Driving in her car on her way home one day, the image of a sign popped into Tiffany Newman’s head: “Our Marriage Was Once Illegal, Too.” The words meant something powerful, not only to Newman and her husband–an interracial couple–but also to the District’s gay community.
Newman attended the March for Equality in 2009 where she, an African-American, caucasian women and her husband, a caucasian man, held up that very sign as a symbol in support of interracial marriage. As a child of an interracial marriage, Newman made the sign to show support for her parents and other interracial couples as well.
After her very first ceremony, Newman, a wedding officiate and planner, knew that this was what she wanted to do. “I was a wreck. I was so horrible. I didn’t know what I was doing,” Newman said. “But they loved me anyway.”
On Dec. 18, 2009 same-sex marriage was legalized in D.C. By March 3, 2010, licenses for these marriages became available, and about two years later the legal unions began. Newman began performing ceremonies part-time in 2010, first focusing on interracial marriages. “It’s my baby,” she said. “And I’ve been lucky enough to do it full-time since September of last year.
“I do about 60 percent same-sex ceremonies and about 40 percent interracial ones,” she said.
For over 15 years, gay couples have fought for the right to marry their significant others. It was illegal. As stated in the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the word ‘marriage’ means the legal union between man and woman. The term ‘spouse’ is solely for a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
In 2004, Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to allow couples of the same-sex to legally marry. Since then, eight other states and the District of Columbia have also passed same-sex marriage laws. Much talk surrounded President Obama’s announcement last May that he supported same-sex marriage. He received mixed responses. Gay activists praised his announcement while religious groups opposed his shift in position. According to a Gallup poll, 48 percent of Americans opposed gay marriage in 2012.
With a thriving business and her own ceremony room in Dupont Circle in Northwest Washington, D.C.’s LGBT community, Newman finds that her job, her passion, comes with ups and downs. Finding a balance is one of the hardest parts of the job. Newman admits she is still learning when to limit herself and when to limit her clients. “It’s everybody’s most important day,” she said, “and I want to give that to them. But I’m human. I get caught up in it too, I love my job.”
Since 2010, there has been a steady increase in same-sex marriages. A study by the Williams Institute in 2011 revealed that 22% of all same-sex couples in the United States have formalized their relationship under state law within the United States. The study also revealed that same-sex couples preferred marriage over civil unions. An average of 30% of same-sex couples married in the first year that their state allowed them to marry, while only 18% entered into civil unions or broad domestic partnerships in the first year that states offered these partnerships. Revised estimates of the U.S. Census reports that there were 131,729 same-sex married couple households and 514,735 same-sex unmarried partner households in the United States.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Maryland on Jan. 1. But couples still face issues with the new marriage laws being passed. States recognize these marriages, but the federal law and the benefits that come with it, does not. The Federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act prohibits any state, territory or possession of the United States from recognizing the union of a same-sex marriage. The Respect for Marriage Act of 2009 is a proposed bill that would repeal DOMA in light of marriage equality.
With marriage equality still not fully recognized, Newman sees parallels between the struggles in same-sex and interracial marriages, a distinction that she thinks sets her apart from many others. Newman has created a name for herself in the wedding-planning industry. “It’s a matter of personalities,” she said. “You go to different people depending on calmness, experience or a certain flare that you like.”
Newman has been told that she is calm and because of this has maintained relationships with a lot of the couples she has wed. “Some send me Christmas cards and pictures,” she said. “Some of them text me on holidays, but I’m very fortunate to get referrals.”
One of the hardest things about this business, Newman says, “…is when people call later asking about divorce. And I really have no information for them.”
Newman says she looks forward to “…waking up each morning knowing I am going to do this.” Newman admitted that it is extremely difficult to keep from tearing up during a ceremony. “But I have tricks,” she said.