Friday, June 26, 2015

On the first day of full dignity for gays

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision today, legalizing same-sex marriages throughout the United States, comes six days after Stew and I celebrated our forty-third anniversary together, on June 20.

The date is somewhat imprecise, as we didn't have—indeed, we were denied—the benefit of even the most modest civil ceremony or other recognition of the beginning of our life together.

We had met a year before, in graduate school, and decided to make our last day at Indiana University, when we packed our sappy James Taylor albums, bell-bottomed pants and other 1970s memorabilia, into Stew's green 1970 Mercury Montego, and headed for Chicago. That would have to serve as our anniversary.

We instinctively headed for Chicago, a big city, where we both could find jobs, and have a better chance of living a life relatively free of harassment from neighbors, employers, ministers. We sensed that anonymity, not celebration or ostentation, to be the key to our potential happiness as a gay couple.

Forty-three years is a long time. It still surprises straight couples. I suspect some of them, even those who consider themselves card-carrying liberals, can't quite believe that two people of the same sex could live together that long. Hell, some of them can't comprehend how any two people could stand to live with each other that long, never mind sex, religious affiliation or anything else.

Stew and I have gone through a lot. We've moved, bought and sold houses, been hired and fired, felt elated and crushed, made and lost money, and even separated for a couple of years when we both battled with alcoholism, some thirty years ago.

We went through these all-to-human crises a bit like fugitives, or second-class human beings, even as society's mores and opinions regarding gay couples evolved, particularly in the politically progressive canton known as the North Side of Chicago.

When we finally tied the knot, in Stow, Mass., September 28, 2013,
Rev. Tom Rosiello, officiating. 
Even then, Stew was always introduced as a "friend." Could he come to the office Christmas party? Nah, people wouldn't "feel comfortable." At his brother's wedding in Wisconsin, I stood in the background as if I'd come as Stew's baggage handler or was an all-but-forgotten relative from Nebraska, crashing the event.

Wills and final testaments had to be constantly revised, refined, expanded and stored safely because the rights straight couples take for granted—property inheritance, automatic beneficiary benefits, and right to medical decisions, among others—were not ours to enjoy.

In a legal contest between a surviving "partner" in a relationship with no legal standing under the law, and a busload of greedy relatives in town for the burial of one of us, guess who had the upper hand.

I remember trying to visit Stew at the emergency room of a major Chicago hospital and being told "only relatives" were allowed to enter. I was eventually permitted to go in, but not before thinking, "I've lived with this person for thirty years or so. I'm as much a relative as anyone."

When the feeble concept of "civil unions" surfaced several years ago, I initially embraced it, thinking that was the best gay couples could hope for.

No. Was I to plea with the emergency room receptionist to let me in, because Stew and I were "civilly united"? What the hell is that? Why should Stew and I have to fly economy while straight married couples get to go first class, and for no reason at all except that's what the airline arbitrarily decided?

The denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples, and subsequent separate-but-equal subterfuges, essentially deprived Stew and I of our "dignity," a central concept in U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's arguments over the years in favor of equal rights for gay men and women, as elucidated today by Liz Halloran, in an article on the NPR website.  

During this confirmation hearing in 1988, Kennedy—a Reagan appointee—was asked what rights come under the constitutional protections of individual liberty. He replied:

"A very abbreviated list of the considerations are: the essentials of the right to human dignity, the injury to the person, the harm to the person, the anguish to the person, the inability of the person to manifest his or her own personality, the inability of a person to obtain his or her own fulfillment, the inability of a person to reach his or her own potential." 

Full dignity in the eyes of society, that's it. That's what Kennedy was talking about. The right Stew and I have to lead our lives, as we choose, without fear or apologies.

After forty-three years, the United States finally recognized our right to full dignity in the eyes of the law.

It feels good.

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3 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your 43 years together! You are an example to everyone, gay or straight, as to what a committed relationship is all about. At long last your marriage is recognized in every state of the U.S., as well as in every state of Mexico. Wishing you many more happy years together!

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  2. Hallelujah! May minds continue to open. May love continue to win.

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  3. After spending the first eighteen years of my life being the "school fag," taunted and humiliated, I never thought I'd see this day come. And at some level I still can't believe it. Yet here we are. It feels good.

    And those marriages will likely have to be recognized all over the world, as a matter of treaty, as I seriously doubt the wording of those treaties, written decades ago, stated "one man and one woman." And unless Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz decide to abandon their presidential bids in favor of running around the world to try to change those treaties, gay marriage is slowing becoming the international norm, though I'm not going to be the first to test the idea in Saudi Arabia or other such barbarian regimes.

    Saludos y felicidades por tu relación de 43 años,

    Kim G
    DF, México
    Where Saturday saw a big celebration of progress for gays in Mexico.

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