The Freedom to Marry

Imagine that you have spent 20 years with the love of your life. You have built a home together. Maybe even raised children together. You have loved and laughed and cried through 20 years of lay offs, illness, financial setbacks, family crises, as well as promotions, vacations and all the other joys that come when you share your life with the one you love. Now, imagine that your loved one gets in a serious automobile accident on the way home from work and lies in a coma in a hospital. When you notice that s/he's late, you begin to worry. You call his/her work— s/he left on time. Then you call friends— no one's seen him/her. You drive his/her route to work to see if maybe the car broke down. Then, fearing the worse, you call the police and hospitals, maybe even the morgue, although you KNOW that s/he had identification on him/her. You run up against a brick wall.

That night, or maybe not even until the next morning (after a long sleepless night crying), you hear or read about an accident and when you see the car in the news story, your heart falls into a huge pit in your stomach— it's your loved one's car. You rush to the hospital to find out all that you can, only to be told by the hospital staff that you have no right to have any information. You cannot even go back and see your loved one. You tell them about your 20 years together but it matters none. Sometime in the night, your loved one dies. You aren't even told. His/her body is taken to the morgue where his/her family claims it and takes it away to be buried, not informing you of where or when the burial service will be. A few weeks later, you get a letter from an attorney demanding that you either sell the house or buy out the legal next of kin of your loved one. You cannot collect their Social Security benefits. You have no legal right to inherit your loved one's estate. If you have young children together, you may even lose custody of them.

Sound impossible? Not if you're not legally married.

"Then you should have gotten married," many will say. Unfortunately, there are millions of people in this country who want to get married but are not permitted to do so. NOT because they're already married, or a Catholic priest, or trying to marry a minor, but simply because they're the same gender. Archaic and discriminatory laws were used to force a man in the state of Washington to leave his home when his partner of 30 years died. The case went before the Washington Supreme Court, but I'm not certain of the outcome.

There are over 1300 legal rights that are automatically received when a man and a woman marry. That doesn't even count the privileges that the business community bestows on married couples, like lower insurance rates (married drivers are safer drivers) or multiple car discounts or health insurance benefits. Things like power of attorney, the right to make decisions on medical care should your partner become incapable of doing so, the right to have an equal say in the raising of children, the right to share the same name, the right to collect death benefits from Social Security— none of these are available to gay couples, regardless of how long they've been together (unless they're lucky enough to live in the state of Vermont).

I know there are many out there who will say "You can do all of that through lawyers." Some, maybe most, you CAN get through lawyers, but the cost becomes exorbitant. I tried to change my name legally to my wife's. When I contacted the courthouse, I was told I would have to contact an attorney if it was not due to marriage or divorce. So I did. It was going to be my wife's birthday present until I found out that what is a routine procedure that they do for a woman who marries a man simply by presenting her marriage license would cost me in excess of $700. And many of the rights that are received in marriage can't be obtained through legal documents, like filing a joint income tax return.

Many people believe that government has no right to legislate who someone can love or to deny rights based on same, and they rally in support of legislation that would allow same-gender couples to marry. The arguments against gay marriage are the same fear-based arguments that whites used to try to prevent laws that allowed blacks to marry whites. They're based on ignorance, misconceptions, stereotypes and out and out lies.

If you support equal marriage rights for gays, I urge you take some action— even if nothing more than talking to someone about the injustice of current laws. Write a letter to the editor or call in to a local radio talk show to discuss the issue. Write to your elected officials urging them to support equal rights for gays. Speak to your church or your local community service group or with your tennis partner or even your children. Contact your local GLBT community center or support line and find out if there's a rally or march in your area in support of equal marriage rights. Do something— anything— just don't remain silent.

If you don't support equal marriage rights for gays, ask yourself what you'd do if the tables were turned and heterosexuals were in the minority. Would you honestly feel that this was just?

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