Experience: I married my partner four times | Life and style

The first time I saw Leslie, it was 1994; she was on stage, delivering a spoken word piece at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. I was in the audience and it really was love at first sight.

We’re both performance artists and, though I didn’t know it then, Leslie had seen me in a show in Glasgow that year and experienced a similar flash. Her girlfriend had nudged her in the ribs and whispered, “You fancy her!” I thought about her a lot, but we were both in relationships. A year later, we were performing in the same season back at the ICA and met properly for the first time. There was definitely a spark.

Leslie is from Albuquerque and I lived in London. Soon after we met, she returned to the US to finish her PhD. We spent a year corresponding through letters and cassette tapes of voice recordings. Though we were just friends, there was a subtext of romance.

In spring 1996, Leslie came back to make a film and we arranged to meet in Abney Park cemetery in north London. We were both single by then. I brought cheese sandwiches, she brought gin and tonic, we shared our first kiss and started a relationship. The two of us set up a performance company in London. Our first piece, in 1997, involved going on a road trip along America’s Route 66 and uploading recordings of our daily interactions to a website.

We were married on the Marin Headlands, looking across the Golden Gate Bridge, by a wonderful lesbian vicar in a kaftan

At the start of our trip, in a hotel room in Chicago, Leslie said: “When we get to California, let’s get married.” I looked straight at her. “Let’s,” I said. We agreed to do it two weeks later when we reached San Francisco, where gay couples could enter domestic partnerships.

We were married on the Marin Headlands, looking across the Golden Gate Bridge, by a wonderful lesbian vicar in an orange kaftan. It was recognised only in the city, not the state. We wore jeans and T-shirts, with delphinium buttonholes a florist had given us that day. We didn’t have rings, so we bought each other Converse trainers and exchanged those alongside simple vows. I’d known I could love Leslie from the moment I saw her, so this felt joyous.

We had been living in London for eight years when, in July 2008, we decided to have a civil partnership. We had a ceremony at Marylebone town hall and a boat party on the Regent’s Canal. Our friends and family came, we wore silk frocks and exchanged rings.

In 2011, we moved to California to work as professors of theatre at Stanford University. Our UK civil partnership wasn’t recognised there, so we filed for a state-legalised domestic partnership.

Then two years later, in June 2013, we were on a beach in California when news reached us that the supreme court had overturned Doma, the legislation that banned same-sex marriage. We looked at each other and thought, “Finally.” We knew we needed to marry again.

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Two weeks later, we married in San Francisco city hall by a statue of the gay rights leader Harvey Milk. Leslie wore a cowboy shirt and I wore a vintage frock. The building was full of gay and lesbian couples, from chaps in their 80s to women in their 20s. It was overwhelmingly emotional to be part of – even our officiant cried. We celebrated with oysters and champagne. The day felt politically significant.

Each of our marriages has been fundamental to who we are. The first established our commitment to stay together. The second was our wedding, where we invited the people we loved. The third was a legal piece of paper that helped us settle in California, and the fourth was the most political.

We now live in Hastings, East Sussex. Our multiple marriages made me think about how things have changed for fiftysomething women like us over the years and inspired me to write a book, The Invisible Women’s Club, featuring a late-life lesbian romance.

In the UK, we still haven’t done a same-sex marriage ceremony in addition to our civil partnership. Practically speaking, we haven’t needed to, but never say never. Our commitment to each other has never been in question – our four marriages have just cemented it along the way.

As told to Deborah Linton

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