Why the issue of marriage equality matters

Why the issue of marriage equality matters

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments for and against Prop 8, the California State proposition to ban gay marriage. Tomorrow, they will hear the arguments about DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  Many of my friends are supporters of marriage equality, which I certainly appreciate.  Some are wondering why it's such a big deal, this need for same sex marriage. Which I also appreciate. Somehow more, because I really value a thoughtful approach to issues like this, instead of just jumping on bandwagons, for or against. Because I think people forget the real whys. It's not just equality, and it's not an expression of gay rights. It's also a desire to have the same protections extended to heterosexual marriages. Which most of us never think about. Until it affects us.  

In 2006, my partner and I were in a car accident, and she was critically injured. We had been together for 7 years; we owned a house together, we had joint finances, we approached life as partners, just as a heterosexual married couple would. Except we weren't male and female, we were female and female; and we weren't legally married, since gay marriage has not been legalized in the state of California. But we accepted it. We considered ourselves married, we both wore wedding bands, and we checked off the "married /domestic partnership" boxes on forms that asked. We really didn't think the legal documentation mattered, we thought of it as a tax issue, or a social issue. Until the car accident. Until she was in a coma, unable to speak for herself. Until I was relegated to the role of "friend". Which, by the way, falls in the priority list under parents, siblings, grandparents, friends of the family. The aftermath of the accident was hellish, to say the least.  I came to, after the actual impact, to find my partner unresponsive and near death. The medical personnel immediately assumed we were just friends, and wouldn't extend any information or comfort to me, because I wasn't the husband, I was a non-entity. At the hospital, asking if my partner was alive only earned me the short response "HIPAA".  Which, if you haven't been paying attention to our demands for privacy, is the Health Information Privacy and Accountability Act. which means they don't have to give information to anyone not officially authorized to access the health information of the person in question. Unless you are unable to act for yourself, and your family is present, and then they allow family to make decisions, in order of priority. Parents, siblings, then friends. Same sex partners? Not on the list. And so, that is how, even after seven years together, a jointly owned house, a joint bank account, four dogs and three cats, and countless celebrations and upsets and milestones and downfalls, I ended up outside in the waiting room while my partner's mother sat in the office with the neurologist, discussing her severe traumatic brain injury and how to proceed.  I was suddenly and definitely the outsider, in spite of our long term committed relationship. I was suddenly at the whim of the hospital staff for information. If they were sympathetic to the relationship, they would share information with me. If they were not inclined to accept the relationship, they turned a cold shoulder to me, and there was nothing I could do to change that.  After her family turned against me, my last hope was our social worker, which the hospital assigns to families after traumatic accidents. In our case, my luck ran out, because the social worker did not apparently approve of our relationship. She felt the family should make the arrangements for my partner's care, that I did not need to be involved, and that if the family should choose to, they could inform me of the decisions.  Which they chose not to, and there was nothing I could do. Shortly after that point, not quite six weeks after my partner had been in the icu/acu for a traumatic brain injury, the family opted to exercise their right to disclude me from visitation rights. Which was completely within their legal rights, as her family. And, since they had rendered her incompetent to make her own decisions, even she could not go against their wishes.  

Why does the legality of same sex marriage matter? It's not about allowing another class of people the right to the same miserable chains that straight people get to bear (although that does make me laugh a little).  It's not about gay pride, and showing people that it's cool to love whoever you choose to. Which is true, it is cool to love whoever you choose to. But really, what knocking down same sex marriage bans and allowing the legal union of couples, regardless of genders, affords is equal protection for committed couples.  And it offers a certain acceptability for same sex relationships, because it's would be socially sanctified and legal. If same sex marriage was legal, I would have had a stand in my situation, and I could have protected my relationship, or at least protected it from the family's intent on such a blatant power struggle.  If same sex marriage was legal, it would be a recognized status, and people wouldn't always assume two women together were just friends. Because we all know that if our accident had been with a man and a woman, the assumption would have been it was a couple, until proven otherwise. I'm asking that we extend that to same sex couples, instead of assuming two women are just friends, and therefore have less rights, and even that they somehow care less about each other because they aren't a heterosexual couple.  

My story isn't unique, it's one of many.  How can we continue to justify our treatment of a class of people in a country that prides itself on the tenet of freedom? We are only as free as our laws allow us to be. Now is our chance to change laws and make laws to allow freedoms extend to all of us, not just some of us. 

If you don't know why the legality of same sex issue matters, ask people affected by it, not just the people talking the loudest about it. Because it's easy to jump on a bandwagon, but bandwagons don't always convey the full ramifications of situations, just the hyperbole and easily repeated quips and soundbytes. And asking shows a willingness to discuss, and to learn. And that is how we make change. 

Comments

Kristi Kubo
I support you 100% and fully advocate marriage equality for all. By the way, great website!
Shannon
oh, thank you so much, Kristi, I really appreciate it! I have missed blogging while I got all this sorted out. :)
Karen Day
My heart is breaking for you. I saw a film a few years ago about two women who spent their entire lives together, and when one passed away, a distant cousin and his family took everything from her partner. I am not gay, which doesn't matter of course, but I will never understand how your partner's family could be so cruel. They know she loves you. I'm praying the laws are changed soon. Sincerely, Karen
Shannon
Karen, thank you so much for your support, I so appreciate it, and am so glad you took the time to post here. :) That movie sounds familiar, was it "If the Wall Could Talk 2"? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_These_Walls_Could_Talk_2 I saw that movie years ago, and it made such a huge impression on me, the injustice and the callousness of what happened. It really is incredible how some people can behave towards others, with no compassion or empathy. It's so hard to believe these situations actually happen even now!

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