Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why Marriage Matters

So this upcoming week is a big one for gay rights in the Supreme Court.  On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about Proposition 8, a voter-approved initiative that banned same-sex marriage in the state of California.  The Supreme Court is being asked to declare these bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.  Then on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) which defines marriage as between a man and a women on a federal level and therefor denies gay couples all of the federal benefits that are given to straight couples even if they are recognized as married in their own states.  The Supreme Court is being asked to find this unconstitutional as well and thereby get rid of DOMA which would allow same-sex couples to be recognized at the federal level and gain access to all marriage benefits.  

Carla and I had the wonderful joy of getting legally married in the State of Vermont.  We have an actual marriage certificate that is identical to one that Vermont would give to any couple getting married.  We also are lucky enough to live in a state that recognizes civil unions.  When it came to adopting Millie, this made it much easier than it would have been in other states.  We are lucky.  And some people might wonder, isn't that enough? Isn't it enough that we can have a civil union? To me, that sounds frighteningly similar to someone saying, "Well sure, black people have to ride in the back of the bus, but they still get to ride on the same bus as white people. Isn't that enough?" Often times I have been asked if there is a difference between a civil union and a marriage.  People wondered why we went to Vermont if we could have just gotten a civil union in Illinois.  Why does it matter to us to get married instead of just getting a civil union? Well, for a lot of reasons, marriage matters.

There are the emotional reasons.  It matters to me that we are married instead of having just a civil union.  It matters because I believe that my love and commitment to Carla is no different than anyone else's love and commitment to his or her heterosexual partner.  It matters because when I tell my students that I am married to Carla, I don't want to have to worry about calling her my wife because someone might ask, "But, I thought you couldn't get married to someone of the same sex?" It matters because marriage is a word that easily translates to a verb and a civil union just does not. I don't know how to say that I am "civil unioned" without committing a serious grammatical error which I try to do as rarely as possible. It matters because the word "married" means something and it stands for something and that is what I want people to see us as. It matters because when Millie grows up, I want her to be able to say that her parents are married without ever having to worry that someone might tell her that she is wrong because her parents aren't allowed to get married.

But more than it mattering to me, I believe that the message civil unions send is that we, as gay and lesbian couples, are somehow inherently different or even less than a straight couple who wants to get married.  I worry about the message this sends to young, gay kids who hear over and over again that they are less than or that something is wrong with them and then they look to what their country has to say about it and their country agrees with all those people who are telling them that they are not quite as good as someone who is straight.  They send this message by creating an entirely different set of rules and laws for people who are gay and this separate system denies us the rights that are given to straight people and that makes it a lesser system and a lesser institution and the message that sends is harmful and it is dangerous.

As long as our country continues to deny us equal rights, they are giving ammunition to the people who spread hate.  They are making it more okay for people to say something is wrong with us.  They are making it more okay for kids to continue to feel scared of coming out and to continue to think something is wrong with them if they are gay.  I know that there are people who believe that fighting for gay marriage to never be allowed is really about fighting to protect children.  No matter how many studies prove that they are wrong, there are people who believe that raising a child without a father or without a mother is a dangerous thing.  Well, I can guarantee you and I can guarantee all those people who are shouting about protecting children from ever having to be raised by a gay or lesbian couple, that nothing can be as harmful to my child as having you scream and yell and hold up signs that tell her that her parents are going to hell.  Being raised by two mothers can never be as dangerous as growing up in a country that tells my daughter that her family isn't as good as other families and that her family doesn't really even fit this country's definition of family.  That is what is harmful.  That is what could hurt her.  Not the fact that she is being raised by two women who love her more than life itself and would do absolutely anything to make sure that she is happy and healthy and safe.  And that is why marriage matters.

Those, to me, are the most important reasons that making gay marriage legal on a federal level is important.  There are the other reasons too.  Like taxes.  Right now, Carla and I can file as married in the state of Illinois, but we have to file as single on our federal taxes.  We then have to file a third form to explain why we are filing as married on our state taxes and single on our federal taxes.  That is all thanks to DOMA.  And then there are things like the insurance debacle we dealt with when switching Carla onto my insurance once we had Millie.  Because the federal government does not recognize us as married (again, thanks to DOMA), the financial benefits that I receive for Carla's medical insurance are not tax deductible, as they would be for anyone else receiving benefits for his or her spouse. So I end up having to pay extra federal taxes on that income that my straight coworkers don't have to pay for their spouses to be covered on our insurance.  And those practical pieces of all of this make me angry too.  It just seems ridiculous to me that we even have to worry about all of this and it is an outrage to me that people think it is okay that we have to deal with it.

As I discussed all of this yesterday with a good, dear friend, I said to her that it is my hope that one day, many years from now people will look back on all of this in disbelief that our country ever had laws that treated gay marriage any differently than straight marriage. I do believe that gay marriage is inevitable.  I just hope, with all of my heart, that it comes sooner rather than later.  I hope that it comes in time to make my daughter's life just a little bit easier.  I hope that it comes in time for her to grow up knowing that her family is no different than any other family, at least in the eyes of the federal government.

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