Friday, May 29, 2015

Checking in on marriage equality

For Stew and me, news about the progress of marriage equality doesn't come from headlines or the the noise from the burgeoning circus parade of Republican presidential candidates but from private yet significant moments at airports, car rental counters and hotel registration desks.

It's always bugged me that at airport customs and passport checkpoints Stew and I had to present ourselves as unrelated individuals even though after 40-some years together we were far more related than most of the heterosexual couples recognized by the authorities as legitimate family units.

U.S. Customs forms asked how many "family members are traveling with you" and we obliged by checking "none." When we approached the passport check counter, we dutifully waited behind the yellow line and proceeded one at a time.

Stew is the blond one. 
At the Miami airport a year ago, even after we were officially married in Massachusetts, a U.S. customs official—a fellow Cuban no less—greeted our marital status with laughter.

"Nah. You're brothers, right? Cousins?" he asked.

We insisted and only when Stew went to get the copy of our marriage certificate did he say "Whatever!" and let us through with a dismissive wave.

We let it pass too, hoping the official might have learned something and would treat the next gay couple with less hilarity and more respect.

Move to 2013 in Massachusetts and the Avis rental counter at Logan Airport. While filling out the paperwork Stew requested the no-charge additional driver discount accorded to so-called "domestic partners," a bland legalism that sanctions gay relationships as similar but not quite as worthy as "married."

The clerk's reply, a middle-aged woman, was a matter-of-fact, "Why don't you two get married, that's what we do here in Massachusetts!" When Stew said that's what we planned to do she offered a loud and sincere "Congratulations!".

The ordinariness of her reaction—to congratulate us as she would any other couple about to be wed—felt good. Things are changing indeed after years, decades, when the notion of two men or two women getting married was treated with contemptuous condemnation, derision or a mixture. The best we could hope for was polite silence.

Two weeks ago, traveling home from Jerusalem, a thirty-one hour insomniac special that combined buses and planes with stopovers in Tel Aviv, Newark and Mexico City, I decided to break up the tedium by announcing along the way that we were married.

In Tel Aviv, a young woman who checked our boarding passes asked if we were traveling together but didn't even look up when I said we were a couple. "Meh" seemed to be her reaction.

Pretty much the same for a customs guy in Newark though an officious U.S. Department of Agriculture beagle named Flannery dutifully sat down when it sniffed some Israeli oranges in Stew's carry-on. After surrendering the oranges we proceeded along.

The only tense pause came in Mexico City when the customs agent asked, in a not particularly friendly tone, about the "nature of our relationship (parentesco)." Nonplussed I replied, "¡Somos pareja!" ("We're a couple!"). She let us through but her reaction was surprising: Hadn't she heard that Mexico City's Federal District legalized same-sex marriages in 2009?

I admit there are limits to our field testing of changing mores on marriage equality, though the recent tectonic shift on the issue in Ireland, which one commentator described as "once a virtual colony of the Vatican," augurs further progress worldwide.

Still, I'm not going to make a scene at, say, the immigration kiosk at Benghazi International. Then again, Libya and most other Arab countries are not on our proximate to-visit list.

Neither is Louisiana, another marriage equality backwater, New Orleans notwithstanding. There, Gov. Bobby Jindal insists on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and mocks other GOP luminaries for going soft on the issue.

Bah. Stew has a great tried-and-tasted recipe for beignets and neither one of us is that fond of crawfish anyhow, from New Orleans or anywhere else. The hell with Jindal.

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