Rep. Mark Pocan just got back from Indonesia -- but this two-week trip was more than just a vacation for the Madison legislator. It was his honeymoon.
On Nov. 24 in Toronto, Pocan and his partner of four-plus years, Philip Frank, got married.
Of course, the couple couldn't legally tie the knot in Wisconsin. And that would have been the case even if the Nov. 7 amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as being between one man and one woman had not passed, as it did with 59 percent of the vote. They'd made their wedding plans and bought their tickets months ago, but for Pocan and Frank, it is a private matter they didn't want to see turned into a political talking point.
"We were engaged last Christmas but didn't talk about it a lot because of the referendum," Pocan says. "The referendum had nothing to do with marriage and everything to do with getting certain voters to turn out at the polls. We didn't talk about it because we didn't want to affect the political maneuvering."
Frank and Pocan flew to Toronto on Thanksgiving and were married the next day at the wedding chamber in Toronto's City Hall. Kyle Rae, an openly gay member of the Toronto City Council who got to know Pocan when Pocan was on the Dane County Board, helped with the arrangements.
Rae told Pocan they are glad to have ceremonies for gay couples at City Hall -- no shotguns involved. "Often couples who get married at City Hall have to be there, so he said when gay couples come in they're all happy they are getting married and it's a nice change," Pocan says.
After the ceremony, attended by both men's immediate family, the newlyweds toured Toronto in a limo and dined at the CN Tower overlooking the city.
For the honeymoon, they spent two weeks in Bali, diving, whitewater rafting, sight-seeing and eating good food. Frank, who recently joined Pocan working at his Budget Signs & Specialties shop, says the highlight was visiting the astounding Borobudur Temple.
It hit home for Pocan that he is a married man when he returned to the U.S. and the custom's agent in Los Angeles asked if they needed one form or two. "We told her we only needed one, we came together as family, and that we'd gotten married in Toronto," Pocan says. "She told us she thought it was nice that they allowed that in Canada."
While the newlyweds haven't told many people, just having returned from Bali on Sunday, Frank and Pocan say the response, like that of the custom's agent, has been overwhelmingly positive to their news.
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk sent the couple a copy of the book, "Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry." Says Falk, "It's all about commitment and why it matters and the underlying truth that we all long for relationships and commitment."
She was thrilled to hear his news. "It's just such a joy."
But Pocan and Frank shouldn't expect to get a card from Julaine Appling, executive director of the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, which spearheaded the fight for the marriage amendment.
"(Pocan's) look-alike or faux marriage in Canada is meaningless here in this state," Appling says. "I'm not going to condemn or condone it, but what he has is a meaningless piece of paper. That's the reality.
"... He hasn't really escaped Wisconsin law. We have a cordial relationship, but am I going to send him a congratulations card saying Best wishes on your wedding?' No, because I don't recognize it. Neither does the state of Wisconsin."
Given that his marriage isn't legally recognized in the state Pocan represents, why get married?
He says it has meaning in his life. "You get the question all the time, it's a societal question, Are you married?' It's nice to be able to say we're a couple, even though we won't be recognized for any of the rights and benefits given to married couples by Wisconsin or the U.S. government. It's important for us to recognize it."
Frank, however, has a question for the anti-gay marriage amendment advocates, based on the message of the campaign. "I'd be curious to find out how many marriages we've destroyed over the past few weeks. I'm pretty sure that's what they said this would do."