Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What Now?

I'm back from vacation, and it's taken me a few days to get settled in. We spent four days on the north shore of Lake Tahoe and learned a lot about what we don't want to do as parents - yell at our kids while we sit on our butts on the beach rather than get up and, I don't know, play with them; give our 2-year-old a laptop to play with at breakfast while we alternate between talking on our cell phone and tapping away at our own laptop; allow our children to declare that one of their parents is more important than the other because she earns more. We did also see some examples of good parenting, evident in the behavior of their offspring, but for some reason the evidence of bad parenting stood out for us.

Perhaps this is because I had my tb test this morning - and after we get the results on Friday, we'll be done with our paperwork and ready to start the home study. Our days as parents are imminent and looming large in both our minds.

But today I want to write on the gay marriage issue, not our impending parenthood. There has been a fair amount of press, of late, about the gay marriage backlash within the community of queer activists. It was this U.S.News & World Report article that captured my attention this morning. What next? is the gist of the article - with so many states successfully passing legislation against gay marriage, how best to proceed with the movement to secure gay rights?

It made me think about how seductive the idea of gay marriage can be - has been. As crass as this sounds, I want to marry A---- in the same way I want to buy a house. Right now we rent, and as much as we love our apartment and our neighborhood, there's this niggling feeling always in the back of our minds that we wish we owned the place we lived in. What difference would that make? We have a roof over our heads, and walls and doors that lock, and a toilet and a shower and a sink - all the basic necessities. We've most definitely made the place our own, as much as we can. But we lose out on the tax benefits of being homeowners, and on the ability to replace our rotting windows, and to install a washer and dryer now that we're going to have an infant. A---- can't paint our room to look like a tropical hideout without thinking about whether there will be a problem when we move. All-in-all, it's not a permanent home, it's not truly ours; it doesn't belong to us. When we think of buying a home, it's about roots and security and the future. It's about permanence.

We don't need a piece of paper or a judge or church to make our relationship permanent. It is what it is, and we are committed to making it work, come hell or high water (and we've survived a little bit of both over the past five years). Just as we don't need to buy a house in order to have a home, we don't need to get married in order to have a lifetime commitment to each other. But there is a difference that comes from formalizing a relationship or purchasing a home. There are the tax benefits, sure. But there's also the fact that in all sorts of ways you acknowledge each other officially when you're married. When you file your taxes - whether jointly or separately, you must declare yourself married to someone and identify who they are. In order to declare someone other than your spouse beneficiary of your 401k, your spouse has to sign something approving the other beneficiary. Legally, A---- is a stranger to me, no matter how deeply she's buried in my heart or wrapped up in my life. If the building we live in burns down, our belongings are covered by insurance - but the fact that our home is gone will not be, because after all, we are just renters.

This is the seduction of the gay marriage issue for me. I imagine what it will be like when we finally can get married, and I understand that there is a difference, and I crave that solidity, can't help but hope to have that governmental fertilizer to help our roots grow strong.

But marriage is not the be-all and the end-all of gay life. Afterall, you can be queer, and not be in a relationship at all. This morning, I heard a story on the radio about how HR departments look at candidate's profiles on MySpace and Friendster to glean additional information that wouldn't necessarily be legal to ask in an interview, or that someone likely wouldn't bring up or admit to in an interview. And one of the things mentioned by the recruiter being interviewed (who sounded a lot like Harvey Fierstein to me) was that a potential employer could find out you're gay. Surely before we worry about whether we can get married, we should ensure that being gay isn't a problem when it comes to getting hired - and once our basic rights are secured, and the discrimination diminishes over time, the gay marriage thing will follow in due course.

Indeed, just last month, a group of prominent gays and lesbians wrote and signed a statement entitled "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families & Relationships." With the setbacks we're now facing in the gay marriage movement, with all the changes to marriage occurring even without giving queers the right to marry, with so many other battles to fight when it comes to gay rights, it is perhaps time to refocus.

I agree with this in principle. And the part of me that can't help but wish to legally marry my beloved can wait, because all of me believes it will happen in my lifetime.

And in the meantime, I intend to fight the battles that ensure that all of us are covered by healthcare, whether we're employed, married to someone with a job, or not.


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