Recently I was telling an acquaintance that Rick and I had gone in to NYC to get a marriage license and that next week we would be trekking back in to seal the deal. I explained that we’re doing it now because I want to be married before my surgery. Married. Not domestically partnered. Not civilly unioned. Not any of the lesser options we’ve been forced over the course of our relationship to accept because they were what was available to us at the time. Now that DOMA is dead, and since I’m having my surgery in New York (where marriage equality has been the law of the land for over two years and where, as far as I can tell, Western civilization has yet to crumble, at least not any more than it already had in the Big Apple), I thought it was time to get it done, even though it won’t mean a thing, yet, in New Jersey, my state of residence. I explained that I want a real, bona fide marriage certificate before they put me under.
“You’re a worrier, aren’t you?” she said.
I knew in that moment that she had never once thought about the ramifications of not being able to marry ~ legally, fully marry ~ her partner. Why would she? She’s a middle-aged woman with a husband and children and she has never had to consider the horror of having the government refuse to recognize her relationships. She takes for granted that she will be treated with respect in times of crisis, recognized as family and honored with the full set of legal rights and responsibilities that comes with that status. While she is an LGBT ally, it has never dawned on her what not having that status might mean to LGBT couples.
I took it upon myself to educate her.
“Maybe. Maybe I am a worrier,” I said. ”But I’m not worried about me. I figure if something goes wrong I’ll either be unconscious or dead ~ so I’ll be fine. No, what I’m worried about is my husband. I’m worried about what he might be put through if we show up at the New York hospital armed with only our New Jersey civil union, our New Jersey domestic partnership, our New York domestic partnership and our ketubah (a Jewish wedding contract which we signed in 2000 when we were married by the rabbi that bar mitzvahed me). I want us legally married, so that they can’t deny him access to me. I want us married, so that he can’t be overlooked or ignored should medical decisions need to be made on my behalf. I want us married, so that should something go wrong he won’t have to deal with the added trauma of being considered a stranger.”
I think she got it. I think I saw the wheels turning as she realized that I’m less of a worrier than I am someone who has to face the cold reality that our nation’s laws discriminate against LGBT people and that my life partner might be barred from holding my hand at the precise moment we need most to be together.
I walked away with a renewed understanding of the importance of telling our stories. We must share. Even with those on our side. Even with those we think don’t need to be educated. We must continue to make clear to them what discrimination looks like, up close. We must make them understand what it is to live every day under the weight of that discrimination. We must explain that for all our recent and remarkable gains, we are still a long way from equal treatment under the law.
You want to blow someone’s mind today? Tell a straight ally, or even a gay person who thinks that Pride parades are “so yesterday,” that LGBT people can still be fired in 29 states simply for being ~ or being perceived to be ~ gay. Their heads will pop off and, if they’re anything like the people I tell, they simply won’t believe you.
Keep telling your stories. Because they are universal. And that makes them powerful.
Keep talking. Keep talking. And when you’re done, talk some more.