Politics

Jared Polis Wedding Shows How Far We've Come — and How Far We Still Have to Go

The wedding photo Governor Jared Polis tweeted on September 15.
The wedding photo Governor Jared Polis tweeted on September 15. colorado.gov via Jared Polis Twitter
On September 15, Governor Jared Polis made history — again — by marrying First Gentleman Marlon Reis in a ceremony on the University of Colorado Boulder campus.

It's the first-ever same-sex wedding for a sitting governor, yet there was no advance ballyhoo for the event. Indeed, the announcement by Polis, tweeted at 5:13 p.m. yesterday, could hardly have been more low-key. Beneath the chaste photo seen at the top of the post, Polis wrote: "The greatest lesson we have learned over the past 18 months is that life as we know it can change in an instant. We are thankful for the opportunity to celebrate our life together as a married couple. After 18 years together, we couldn't be happier to be married at last."

This tone is in keeping with the way Polis has publicly handled his sexual identity since he first arrived on the political scene. I first profiled Polis for Westword in "Young Blood," an August 19, 2004, feature. At the time, he chaired the Colorado Board of Education, but it was clear he had much larger political ambitions. And given that he was flat-out rich (his net worth at the time was estimated at $174 million, owing to the sale five years earlier of his family's online greeting-card business, Bluemountain.com), right-wing political opponents were already trying to undermine Polis by, among other things, engaging in a whispering campaign about him being gay — something he had not yet publicly acknowledged. In fact, he'd recently landed on a Fortune magazine list of the dozen most affluent U.S. bachelors, alongside Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Shaquille O'Neal and Tiger Woods.

To put it mildly, I had zero interest in whether Polis was gay or not. So instead of asking him about it directly, I inquired more generically about his romantic life, allowing him to deflect the question with this response: "It would be difficult to incorporate a relationship into my current lifestyle." But he was much more forthcoming about his political future, telling me that in the years to come, "I might be starting a company. I might be starting new nonprofit schools. Or I might be the governor of Colorado."


In fact, Reis was already part of Polis's life in 2004. They chose to marry at CU on September 15 to mark the eighteenth anniversary of their first date; after connecting online, Polis told Colorado Public Radio, they'd met for the first time in person at the campus bookstore.

Polis came out publicly prior to his 2008 race for Congress, and after he was elected, he was comfortable enough to joke about the subject during an appearance on Stephen Colbert's Comedy Central show The Colbert Report — when he also joined the host to do a beer bong. Afterward, Colbert tweeted: "Can't believe Jared Polis called me gay. Ridiculous. In other news, totally fired up for Project Runway premiere this week!"

Another nationally known comedian, Saturday Night Live's Colin Jost, drew laughs from the topic after Polis was voted in as Colorado governor circa 2018. "Colorado’s Jared Polis became the first openly gay man elected governor in United States history, which is fantastic," Jost said. "But it’s also weird to me that the media uses the term ‘openly gay.' It just implies there are a bunch of other governors out there they’re pretty sure about, but for now they’re still going to call them ‘confirmed bachelors.'"

Afterward, when I asked Polis about Jost's line, he replied; "I don't have any deep thoughts on it. But I do think that, to a certain extent, it is. I think people who served in public office in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, if they were gay, they were not open about it; they were closeted. So I think it's an acknowledgment that while we may be breaking ground, we don't want to diminish that there could very well have been people who were gay or lesbian and served in the past, but weren't at a point in time where they could be open about it. I think that's what they're getting at. It is a little bit of a relic, so I don't expect it will be used too far into the future other than in a historic context."

He was wrong about that. Polis is still frequently referred to as the first "openly gay" man to be elected to the United States House of Representatives, as well as the first gay U.S. governor.

Today, of course, gay marriage is a part of our culture, but it remains controversial among many ultra-conservative Christians, of which there are plenty in Colorado. Is that why Polis didn't give the world a heads-up about the wedding? Or is that simply not Polis's style?

I don't have the answers. But I look forward to the day when such questions no longer need to be asked — and thanks to Polis and Reis, it just got a little closer.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts