Saturday, June 25, 2011

Leaving Mass Vegas

You know. The whole world knows. Same-sex marriages can be performed in New York State at the end of July. My wife and I were ecstatic! After weeks of dilly-dallying and bullshit, New York State now has marriage equality!

My wife and I are one of many same-sex couples who lived under a strange compromise. I'll try to recap succinctly. We married in Massachusetts on December 31, 2004. Our marriage was legally invalidated by judges because we were not residents of Massachusetts, and there was a law against letting out-of-state couples marry there if their marriage would be illegal in their home state. (The original intent of the law was to prevent interracial couples from traveling out-of-state to marry in Massachusetts, which demonstrates how intertwined all sorts of oppression are.) Then that law was overturned, and around the same time, the State of New York began to honor marriages that had been contracted *out* of state. As in, one couldn't legally marry a same-sex partner in New York, but could marry out of state. L'Ailee and I went back to Massachusetts as close as we could to our anniversary and re-married.

We weren't the only ones. My best friend is a bisexual woman with a same-sex partner; L'Ailee's best friend is a bisexual man with a same-sex partner. Both couples eventually took quick day trips to Massachusetts, as we had for our second wedding, to get married. Both couples returned to New York before the ink dried on their marriage licenses. The six of us jokingly referred to Massachusetts as "Mass Vegas." After all, for us, it was a quick place to get married, as Las Vegas is for some people in mixed-sex relationships. Unlike the stereotypical Las Vegas couple, however, we put much thought into our marriages and had known our partners for a long time.

For some couples, "Vegas" was elsewhere. They preferred locations in Canada, or, as their choices expanded, Connecticut or even Iowa. I remember how a vendor for my company laughed as he talked about how he never thought he'd be bringing his boyfriend back home to Iowa so they could get married.

I envied him. Neither L'Ailee nor I had ever so much as driven through Massachusetts before our wedding. She is from Siberia, where she's still discouraged from returning, and I'm from Florida, where my preferred venue, the Daytona International Speedway, is. But it was legal in Mass Vegas, so that's where we went. We got lost on the way to the bed and breakfast we were staying and marrying in, and I cried in the car. It wasn't home for either of us! We had to make our friends and a few select relatives fly in! It just wasn't right. And then L'Ailee kissed my tears away, and I decided we could get married on Mars for all I cared.

But going out of state isn't an option for everyone. L'Ailee's uncle had given us money as a wedding gift, and I chipped in more from selling my truck, which was more of a liability than an asset in New York. So we were able to reserve the big conference/banquest room at the bed and breakfast, to make the trip, to help people we loved with their plane tickets. Our wedding wasn't particularly lavish, but we can't replicate it anytime soon. Her best friend, a cabbie, could only afford to take a day trip. My best friend, a chef, couldn't get time off for a honeymoon. We know other working-class same-sex couples would have a real struggle with expenses, especially if they're senior citizens or raising children. I'm glad that same-sex couples in New York now have the ability to go to their own city hall or place of worship.

Some people wish to downplay the significance. I won't. Having needed my wife to stay by my side in a medical emergency--I surfed into a sailboat off the coast of New Jersey and was lucky to get away with bruises and a concussion--I understand how important it was that she was considered my spouse. The emergency room doctor in New Jersey almost chased her away because she didn't have our "kennel papers," as we call extra legal documents that we had to get like our medical powers of attorney, on her. We had to rely on the kindness of an understanding nurse. Our friend was terrified when his daughter got sick in school, he was far away, and his partner wasn't allowed to pick her up. They hadn't married yet. He therefore wasn't a legal guardian. They decided to get married that night. They were well aware that they couldn't always make that decision.

There will be ripple effects. For one thing, New York doesn't have any residency requirements. As with other states, there's a chance that a couple can marry here, then use their status in New York to challenge their own state's DOMA ("Defense of Marriage" Act) in court. There will be adoptions and second-parent guardianships. The fact that birth sex is no longer a consideration in whether two adult citizens can get married will benefit transgender people and those who love them. Gay and bisexual kids will now grow up with the expectation that, if they want to, they can get married.

Some people think it's not enough. It isn't. I sheepishly admit that I didn't even think too much about GENDA the Gender Expresssion Non-Discrimination Act. It's another bill that kept passing in the State Assembly and getting blocked in the Senate. Essentially, if GENDA passed, one couldn't fire a person for being transsexual, deny a butch woman housing, refuse service to an effeminate man, etc. As a relatively feminine bisexual woman who answers to "Who brought the straight girl?" in most lesbian spaces, I don't deal with most of those problems. But while my wife and I fought for our marriage, other people fight for the right to simply use the bathroom in peace. I vowed on Twitter that when the state Senate reconvenes, I will call and email and beat the drum as hard for GENDA as I did for the Marriage Equality Act.

I find myself inspired by the unexpected straight allies I found. I've grown up around a lot of religious-inspired homophobia, and there's still a lot in my family. But at work, observant Catholics, Muslims, and Jews told me they were praying for us, not to change, but to see the result we wanted. My NASCAR and Pittsburgh Penguins-fan friends online gave me encouragement. Sean Avery, the notorious pest on the New York Rangers, testified in favor of same-sex marriage in Albany, leading my wife and I to joke about the win coming with an assist by him. (I no longer hate Avery!) Our cell phones blew up with text and voice messages last night. Today, as we went about errands, straight people kept wanting to hug and congratulate us.

These straight friends and allies overcame the homophobic bullshit they'd been told, opened their hearts, and looked at sexual minority people as we really are. So did several Republicans in the State Senate, though they'd been pressured most intensely under the assumption that they'd vote "for family values.' None of them had to do this. I therefore want to pay it forward by helping others.

In decorating others' houses as well as my own, I've found that one change can lead to many more. The rest of the house just looks like a mess in comparison to the renovated room, and the old things no longer work. So, this is a big repair. We may sit on the paint cans and pop open a beer or soda and smile at it today. But there are still teenagers thrown out of their homes over their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. (My wife was one of them.) There are still hate crimes. There are still people being fired for even a suspicion of queerness. There are still 44 more states to go for marriage! And there are people who, for whatever unaccountable reason, have devoted their professional lives to blocking or reversing any civil rights gains L, G, B, and/or T people might enjoy. A group of those, the National Organization for Marriage, has pledged 2 million dollars to reverse same-sex marriage in New York. They will work to oust the Republicans who voted for marriage.

I think too of the fact that straight people can also suffer. I found myself haunted by an article in the June 2011 National Geographic about child marriage. I was haunted by this photograph of a teenage girl being carried to her new husband's home. Surrounded by festive finery, she wails exactly like her short life's just been wadded up and thrown away by someone else's much bigger hands.

I think of how "love," and even "choice," are relatively modern concepts that not everyone gets to enjoy. I think of how very fortunate L'Ailee and I are. I've been fired, she's been beaten and thrown away, we've been threatened and rejected, we've suffered indignities, we've taken extra steps and had to talk fast. But we were able to find each other, love each other, live with each other, and marry each other. We are no longer afraid of being forcibly divorced again. We were able to put our arms around each other, scream, and celebrate in bed as the city erupted in (mostly) joy around us. We still count that first wedding date as our anniversary--after all, we still felt married. We joke about how every New Year's Eve, all of New York celebrates with us. Today, we really did feel like the whole city and many people around the world wanted to celebrate with us.

We want to celebrate with the world, too. We don't normally like going to New York City Pride. It sucks to get to Manhattan on a weekend. It's hot and crowded. And hey, the Sonoma NASCAR race is on! But this year, we're TiVoing Sonoma. We're going to Pride tomorrow. Anything else is unthinkable. Then we'll get up, pack our gear, and look for the next job to do.


stephanie said...


that was a good post, thank you for that.
I think that for straight people it is not really clear why this is such a big deal.
I don't know about the US, but in Europe (well not everywhere, but at least in Belgium, Holland, France...) there's something like 'cohabitation pacts' or 'officially living together'. It was originally 'invented' for gay people, to give them an official status, as they weren't allowed to marry. In time this pact was expanded until it has gained almost the same impact as a marriage (again, in some countries. I know Italy is way behind on this).

In Belgium people of the same sex can get married since... I think about 10 years?

But thanks to this cohabitation pact, a lot of people (straight) don't get married any more. In France there are more people getting 'pacsed' then married nowadays.

So we look at this marriage-thing in the US and think "what's the all this fuss about?"

So thank you for explaining the necessity, the consequences of what may happen when you're not married.

However, and of course you will know this better than I do, this is only a very small step. Important yes, but small.
Because I see it here, where being gay is considered to be normal, but really it isn't.
People are politically correct, people seem to be openminded in public, but among friends they say it's not 'normal' and it's all well as long as it's not their own son or daughter.
Last week some arab young men beat up a gay couple in Belgium and as it's a small country, this makes head news. However noone reacted fiercely or indignated as they would have done about a straight couple, noone shouted about the islam (when normally they do it on every occasion they find), the news came and passed and faded away.
Being gay is tolerated, nothing more than that.
And maybe being tolerated is already a big thing, but it is not good enough.
The word itself "to tolerate" creates an abyss between 'us' and 'them', between 'we' are above 'them' and we are civilized enough to let them be.
Not good enough.

Oh and I don't really believe people object because of their religion. That's just a facade they hide themselves behind. They're just people who are insecure or for some reason scared, who are glad to find a group which is weaker (because in minority), so they themselves can feel stronger and superior.
No god involved in that.

That, and a lack of love.
If someone finds love, real love, than for no reason in the world would he want to define or dictate what love has to be for others.


bluzdude said...

So glad the Governor was able to pull off the impossible... get some Republicans to cooperate on something that isn't designed to benefit Big Business.

Doing the right thing should not be a partisan exercise.

BostonPobble said...

I've been thinking about you the entire time this was happening. :)

DaisyDeadhead said...

More straight people need to learn about the marriage rights they take for granted, but the media doesn't delve into that as much as they should... and for a good reason: it changes hearts and minds. Old southern ladies who might at first sound anti-gay, will nonetheless sob their hearts out when they hear stories of long-term partners denied each others' company as they suffer in ERs or die in hospital rooms. It just strikes home; empathy kicks in. (It also seems unnecessarily cruel.) Thus, more of these stories need to be told, and often.

A recent segment on (I think) CNN about how (unmarried) gay partners could not pay off the other partner's mortgage without being taxed; there are limits on money given to individuals, without making it a taxable gift. These are things most of us don't even realize. More education will enlighten more people who currently say they "don't care" about gay marriage... they think its all stylistic and about weddings. Straights have the privilege of not considering what their privileges are, and most don't know about these particular bread-and-butter issues... we need to keep telling the hospital and mortgage stories at every opportunity!

Congrats to New York... nice post. :)