The journey from ‘spouse’ to ‘husband’ was more than just a matter of words for Mike Donovan and Bill Shafer — it was a victory for marriage equality
Bill Shafer and Mike Donovan had visited San Francisco before, but this day, when they returned to their far North Dallas home after an extended weekend trip, everything was different. This time, they were walking into their home as husbands — not life partners, not husbears: Husbands. After seven years together, the couple were married legally in California. On Valentine’s Day.
And they knew instantly it wasn’t just about having an extra piece of paper in their carry-on. They could sense it.
Knowing forever that they were in the relationship for the long haul, but without having proper legal documents, meant they have to jump through numerous legal hoops — drafting wills and powers of attorney to establish some legal protections. As they navigated all the legalities, Shafer says the dominos really started to fall.
“As a musician, I’ve sung in weddings for years, but I resigned myself that marrying someone wasn’t in the cards,” he says. “But we had the same reasons straight couples had to marry. We wanted to add some permanence. Then there was the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 [in California]. And even though same-sex marriage isn’t recognized in Texas, that could be changing soon, too.”
The idea began to set in for Shafer that true equality was not beyond their grasp, just because they were gay.
“Maybe getting married could be a reality for us,” he says.
Shafer’s employer (Samsung) recognizes couples — straight and same-sex — and offers the benefits of marriage to both equally, so they were now doubly protected. That became the tipping point for a more serious discussion about getting hitched. They considered traveling to Hawaii after marriage equality passed there last winter; Shafer used to live there. But ultimately, they wanted to get married sooner rather than later, and the possibility of a quick trip made San Francisco the perfect choice.
“San Francisco is basically the birthplace of marriage equality, and we discovered that the city really has their act together,” Shafer says. “We could apply for a license and schedule a time with the justice of the peace all online. And our dear friends Roy and Frank are there.” (They took a mini-honeymoon in Napa Valley on their wedding weekend, but recently made plans for an official one in Hawaii.)
The two have a massive collection of photos telling the story of their Feb. 14 nuptials. They fixed each other’s bow ties, checked in at city hall and the justice of the peace guided them into matrimonial bliss. Donovan is even caught on film wiping away tear. One part of their big day that wasn’t planned was the news coverage they received. They told their tale to the rest of San Francisco and perhaps even the world.
They were flattered by all the attention, and even rushed backed to their friends’ apartment to watch the coverage, where they were also surprised with a cake and a “Just Married” sign.
Both men are musicians, which fed their initial attraction to each other and turned the long-distance courtship into a lifetime commitment. They met online when Shafer was in Dallas and
Donovan was in Boston. After initially chatting then meeting, Donovan relocated to North Texas, where they have built their lives together.
But after all was said and done, do they feel any different after seven years together just to have a license?
“It certainly hasn’t changed the day-to-day stuff, but there are other aspects of it,” Donovan says. “The wedding demonstrates the level of commitment to each other. And the people who congratulated me and us, it just confirmed we had a real relationship. In a way, I’m relaxed now because now I believe it will be forever.”
Shafer was a little more succinct, pondering his newlywed status at this point in his life.
“We’ve used ‘spouse’ all along the way, but now, I can call Mike my husband,” he says.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 11, 2014.