Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Changes and Changers
It is Cause for Celebration – Yesterday afternoon, my partner and I were married by a duly authorized representative of Alameda County, and issued a valid marriage license by the State of California, including its pretty raised seal. Our witnesses were my father and my partner’s brother, my mother and my daughter sniffled during the exchange of vows and rings, and my son took many photos.
I wore something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. There were items worn to represent my partner’s parents, who have passed away. Friends sent flowers beforehand, and neighbors congratulated us when we returned. All in all, a wonderful event that recognizes what has existed for decades, and what wills, powers of attorney, adoptions, lending laws and even passports issued with the same last name didn’t quite achieve. We are now a family.
If you’re looking for a feel-good message you could probably stop reading here, because my feelings about where we now stand legally, and what this struggle has done to “the institution of marriage” have an element of bitterness. What would I have to complain about, after all? Millions of gay couples are not so lucky. Our license was won by decades of struggle* and a huge investment of energy and money. Well, nothing I’m going to say is meant to denigrate either of those facts. Yes, we benefited from the endless toil and struggle of many activists who wouldn’t give up, and I am sincerely grateful. Many, many people have changed their views and the world is a better place for gay people as a result.
But since when did having access to your civil rights make you “lucky”? The California Supreme Court ruled that my right to marry my partner has existed all along, and it was wrongfully withheld from me in the past. It doesn’t change the fact that neither of her parents lived to see her married because the right was wrongfully withheld. It doesn’t bring back all the unfair taxation and expense we shared as a couple because of our “single” status, easily adding up to a year’s salary because of unique events. We shouldn’t have had to have paid for two expensive second-parent adoptions to create our family, and even after that, still sweated in customs' lines that we’d be separated because a federal bureaucrat decided an adoption from California involving two women didn’t count that day. As with now getting married, even the right to have those adoptions take place was a matter of “luck.” Well, we moved to somewhere that allowed it--“lucky” that we could afford to live there.
As long as access to our civil rights is deemed “lucky” then we tacitly agree that it’s okay for civil rights to be a matter of whimsy and chance. So our struggle isn’t over. It isn’t over until the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution is interpreted – years from now – to really and truly apply to marriage licenses. Not that there isn’t already a library full of case law that says it does, built up when laws banning interracial marriage were used to keep bigoted local communities and states from recognizing mixed-race marriages if a “lucky” mixed-race couple had lived where it was legal. We will have to get it ruled on again. Until then, my partner will still pay income taxes on the “gift” of my health insurance company from her employer. Until then, we’re married, but not equal.**
How unromantic is that? If you’ve read all of the above, you might conclude that, to me, marriage is about taxes and laws. Isn’t it about romance? Isn’t it about love? Why yes, as a matter of fact, it is. But gay couples who wanted to become a family under the law are not the ones who sucked the romance out of marriage.
The people who equated same-sex marriage with bestiality and incest did that. The people who even now are going door-to-door saying “protect the children,” to try to pass their ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage in California—to take away the right my partner and I were finally told only months ago had been ours all along—sucked the romance out of marriage. The people who couldn’t give a fig if a partner of decades is excluded from their loved one’s hospital room sucked the romance out of marriage. People who trumped Love with their hatred and meanness, and demonstrated no “Christian” humanity or compassion took romance out of marriage. Facing decades of petty enforcement (under the guise of God’s work) of administrative edicts and withholding of basic courtesy and decency wherever it was possible to do so, meant that we, as a collective group of couples, were all forced to also see marriage as only those annoying details, like petty taxation, joint auto club membership, even being able to be certain we had adjacent seats on an airplane.
A bride’s wedding day is supposed to be the happiest day of her life, a day of her choosing. We married yesterday because we didn’t dare wait until our anniversary in February, because of the ballot measure. Yes, the date of the marriage is largely meaningless to me since this civil document, to me, merely codifies what has existed for decades. Still, to have the state use one date and us another will annoy every time the date is requested. Also, amidst my pleasure at the state I live in recognizing my union with my partner as a marriage, I was also recalling that the federal government doesn’t consider us married, and it won’t until it’s forced to do so. On that day, we will have won.**
Since when did marriage become about winning? What a mixed up emotional state when one of my first responses to the court ruling was “We won, and the bigots can go f*ck themselves.” Yeah, that’s romantic, all right. It remains tragic that friends who are pleased and proud for us can’t help but add, “Maybe it'll be legal here someday, too.”
The lost years without a marriage license can never be fixed for any of us. During these historic months here in California, I am getting used to the bittersweet mindset of being part of the change, but not part of the ultimate result. Like women who never got a chance to compete in collegiate sports before Title IX, nothing can give back lost opportunities once the law recognizes unfair treatment.
Those women raised a generation of strong, powerful athletes finally allowed to show what women are capable of achieving. I will go on writing stories about lesbian romance and love that are available to anyone who wants to read my visions of life and fulfillment. In spite of where I am in my life, during this time of shadowed transition, I have a position of hope: Future lesbians and gay men of America will grow up in a world where they always could get married. And on the day they tie the knot I hope for them that it is, without reservations, the happiest day of their lives.
Thank you to all the readers and colleagues who have sent their congratulations and support, and to everyone, including our families, who have always supported our relationship.
*8/27/2008: Thank you, Del Martin. May the next world benefit as much from your tenacity and vision as this one has.
**2013: DOMA partially overturned...but still waiting for all of us to be fully equal...