Tea with a Stunning View: Ritz Carlton Hotel in Hong Kong

In August 2014, Tawn and I journeyed to Hong Kong for a long weekend, celebrating the fifth anniversary of our marriage. (Yes, I realize that it has taken more than two months to actually post the details of this trip.) While there, we decided to splurge on an afternoon tea at The Lounge and Bar at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

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Perched on the 102nd floor of the International Commerce Centre in Kowloon, The Lounge and Bar offers one of the more stunning views for afternoon tea and at HK$598 (about US$78) for two people, it is not unreasonably priced.

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Having indicated on my reservation the reason we were coming for tea, the hotel thoughtfully decorated our tray with a white chocolate “letter” wishing us a happy anniversary.

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The amount of food is generous – plus two full pots of tea. The savory sandwiches were a truffle egg mayonnaise on brown bread, shellfish and dill cream on white bread, and smoked salmon with lemon curd on rye bread. There were also duck foie gras pate mini puff pastries with freeze-dried passion fruit.

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The sweets included blueberry cheesecake, mango choux, and peach vanilla verrine (not pictured here).

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There was also hazelnut lemon cake and orange ginger canneles. I love canneles!

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And of course you cannot have tea without scones. Two types were served with belberry jam and clotted cream.

The teas come from Marriages Frères, the Parisian tea company that offers so many high-quality flavors to choose from. And the china is beautiful. It was a very relaxing two hours with attentive service, amazing views, and too much tasty food. For the price, it was actually quite reasonable.

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Happy anniversary honey! We should make this an annual tradition to celebrate.

The Impact of the Supreme Court’s Rulings on Us

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on two cases about equality of marriage for same-sex couples. Many friends have asked how those rulings will impact Tawn and me, especially the ruling in United States vs. Windsor, which found Part 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

Tawn and I were married in Iowa almost four years ago and have lived in Thailand for more than seven years. We chose to live here for a variety of reasons, the biggest of which was that there was no practicable way for him to stay in the United States after completing his master’s degree.

The first state to provide same-sex marriage was Massachusetts in late 2003, so we had the option of getting married. But because of DOMA, the federal government would not recognize our marriage.

This is because immigration is one of the more than 1,100 federal statutes that use marital status to determine rights, benefits, and privileges. Because of DOMA, the federal government would not recognize our marriage so I could not sponsor Tawn’s immigration as my spouse.

Impact of the DOMA Ruling

Now that Part 3 of DOMA has been ruled unconstitutional (Part 2, which excuses states from having to recognize same-sex marriages that are conducted in other states, still stands), the door is open for me to sponsor Tawn, should we want to move back to the United States.

This would make immigration relatively painless and he could be in the United States and able to work within about 90 days. Spouse visas are expedited and are not subject to country-based quotas like other types of immigration visas.

When are we moving back to the United States? The answer is, no time soon. There were many secondary reasons for moving to Thailand and now that Tawn has a one-year old fashion design business and my US-based employer severed my employment after I declined their request to relocate to Atlanta, there is greater gravity holding us in Thailand. 

We will probably return to the United States some day, perhaps splitting our time between the two countries. But right now, it is enough to know that we have the right to return, when we choose to do so.


Posing with my grandparents in Kansas City this spring.

Impact of the Proposition 8 Ruling

With regards to the second Supreme Court ruling, on the case of Hollingsworth vs. Perry, this case does not directly affect us. The case asked whether California’s Proposition 8, which halted same-sex marriage, was constitutional.

The Supreme Court determined that the Proposition 8 supporters did not have the legal standing to appeal the lower court’s decision when the state government declined to appeal the case. This effectively resulted in Proposition 8 being invalidated and same-sex marriages resumed in California Friday afternoon.

The only effect that this case would have on us is if we moved back to California. It would ensure that our marriage, performed outside of California, would be recognized by the state government.

I want to give a quick thank you to all of the friends and family members who supported us and the larger fight for marriage equality. I especially want to thank our straight allies, people who proudly spoke up for equality even though it wasn’t directly their fight.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “None of us are free until all of us are free.”

 

Thoughts After an Emergency Room Visit

Wednesday evening, Tawn called me.  He had just left dinner with a friend and a severe rash had appeared on his torso, so he decided to head directly for the emergency room.  He asked me to meet him there.

In the end, the doctor was able to treat the rash and suspects it may be a previously unrecognized food allergy.  Tawn is fine.  But while I was sitting in the emergency room, I realized that we’ve got to get serious about completing powers of attorney for each other as well as our wills.  Had a hospital stay been necessary or decisions of medical care been required, our marriage would not be recognized and we could not make decisions on behalf of the other person.

One more of those little details, little insults almost, that remind me on a regular basis how far we have left to go to be treated equally.

At the end of January, the Iowa House passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.  Thankfully, the Iowa Senate is Democrat-controlled and is unlikely to pass the bill, but in the state where Tawn and I were married in August 2009, our legal right to marriage is under attack. 

Not a week later, the Iowa House started kicking around the idea of a bill that would open the door for businesses, organizations, and individuals to discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds. But this legislation would go far beyond gays and lesbians, opening the door for discrimination against any married couples, including interfaith and interracial couples!  Thankfully, enough furor was kicked up that the lead sponsor of the bill tabled it, citing concerns raised about the bill.

Forgive me if sometimes I seem a little defensive about my rights.

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At the same time, perspective is needed.  On January 26th, gay Ugandan human rights activist David Kato was brutally murdered.  Uganda is a country where the level of homophobia and hatred is extreme.  Homosexual acts are punishable with up to 14 years of imprisonment and members of the government have recently lobbied to have the punishment increased to the death penalty in some cases.  While the Ugandan supreme court has ruled that homosexuals have a right to privacy, that didn’t stop one major newspaper from publishing pictures of several people including Mr. Kato and saying they were gay, along with the headline “Hang them!” 

Keeping all this in mind helps give me more appreciation for what rights I do have, or at least for where I am in the world.  Being beaten to death for being gay is an unlikely outcome in my life. 

But don’t think for a minute I’m going to wave that around like some flag of victory.  I still expect equality.

My Thai Teacher Gets Married

On the day after Christmas, my Thai teacher of the last four and a half years finally tied the knot.  There’s no doubt she’s a patient person – continuing to tutor me after all these years is all the evidence of patience you would ever need – and her patience finally paid off as she married a handsome, decent, and loving man.  Tawn and I were very honored to be invited to the ceremony and I thought I would share some of the photos with you.

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Above, photos of Khru Kitiya (“Khru” means “teacher” in Thai) and her husband, Khun Por.  It is common for Thai couples to go for professional wedding portraits weeks or months in advance of their wedding.  These portraits are often elaborately staged in specialized studios, many of which are located in our neighborhood.  The photos are then displayed at the wedding reception for guests to enjoy.

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The wedding ceremonies were held at a facility on the north side of the city that is built in a traditional Thai style.  This main building is part of a rooftop reception area with open-air pavilions on either side of the deck.  Because it was a very bright day, although pleasantly breezy, most guests were hiding in the shade.  Notice all the shoes of the guests who are inside the main building.

The day consisted of three distinct events, of which we took part in the second two.  The first began at 7:30, when the monks arrived to conduct a traditional Buddhist ceremony, complete with chanting and the splashing of holy water.  The families of the couple then feed the monks in order to make merit for the newlyweds.

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The second event was the Rot Nam (“water pouring”) ceremony.  Family members and friends bless the groom and bride by pouring a small amount of water on their hands, which are held in a prayer-like position, while wishing them happiness in their marriage.  You will notice that both the groom and bride are in more traditional outfits, symbolically joined by a string, and have additional blessing marks on their foreheads.

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The third event was a Chinese style luncheon banquet, held downstairs from the pavilions.  There were probably 200 guests and we enjoyed dish after dish of tasty food while listening to speeches by Phuu Yai (“big people”, or guests of honor) and teasing by the two masters of ceremonies.

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One special treat after the speeches was that Khun Por and Khru Kitiya performed a duet for the guests.  Singing in front of a crowd is always a little scary but doing that on your wedding day just raises the stakes!

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After the cake was cut, Khru Kitiya did something unconventional for a Thai wedding: she threw her bouquet to the crowd of unmarried women.  This is something borrowed from American style weddings and I’ve never seen it at a Thai wedding before.  Unfortunately, her aim was a bit wide and the bouquet ended up in the hands of a young lady, recently married and expecting her first child!

It was a very fun celebration and we were glad to have been invited to be a part of it.  I hope Khun Por and Khru Kitiya have a long and happy life together!

 

Happy First Anniversary

Coming hot on the heels of Federal District Court judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling that California’s Proposition 8 unfairly discriminates against gay men and women in their right to marry the partner of their choosing, the timing of my first anniversary of marriage to Tawn seems quite appropriate.  Yes, it was a year ago today that a group of family and friends gathered in a courtroom in Iowa and Tawn and I exchanged vows and started our life together as spouses. 

Not wanting to get into a tangent about legal issues, as I’ve written on the topic of same-sex marriage rights many times before, I’ll simply say that I agree with the gist of the 136-page ruling: My having the right to marry Tawn does nothing to diminish the value of any different-sex marriages, but denying me the right does me grievous harm while doing nothing to benefit the interests of the state.

Having just celebrated my grandparents’ 67th anniversary, I am hopeful that medical technology will progress to the point that Tawn and I, too, have the opportunity to reach such a milestone.  Realistically, of course, I’ll be happy if we get thirty or forty years.  Most importantly, though, I will focus on just enjoying each day we have together.

Happy anniversary, Tawn!

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The full entry about that wedding is here, for those who didn’t see it and are interested. 

 

Video – Our Wedding Ceremony

3810387085_7a25877a5e_b This may be of limited interest, but some people have enquired about video from our wedding ceremony.  I’ve edited it together along with some pictures from our more than nine years together. 

The audio isn’t perfect – why didn’t I think to pack lavalier mics for everyone and a mixer? – but you’ll get the sense of what a humble, midwestern civil ceremony looks like.

The vows we exchanged were our own, the same ones we used for our commitment ceremony in September, 2004.  Very cool that the justice agreed to use them.

Warning: Shocking footage of a same-sex couple enjoying equal rights. 

 

 

Realizations about Relationships

Saturday night and we’re stuck at home with an empty refrigerator.  Since returning on Monday, I’ve cooked a few times, buying only the ingredients I needed for those meals and leaving us minimally stocked.  Another rainy season downpour has been falling for the past ninety minutes and based on the slowness with which the thunder and lightning are passing by, I reckon we’ll be stuck here for a while longer.

This has given me the opportunity to complete all my wedding thank-you cards, which now only need to be stamped and mailed.  In doing so, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on how lucky Tawn and I are to have so many friends and family members who really support us as a couple and, beyond simply “accepting” us as a couple, really celebrate our relationship.  It is nice to have all that support.

Whenever I attend a wedding, I’m always mindful of the fact that the witnesses, the friends and family who attend the service, have a very important role to play.  I recall at one wedding that the officiant spoke to the congregation about our role.  That message really resonated with me; I think we do have a responsibility to support and encourage the relationships that our friends and family members are in.  Relationships are tender things that need nurturing.

Today we met four visiting Singaporean friends, two couples, for lunch at the Hyatt Erawan Tea Room.  These are both long-term couples, still we were surprised when one of them remarked how they considered us an inspiration to them.  Despite having been together for so long, they haven’t the family support (nor the political support there) to get married, let alone have a formal commitment ceremony.

Tawn mentioned on the way home that many friends we saw on this recent trip, as well as friends who contacted us online after our wedding, remarked that we’re the first gay couple they know who has married.  It is kind of odd, as we don’t consider ourselves pioneers by any stretch of the imagination.

Thinking of our friends who are gay and lesbian, we know many couples, some who are married and many who have been together for ages.  Perhaps because that’s what I see a lot of, I’ve forgotten what a rarity that is?

While settling down as a couple isn’t the only way to be happy – you don’t need to be with someone to be complete, as I mentioned to one friend over dinner last Friday – it is certainly nice to have a companion as you travel along the road of life.

Leaving you with this, a composite picture that Tawn took while at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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What’s the message he’s sending me?  Ha ha…  hope you all have a good weekend.