AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
12 May 2003
I've blurred out the faces of this couple, because I did not ask if I could
publish their photo on the Internet...I didn't even ask them if I could take their
On Saturday, I worked at the university's annual Whole Earth Festival, at a booth
selling raffle tickets to raise money for Davis' annual Gay Pride festival. It's a free feel-good event for
everyone, with lots of activities for kids, entertainment, a bazillion door prizes, etc.
It's supported strongly by the local government, which presents a proclamation declaring
it Gay Day in Davis, etc. I've been attending the event for several years and even
arranged for Steve to entertain a couple
of years ago.
Each year there is a theme. Last year the event recognized gay families and it was
lovely to see so many couples with children enjoying their picnic in central park. The
previous year, California was allowing same gender couples to register as domestic
partners, which offered some limited legal benefits, if you worked for the right entities.
That year, there was a booth where you could register, and they took photos of couples.
There was a cake to celebrate the official partnerships. Couples, like Ellen and Shelly,
who have lived together for nearly 30 years and raised several children together, were
finally able to get some very minimal legal recognition for their union (this was the same
year that Darva Conger married Rick Whatshisname, a stranger she met on television and
became his legal wife in order to win a game show. Obviously a much more
"serious" relationship than a couple of women committed to each other and
raising a family together.)
This year there is much emphasis on Marriage Equality, a strong statement to elected
officials, community leaders and the American public that marriage is an individual choice
and that the government should not stand in the way of it. The idea is to promote a
greater awareness of how important this fundamental right is to gays and lesbians and help
in the struggle to secure equal access to civil marriage.
The question is asked, "Why marriage." The answer is given, "because
anything less is less than equal."
The MECA Educational Guide
points to the fact that there are over 4,600 California laws which treat people
differently because of their marital status. In the U.S. Constitution, it says that
everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law, but there are 1,049 federal
rights (over and above the 4,600 California laws) which grant rights to married persons
which are denied gay couples, no matter how long they have been in a committed
relationship. (Anyone who wants to educate him/herself on the law and the inequality
between gay and straight tax payers, should visit the MECA web site)
Which brings me back to the women in the photo, who stopped by the booth to talk. One
of them is a citizen of Holland, the only country in the world in which marriage between
same gender individuals is legal. So this couple is legally married in the Netherlands.
The other is a US citizen. The two came here so that the Dutch woman could attend the
university and get her degree. But their marriage, though unquestionably legal, is not
recognized in the United States, thus she is having to pay a significantly higher fee for
her tuition and once she receives her degree, she must leave the country because she is
only here on a student visa. The two women do not have the freedom to choose "your
country or mine?" because one country does not accept their lifelong commitment to
It's interesting to me that there are still those who feel that gay people can
be married in this country. Our new tech argues that her sister is married to a
woman...and that it must be a "marriage" because they have "a piece of
paper." There is no state in the United States which allows marriage for same sex
No matter how you feel about whether gay people "should" be married, it
should anger any fair-minded person that people who pay the same taxes as any non-gay
person are treated differently.
People yell about gays wanting "special rights." Heck, they have
"special rights" now. What gay people want is "equal rights." The same
rights as any non-gay couple has. They pay for them every day with their taxes, but they
are are denied equal rights and instead get "special rights."
On a daily basis, same-sex couples face challenges unknown to married opposite-sex
couples. For instance, visiting a loved one in the hospital, applying for immigration and
residency for partners from another country, and having joint parenting, adoption, foster
care, custody, and visitation, etc., are all concerns for many gay and lesbian families.
And since many same-sex couples already have families, the inability to enter into a civil
marriage can sometimes be very stressful on both parents and children. No domestic
partnership or civil union or private agreement can duplicate the legal status of
The marriage of two adults of the same sex who seek to make a lifetime commitment to
one another takes nothing away from the marriages of anyone else. In societal terms, the
movement for the freedom to marry for same- sex couples is actually a recognition of the
importance and power of marriage. In personal terms, marriage may be a celebration of
commitment. It lets a spouse make decisions about the medical care of a partner who is
disabled. It enables the couple to organize their financial affairs as a single unit for
economic, tax and insurance purposes. It means others can recognize their family and the
commitment the couple has made to one another.
It would mean that this couple from Holland could live the way our Malaysian son lived
with his American wife.
The fact that there are corners of the world where same sex commitments are being given
legal validity is encouraging. But there is so far to go.
I despair of ever seeing equality in this country in my lifetime. But I sincerely hope
that the next generation will not be plagued with the same sorts of problems that this
generation has had to face. We have come a long way from the day when you could be
arrested for making eye contact with someone if either of you was suspected of being
homosexual. But there is still so far to go before all people can live as equals in this
"free" country of ours .