Learning Life’s Lessons
It was Father’s Day, and he was heading back home on the same stretch of road that he had traveled time and time again. It was close to noon, the sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze in the air. It was the perfect day for a picnic or a barbeque. He in fact was heading to his father’s house for just such an event, but he never got there. The driver in the oncoming lane had a seizure and collapsed behind the wheel, crossing the center line of the road.
I was 22 then. We had been together for four years. We had met the summer I got out of high school and hit it off right away. We began with simple dates; coffee, movies that kind of thing. I went off to college in the fall, and we’d talk by phone every night at 9, like clockwork. Then the great joy of Friday came, when he would travel that road to pick me up in college, and I’d stay with him at his place over the weekend. It was just your average relationship with its good times and bad. We had a lot of fun repainting the kitchen, and shared our favorite shows. We had our spats over the petty stuff; snoring too much, who was going to cook that night, and don’t squeeze the toothpaste from the middle. During the week when I was only an hour away at college and he was at home, like most long distance relationship, was stressful, but I knew that no matter how rough the day was it wouldn’t be long till I heard his voice and I couldn’t vent my frustration to him. He would listen attentively then tell me about his rough day at work.
Our relationship was just like any other… until I learned the truth the hard way at the age of 22. Sure I had experienced hate against me in the past, but that was petty stuff that wouldn’t endure. So some fool keyed my car in high school, and slashed my tires. So I’ve been yelled at and called names and threaten. But all that was passing and superfluous. I had stayed at my parent’s house that summer, but was still spending my weekends with him. When on June 16, Father’s Day, I sat by the phone at nine o’clock. Nine-thirty came, and still no call. At ten, I called him, no answer. I left a message on his machine asking him where he was, and telling him that I missed him. At 11:00 that night I got a call from a mutual friend or ours, she wanted to come by to see me. She had something to tell me. I knew what it was…
As we were strangers in the eyes of the law, when he died, I was not notified. His family was so ashamed of who there son was that they weren’t going to tell me. It wasn’t until they had told one of our friends that the message got back to me. The first call I got was from his brother a day later asking if I knew if he had a will or not. I told him he didn’t. At the age of 22, who thinks of making a will? As we were strangers in the eyes of the law I had no right to return to claim the property I had left at his house, including my own clothes. My friend called to tell me the funeral arrangements. We had actually discussed how he wanted to be cremated, because I told I thought the idea of being set of fire was kind of creepy. As we were strangers in the eyes of the law I had no legal say in his final arrangements. His family had a close casket service at a church that he hadn’t been to since he was a little kid. The preacher at the church knew nothing about him and as such spent most of the funeral preaching, rather than talking about what a kind, compassionate, funny, and charming man he was.
The day after the funeral, his brother called to tell me that it was my fault he died, that I ruined him, and that he hoped me and my family burned in Hell. At the age of 22, I learned that the little things in life are but a manifestation of the deeper inequality and hatred in society. In my moment of great loss and oppressive grief I was cast aside by the law and by the family that was supposed to love and honor their child unconditionally. Marriage discrimination destroys families. It doesn’t protect them.
A grain of sand on the beach:
Tragedy had opened my eyes. I was no longer the naïve young man who thought there may be discrimination out there but it wouldn’t affect me if I just ignored it. This was no longer “the best of all possible worlds.” And soon I found I was not alone. A woman from my church had been with her partner for 32 years. When her partner passed away she lost everything. The house, and both cars were in her partner’s name due to financing issues, and who hasn’t experienced that. They had wills, but the partner’s family contested it, and won. After 32 years she was left with out a home and without a car.
A few years later it happened again. E- and F-, I’m not using their full names as I haven’t asked permission to share their story, had been together for 8 years. F- was studying to become a masseuse and due to his student loans his credit score was low, so E- got the mortgage in his name alone. Eight years spent together, eight years both paying on the mortgage and building a life together. E- had a heart attack at work. The house being in E-‘s name went to his family. They threw F- out of the house and tried to sell the property. It sat vacant for three years.
When one is grieving the loss of a loved they should never have to endure this humiliation and degradation. This is one of the reason marriage matters. How is that? Let’s pick on my sister for a moment, consider it payback for my childhood. She can go to a bar, pick up a stranger, go pay a small fee, and in a very short time be married to him. Afterward, if anything, God forbid, were to happen and she died, that stranger would be the heir to her property, he would have the rights to make funeral arrangements, and he’d be the legal guardian of my niece. All for a small fee and two signatures. For me to get those rights with my current partner, with whom I’ve lived for 6 years so far, it would cost in attorney’s fees, time in court, and even then there is no guarantee.
And it is not just the end of life that marriage affects. There are thousands of legal rights and benefits. I may touch on a few later, but I’m no expert. I would recommend a book called, “Why You Should Give a Damn about Gay Marriage” By Davina Kotulski, Ph.D. However the mere social aspects of this legal contract have enough affect on ones life. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been at work, listening to a customer or a co-worker complain about their spouse, and thought, “You know, my partner and I don’t have half of these problems, and yet we aren’t able to marry, and these people who are so unhappy with each other can.” My co-worker once told me that I was just wanting to the right to be miserable, too. I told him that I was happy in my relationship, but even if I weren’t doesn’t everyone deserve the same opportunities in life, for better or worse. Another told me, “Don’t stress about it. I’m not married either.” The difference, as I explained to her, was that she had the option to marry. I did not. And I never tire of the hit-and-miss game of what do we call him? My mother is very creative with this game.
Understanding and compassion is growing. First Massachusetts, then California, and now Connecticut recognize that denying gay and lesbian couples the rights granted by a marriage license is discrimination, but there are groups that are trying to stop my family from being treated like everyone else, and they are spending large sums of money and time to prevent people they do not even know from being treated as equals to everyone else.
When I ask people why they are against marriage equality, I generally get the same stock answers over and over again. So I wanted to exam these answers. The one that seems to come up, over and over again is the religious response. Generally it is includes that persons beliefs say homosexuality is wrong, or that God has ordained marriage only between a man and woman.
My issue with this argument is that it over looks the fact that there is a separation of church and state, and when it comes to withholding rights from my family, it doesn’t hold water. Why? Because my partner and I can go to my church and have a religious ceremony right now, but it won’t confer the benefits of a legal marriage contract. See, opponents of marriage equality have blurred the lines. They seem to want people to forget that there are two types of marriage; the license and the ceremony. Many couples get married all across the country without the church being involved at all. Which brings us to the idea that ones religious beliefs should dictate the laws that affect the private lives of individuals. This just isn't that country. It's a good thing too, because there are some who believe it is against God's will to eat pork. Should that be made into a law? It will be illegal to sell any pork products? Is that a fair analogy? Almost. What if pork products were allowed to be sold only to a certain group of people, then when others tried to buy it they were told “Sorry, but our religion says no bacon for you.” Kind of silly if you ask me. Now I'm not here to criticize anyone's beliefs, and I don't want to change anyone's religious views. I'm just asking that one doesn't use their beliefs to pass laws that would have no affect on them personally but would cause great pain in the life of others. Just as I'm sure they would not want someone to push a different religious ideaology into their life.
My favorite response it that they are trying to “Protect Marriage” and will often use the word “traditional” to describe marriage. Does allowing someone you don't know on the other sound of town to have the same rights as you damage someone's marriage in any way? What threatens marriage? Well the end of a marriage is about the biggest threat I can think of, and that comes from two sources, death and divorce. We can't do much about death, sadly. But divorce, that is a different issue. If someone was truly trying to protect marriage why would they prevent couples from marrying instead of working to end divorce? Then I hear that same-sex couples marrying is not “traditional marriage.” Which traditional marriage? Because as we no it today is not how it has been. It wasn't until recently that a woman could file rape charges if she refused her husband and he forced himself on her. That was a change in marriage. It wasn't long ago that people of different ethnic backgrounds were prohibited from marrying. That was a change in marriage. How far back in tradition would you like to go? In biblical times women were property and were bought by marriage, and some heros of the bible even had multiple wifes. Is that traditional?
“Won't someone think of the children!” (I love that line) Another answer I've heard is “for the good of the children.” This is a valid concern, but ultimately is a misleading illusion. Allowing marriage equality, some say could put children in danger. Well, let's start by seeing what marriage allows. When someone who has a child, marries the other person becomes a legal gaurdian of the child. Since a woman can marry a man she just met, what if she marries a child murderer. The murderer now has rights to pick her kids up from school make decisions on their medical care. Did stopping Jim and Mike up the street from marrying affect that? On the flip side, Jim has a daughter and lives with partner of 25 years Tom. If Jim and his daughter were hospitalized, Tom could not make legal decisions for either of them. Is that helping the daughter any? Sure he become a legal guardian through a lengthy and expensive adoption process, provided the sate doesn't deny him that legal right too. But in the heterosexual couples cse all she had to do was was pay a small fee and sign some paperwork and the predator becomes a guardian.
“But they will teach kids that men can marry men!” And? Allowing marriage equality most likely will have no effect on the educational system, however if, for some reason, a teacher would tell children they could marry a man or a woman it would have no effect on them. I grew up with stories of Princes marrying damsels, and I still turned out gay. A child hearing that two women have the same rights as everyone else is not going to make them gay. The same arguement goes for, “How will I explain to my child when she sees two guys holding hands in public!” Well, the same way you would if they saw a man and a woman holding hands in public.
While we are on the topic of protecting children, my state legislature this year was voting on anti-bullying legislation, which would protect children from bullying in schools and allow them to get an education free of abuse so they can grow up into educated productive citizens. The same group of legislators that wanted to pass an ammendment to block marriage equality, which by the way is not recognized by law already in my state, turned down this improtant and valueable legislation because it include sexual orientation with the protections of gender, race and religion. The same group that wants to deny me the right to marry my partner didn't want to protect children who may mearly be perceived as being gay. Now THAT's protecting children for ya.
Another answer is “Gay people shouldn't get special rights.” No one should have “special rights. But what do you call 1400+ rights that are granted to one group of people, but denied by a constitutional ban to another group? I call that special rights. That is the case when marraige equality is denied. And when marriage equality is allowed you will not be forced to marry someone you do not wish. Same-sex marriage will not be “forced upon” anyone any more than opposite sex-marriage will be forced on anyone. As for the slippery slope argument that it will open the doorway for man marrying dogs… Come on, where is the common sense in that? An animal cannot give willing consent and sign a form. This has to be one of the more outlandish claims, and I wasn't going to include but thought I better because if not someone would bring it up.
Back to religion for a spell. Religious discrimination is another arguement. Some say that allowing marriage equality will open the doorway to religious groups being persecuted and thrown into jail, for example if they refuse to preform a religious ceremony. This is completely unfounded. Religion is already a protected class, one cannot be discriminated on the basis of religion, whether they are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or anything else. And honestly, if a church told me “We refuse to marry you because we believe you are going to hell.” Then I would probably not chose that place for my wedding. Neither would an opposite-sex couple.
I'll end with the appocalypse. Wonderful scare tactic. Time and again I hear that it will bring about God's wrath. Massachusetts has had marriage equality for a while and it is still standing. So is Canada and many other countries that recognize the benefits of providing equal marriage rights to all of their citizens.
What are family values? What is the value of a family? I know I value my family very much, it is priceless to me. I know yours is priceless to you. I know you wouldn't want anyone to try and lessen the bond, the importance, the safety and the value of your family. Please don't do that to mine, or thousands like mine all across this great country of our. All I ask is that I and my family be treated with same respect and dignity that you would want to be treated with yourself.