Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Marriage Debate, My $0.02

A few weeks ago on an online chat group I frequent, we had an interesting discussion regarding marriage equality. I was rather surprised when one member, a gay man, spoke up against the need for marriage equality by stating that he and his partner of fifteen years didn’t need a piece of paper to validate their relationship. He seemed to think the issue was one of self-esteem, and “you either have self-esteem or you don’t,” and a marriage certificate won’t change that. He went on to say that marriage is a very personal issue between couples, and he found the whole topic “rather silly.”

This is an interesting issue that I have a little bit of experience with, so I'd like to toss in my two pennies. My partner and I had lived together in a monogamous relationship for fifteen years before we were legally married in California, and I can tell that for us, it made a difference in the way we viewed our relationship that had nothing to do with self-esteem. But more importantly, it had a larger impact on those people around us.

My husband, Herman, comes from a large and very close Chinese family, and he and I attended every family event—birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays—for fifteen years. But a few weeks after our wedding (which was a small affair with neither family invited) his sister came up to me, gave me a warm hug, and said, "Welcome to the family!" I was shocked. My first thought was: what the hell do you call the last fifteen years?! but then I realized that to Herman's entire family, our relationship wasn't valid until we were legally 'married'.

So in my experience, marriage is important, if only for how society views gay relationships.

And this idea that we call it civil unions for gays and marriage for straights doesn't fly with me. That is like the bigots in the south during the 30's and 40's saying, "What's wrong with having white and black drinking fountains, it's all the same water?" Again, it comes down to how society views us, and how we view ourselves. Gay people have been second-class citizens for too long now. It's time for equality.

As a colleague pointed out, a society that won't grant us marriage, will never respect our rights on any other level.

This is not an issue about "personal feelings" or "self-esteem." This is about civil rights. There are over a thousand federal and state laws that are applied differently if one is married vs. if one is single. Laws that determine hospital visiting rights, child custody, property rights, health benefits rights, Social Security rights, federal and state taxes. The list goes on and on.

As one example, and it's only one I could mention, my partner and I paid over $2,500 more in federal taxes last year than if the federal government would have recognized our legal marriage.

I don't find that personal, and I sure as hell don't find it silly. It's discrimination pure and simple. I'm paying a bundle more every year because I'm not allowed the same civil rights as straight couples.

The good news is, I firmly believe, this country is on the precipice of change. The hearts and minds—even in the bible belt—are shifting. These last few years have seen titanic changes in hate crimes legislation and the repeal of DADT. Same-sex marriage is inevitable, and I believe that it will be here soon.

Whether people choose to enter into marriage once it becomes available will, of course, be a personal choice, but the fact that the next generation will grow up in a country where society, through its laws, recognize their feelings as being equal to everybody will make an important difference in how they view themselves and their relationships. Making sure that our institutions and government sends the message that all people are fundamentally equal is, in my opinion, essential.

A fellow writer summed it up beautifully: In today’s America, there should not be a need for this conversation.

I’d like to wrap up this soapbox discourse by recounting two important racial marriage court cases:

In 1947, Andrea Perez and Sylvester Davis applied for a marriage license in Los Angeles. The county clerk refused because she was white and he was black. The couple sued. The California Supreme Court sided with Perez and Davis in a 4-3 ruling. Justice Roger Traynor, author of the majority opinion, called marriage to the person of one's choice a "fundamental right."

Then in 1967, Loving v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, unanimously declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional nationwide.

In the last year of her life, Mildred Loving was quoted as saying: "Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights.
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."

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