The Right Side of History

Gillian and I watched our attorneys today argue before the California Supreme Court for the rights of same sex couples right to marry. The hearings were webcast, so even though we now live in Chicago, we were able to watch history being made.

It made me think back to when I first lived here in Chicago back in the early 1990s. In the spring of 1992, there was a protest for domestic partnership rights at the University of Chicago. I wasn’t a member of the University community at that time, but I lived near by and knew many people who were affiliated in some way. I knew lots of queer folk, and regularly attended events and social gatherings. The day before the protest, my acquaintance and future girlfriend, Tamara, asked me if I wanted to get married.

I was a little taken aback since I hardly knew this girl, but she explained that it would simply be participating the protest of the University’s policy of denying domestic partnership benefits to the same-sex partners of their gay and lesbian employees. I accepted her offer.

I really felt that the whole thing was a silly lark. It was fun, after all. In the spirit of Queer Nation and Act Up, the event was festive and fun. I remember Mardi Gras beads and drag queens, lots of people flirting, and lots of fun. I still have the pink marriage license. I was in my early twenties at that time, and not in a serious relationship, and I really never thought that I would care about being able to get married or health care or benefits. I never that same-sex partner benefits would happen in my lifetime, much less same-sex marriage.

By December of 1992, just a few months after that protest, the University of Chicago agreed to offer domestic partner benefits to their gay and lesbian employees, one of the first major American universities to do so.

Twelve years later, I got a phone call from my ex-girlfriend who asked me to marry her all those years ago, asking me again if I wanted to get married, this time to my beloved, Gillian, and this time for real at San Francisco City Hall. We would be among the first same-sex couples in the United States to get legally married. We jumped at the chance. In this ACLU newsletter, you can find a photo of all of us (page 6).

And today the California Supreme Court heard arguments in our case. No matter what the government and the courts say, Gillian and I know we are married in our hearts. I know that we’re on the right side of history, and maybe the change won’t happen in our lifetimes. I didn’t expect my small action back in the spring of 1992 to make a difference, and yet in just a few months same-sex couples employed by the University of Chicago had the same benefits as married straight couples. I am now an employee of that institution, and I wouldn’t have been able to accept my current position here if they hadn’t been able to offer me those benefits.

I am exceedingly grateful and exceedingly hopeful. I know things might not go our way in California. Even so, I know we’re on the right side of history, and it’s just a matter of time.

Freeheld Wins!

So, as usual, Gillian and I watched the Oscars as we always do, feeling really out of it this year because we just haven’t had the bandwidth to keep up with the movie season. We’ll get there with our Net Flix subscription, but we just haven’t had the time, energy, or money to keep up with the contenders.

Or so we thought. Sure, we missed Juno, but we managed to watch Away From Her before the show yesterday afternoon. And a few weeks ago we got out to see There Will Be Blood. I love the Coen Brothers, but I have to be in the mood to see something like No Country for Old Men (it looks scary!). Oh, and earlier in the fall we got to see Michael Clayton (I heart Tilda Swinton).

So, as they were announcing the best documentary short subject, I turned to Gillian to ask “How do we get to see the shorts?” to which she replied “Film festivals, of course.” And then Freeheld was announced the winner. We were just assuming that we hadn’t had the opportunity to see any of the films, so we weren’t really paying attention. But then the winners started talking about same sex couples and inheritance rights and stuff, and we realized that we had indeed seen this film! We saw Freeheld at the Reeling Film Festival during our first weeks here in Chicago.

Freeheld is the story of Detective Lieutenant Laurel Hester, who, after a 25 year career with the Ocean County, NJ police department learned she had terminal lung cancer. She was denied the right to leave her pension to her partner Stacie Andree, a right she would have had if she had been in a heterosexual marriage. I don’t need to go into the details. See the movie. It’s amazing and inspiring and hopeful.

In one moment I felt so many emotions: Smug that I had actually seen the winning short documentary; sad at remembering the tragic story of love and loss that the movie told; grateful that Lieutenant Hester was brave enough to fight and generous enough to open her life during the last most intimate and painful moments of her life to fight for her partner and for the rights of others; proud that the battle for civil rights for same-sex couples has been brought to the forefront of popular culture in another way; and delighted that this important film won the Oscar.

It’s cheesy, I know, but this is why I watch the Oscars.

Four years ago today…

Just Married

Originally uploaded by silly.goose

Gillian and I made history. Lord knows we’ve been through a lot before that day and after it, and I don’t think that we would have made it this far if we hadn’t been able to get married. I have always understood that no marriage can survive without the support of a loving community. I am grateful every day for this anniversary, and for the celebration that we had with our family and friends the following August. We keep reaching back to the memories of these celebrations of our love, understanding that it is not a day in the past, but a celebration that lives in our hearts presently. Love is a blessing, and I hope that soon everyone will have the right to celebrate love, have it witnessed by their community and honored by the world.

Happy anniversary to everyone who shares this day with us.

Top Ten Reasons Why Same-Sex Marriage Should Not Be Allowed*

  1. Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.
  2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
  3. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.
  4. Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn’t changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can’t marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
  5. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears’ 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.
  6. Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn’t be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren’t full yet, and the world needs more children.
  7. Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.
  8. Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That’s why we have only one religion in America.
  9. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That’s why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.
  10. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven’t adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

*I blatantly stole this from another blogger, who had copied it from somewhere else.

Towards Marriage Equality

South Africa recently legalized same-sex marriage and declared the same inheritance rights of heterosexual married couples. Mexico just passed legislation supporting same-sex civil unions. In 2005, Spain gave same-sex couples the right to marry.

I didn’t used to care about marriage. I didn’t used to want to be like dysfunctional straight people. I didn’t want to emulate a relationship that was not natural to me.

I didn’t want to be married. Until I met Gillian.

Now I understand why I need the right to marry Gillian, and that this is really a civil rights battle. For me, marriage is not about fitting in or changing the paradigm of marriage. Plain and simple, for me marriage is about love, family, and home. We don’t want to redefine marriage, we just want to build a life together, and we want to make sure that we can take care of each other. There are people who would like to make that impossible, or very difficult at the very least. Gay rights is not all about being able to get married, but I do think that raising the visibility of this issue could be a way for the straight world to see us as more human and less “other.”

I live in a part of the world where Gillian and I are accepted as a couple. No one here questions who we are to each other. We have never had to fight or risk anything because people, even when they are homophobic to some degree, respect our relationship. Our family loves us and support us and celebrated with us when we got married. We are privileged in many ways that others are not, so Gillian and I feel a responsibility to fight for the rights of others who live in more dangerous places and truly need the protections we are fighting for.

We recently watched the documentary Dangerous Living, which is about people coming out in the Third World, and its really terrifying and inspirational. The film focuses on the 52 Egyptian men who were arrested in 2001 for being gay and out, as well as following the stories of gay men and lesbians, all activists from other countries, their decision to come out, and the danger they face as a consequence.

I remember hearing about the Cairo 52 on the news when it was happening, and feeling really distant from it, thinking “gosh, that really sucks, but what can I do about it.” It is so easy to do nothing when something terrible like that doesn’t impact you directly, or at least doesn’t seem to. Seeing those interviews made me see the human face of this terrible injustice. These were people just like me and my friends and family, trying to create a vibrant and loving community and being persecuted for it. Some are just trying to survive, which in some places is revolutionary in and of itself.

I really hope that most people, regardless of what they think about being queer, would agree that no one deserves to be imprisoned or beaten or terrorized or killed for being different. Is it such a revolutionary idea that all people, regardless of their differences, should be treated with respect?

We are gaining civil rights all over the world. I am thrilled and hopeful, and so happy that South Africans and Mexicans will now have the right to marry whomever they choose. I am also frustrated and enraged that this backwards culture that I live in won’t recognize our families or our love. We’re on the right side of history, as my friend Rebecca says, and that gives me the courage to persevere.