rings? Check. Location? Check. Cake? Check. Mass-emailed invitations? Done.
As for one of the grooms? Well, he almost missed his own wedding.
When Jeff arrived at the airport, he was met with the not-so-good news: All flights out of Cedar Rapids were canceled due to weather. No one would be leaving anytime soon.
The news that he might be spending days stalled in Iowa made Jeff frantic. So he did something gay men could not do until very recently: He played the wedding card.
"I'm getting married this weekend," he told the ticket agent.
The woman looked at him, then back at the departure board layered with cancellations, where she found one flight leaving for Chicago. Right now.
"Run!" she said.
Jeff made the flight. In Chicago, he boarded the plane to Portland, and during the flight, he began to notice something curious about his fellow passengers. Lots of gay men. Lots of gay couples. Later in the flight, his suspicions were confirmed. He and Ed weren't the only couple who decided on the spur of the moment to get married in Multnomah County. One man said, as he passed Jeff in the aisle, "Guess this is the gay-marriage plane to Portland."
That flight delivered Jeff home--with a day to spare before his wedding.
Jeff and Ed's relationship had started years before, when they were casually introduced by a mutual friend. Jeff felt something right away and told a friend, "I just met the person I'm going to spend the rest of my life with."
Never mind that Jeff had forgotten Ed's name. Never mind that he was 10 years older. His strong feelings caused Jeff to spend the next month trying to track Ed down. "Ed likes to think I was stalking him," he says.
The men settled into a relationship and, in their first 14 years together, didn't feel the need to hold an event to acknowledge their commitment. Neither of them liked the ceremony of, well, ceremonies. But on Valentine's Day, as they watched the news and saw hundreds of gay and lesbian couples line up for marriage licenses at San Francisco's City Hall, Ed said, "If we were there, I'd want to do it." Jeff's response: "Me, too."
So when Jeff and Ed heard the news about Multnomah County, Ed offered an informal proposal: "You wanna do it?" When Jeff said yes, the couple made plans to get their own license. "There was some sense of urgency that we might miss our window of opportunity," Ed recalls, a statement that has more resonance since April 21, when gay marriages were temporarily halted after a ruling by Circuit Court Judge Frank Bearden.
Now married a month and a half, the newlyweds are planning a party this summer for friends and relatives who couldn't make the journey in March. They say while their marital status might hang in limbo, that doesn't stop them from savoring their very own historic document. It's a piece of paper, they say, that carries with it a new level of commitment.
"We are mentally prepared for our marriage to be struck down," says Ed, a 38-year-old computer manager at a downtown law firm. "But," he adds with a grin, "we still have our stamped and certified marriage certificate."