8/07/2009

The Reality of Marriage Inequality...

Achieving marriage equality is quite a battle. We've made progress but there's still so much to do.

But looking around at this debate nationally, I see so many groups run by people who just seem to have no real clue about marriage.

Take for example the new "education" campaign in D.C. They've chosen couples to put a "face" on the marriage debate by "telling their stories" to the public. The folks at Change.org gush that "Yup, it's these types of stories that are going to make the difference."

I'm not sure if they were speaking ironically, because here is the type of story that they are sure will move the world:
Emily Hecht and Sharon McGowan, who are engaged, are now planning their wedding, which will be held in Boston on June 5, 2010.

Hecht said that while she and McGowan would probably have married regardless of whether D.C. recognized their marriage, “Marriage recognition is going to play a part in where we choose to live after getting married, in the long term.”

“Our choices will center around where we will be recognized as married,” she said. “D.C. is where we are currently, and New York is a long-term goal.”

Hecht and McGowan are lawyers and in the process of having documents drawn up to ensure that they don’t run into any problems having their union recognized in other states.

“We’re exploring all the other legal documents we’ll need to draft, since we recognize there will be other states that won’t recognize our marriage,” McGowan said.

Hecht said that the word “marriage” is important, though, and she plans to talk about that during the campaign.

“When Sharon and I talked about [how] we were going to register as domestic partners in the District, I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to explain that to my family? What does it mean?’” she said.

“When we decided we were going to marry in Boston — though we got engaged before the law passed, thinking it would happen — it was a much easier conversation to have. I called my mom, said that we got engaged and were getting married. That word meant something to her. She knew what it was.”
Charming, yes. Compelling, no. I'm sure these are all lovely people and I wish them all the happiness in the world. I'm also thrilled they can pick up and move in this economy and not have to worry about cost or finding work. After all, as we all know and the right wing likes to point out: all LGBT people are upper middle class, professional, liberal and with huge disposable incomes. We should always seek out couples in the community who fit that bill to represent us.

But, I don't see this changing any minds. What will change minds about this are those stories and situations that directly show the effects of not being allowed to marry. It will be those tangible moments where straight people can walk a mile in our shoes.

We must make people realize that flying across country to get married is not really an option for most in our community. I have actually met people in our community now who are "wedding tourists" and fly about getting married in every locale it is legal (including foreign countries) and display their marriage certificates as others might photos of vacations!

This type of attitude continues to obfuscate the issue because straight people are not keeping up with marriage law like we are. I've actually had straight acquaintances express surprise because they assumed after Massachusetts that we could all go up there and get married and it was legal everywhere! They aren't going to read the Washington Blade for details nor go to one of our websites to get the inside scoop. We have to figure out how to take that message to them. The most beautiful "GLBT" marriage website in the world will not do anything to sway the larger public opinion because it will always be preaching to the choir.

I also get very tired of hearing people who have been married (in all but paperwork) for decades suddenly start giggling about being "engaged." It's ludicrous and cheapens the fact that couples have functioned as families for a long time by trying to negotiate all sorts of legal hurdles and carrying stacks of documents everywhere they go to hold onto some modicum of protection.

It's time we grew up. If you want compelling stories that will make straight people see our plight, stop with the cutesy stuff and talk to folks who've been through the ringer of life together. Talk to some of our seniors who made lives together when it wasn't even permissible to acknowledge they were more than "roommates" or "friends." Talk to couples who have felt the sting of extra taxes, been turned down for child custody or adoption, been thrown out of hospitals or been denied housing as a couple. Get those stories. Get the stories of elderly couples who aren't allowed to share a room when they must finally go to a retirement homes. Hear about people who aren't allowed to plan or attend their partner's funeral because they are not "married" or not allowed to even be buried together in a family plot. Talk to people who were not even allowed to have their relationships acknowledged in the obituaries of their spouse! Ask about couples who have had to sign waivers to even print the word "partner" in a newspaper announcement relieving the funeral home of any claims of "defamation" because, the funeral home assumes being labelled "homosexual" is on a par with being labelled murderer or rapist.

Find those stories that wrench the heart and make people wake up. We won't get their attention with stories about how hard it is to get your bags from baggage claim after you flew to Vermont to get married. We won't change minds with stories of how hard it is to find a good florist and caterer.

We have got to grab people by their heartstrings and twist until they can imagine what it would be like to be us and be denied rights they have never once thought about.

But, could the problem be that so many in charge of these PR campaigns have never experienced any of this? Ahhh, maybe that could be it. Could it be that many of them are 20 somethings whose entire lives are ahead of them? Maybe so. After all, the LGBT community is one of the most ageist there is. Why go for the heart when you can fight a war of cute for the next 15 or 20 years? You've got time. But what about the elderly in our community who face all of these issues about health care, end of life decisions, or retirement benefits right now? What do we say to them? Do we have no responsibility to them?

It's time to wake up and really show people the hard face of inequality and stop with the flowers and rice and "two grooms on top of a cake" silliness. This is about life!

Final thought: I would like to see legislation that would allow couples who have been together for many years to get married and have the document backdated to the original date their relationship began. I know, it would never work and is not even legal... but I can't imagine eventually marrying Michael and having to start counting at our "first anniversary" after over a decade together as a spiritually married couple. It's ludicrous.


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