Duluth businessman and wife are certifiably married after 31 yearsROBIN WASHINGTON COLUMN: Donde and John Goldfine are getting married today. Four months after their 31st anniversary.
Donde and John Goldfine are getting married today.
Four months after their 31st anniversary.
“We even got a ketubah from Ketubahs R Us,” John Goldfine said Friday of a Jewish marriage contract they didn’t get the first time they took their vows.
Minnesota law doesn’t require a religious document for marriages to be legally binding, so that wasn’t the problem. But it does stipulate a marriage license be drawn and the completed certificate filed with the county. So like any other couple taking the plunge, they got a license ahead of their April 8, 1981, civil ceremony.
They also got one of the best officiants you could ask for: Judge Gerald W. Heaney, nearly 15 years into what would become four decades on the bench of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The only thing higher is a Supreme Court justice.
That meant the wedding was as kosher as you could get legally speaking. The couple pledged to each other, went on to have two children and last year welcomed a daughter-in-law.
Then the Internal Revenue Service butted in.
“Our taxes got returned,” Donde said. “My Social Security card didn’t match up with my married name because I never changed my name on my card.”
If she’s apologizing for failing to update a piece of paper you get in high school, don’t bother. I last saw mine when I put it in the laundry in 1976, and even in the post-9/11 world, my passport and driver’s license have been good enough for anyone demanding an official I.D.
The IRS did want to see their marriage certificate, though, since they’d been filing jointly for three decades.
There wasn’t one.
“It never got registered,” John said of the oversight confirmed by St. Louis County Public Records, where word around the office is that Judge Heaney, who died two years ago, lost the paperwork.
Goldfine, a well-known Duluth businessman, says he remembers someone else being responsible for filing it. But regardless of who didn’t do what, it’s rare, said Wendy Levitt, the department’s information specialist supervisor, recalling only one other incident.
“I think the first was a couple married back in the ’60s,” she said. “They came in for a certified copy. We pulled up the record, and the application was there and the certificate was blank. The pastor had neglected to send in the certificate.”
To remind those busy judges, clergymen and sea captains what to do, she explained: “We inform them they have five days to get the certificate back to the recording office. We also try to give the officiants as much information as possible to get it filled out correctly. We even give them an envelope. They have to buy the stamp.”
That would have been 18 cents in April 1981, which the Goldfines would gladly have paid with interest last fall.
“My first reaction was, ‘I have all sorts of legal problems,’” John said. “That lasted almost a week before we figured out that we didn’t owe the IRS money because we would have paid less if we had filed (separately).”
Their son Teddy said he learned from his quite-upset sister, Fia, that “our parents never actually got married” — and in his words, decided to be “a bastard” about it.
“That’s just the kind of guy I am,” he joked.
Except in the eyes of the law, he wasn’t one.
“They were married. They went through the marriage ceremony,” Levitt said. “We did get that filed for them.”
So they don’t really have to remarry, but decided to anyway: as a reason to host a summer party, to renew their vows, and to affect an issue they’re passionate about. Their only requested gifts are donations to Minnesotans United for All Families, the campaign against the state’s proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Given the shared politics of the man who married them, Donde wondered, who knows? Maybe the judge didn’t forget.
“He might have planned it this way,” she said. “There are no accidents.”
Or in this case, no bastards, either.
Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at email@example.com.