Like many queer Americans, I cried when the New York vote on marriage equality came in late Friday night. I spent years in New York, having worked at OutWeek, QW and POZ and freelanced for the Village Voice and The New York Times. New York was my second home for many years. I’m thrilled for my friends and colleagues there.
But in Philadelphia, a mere 90 miles and an Amtrak ride away, marriage equality remains woefully out of reach. And President Obama’s disappointing statements in New York the night before the vote clarified that he intends to do nothing to facilitate marriage equality anywhere in the U.S. Unlike other presidents on civil-rights issues, Obama thinks the states should decide. Which means Pennsylvania queers may never see equality.
Ironically for me, when the vote came in, I was in the hospital for the eighth time this year. As I was lying there, I remembered a piece I wrote in 1994, as a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. I had handwritten the column from my bed in the ICU, querying why, when I was so sick, I had to fight to have my partner with me because we weren’t — and couldn’t be —married.
Fast-forward 17 years and the New York vote later and there I was in a different hospital and the question remains the same. Why can’t I have equal rights with any straight person in Pennsylvania?
According to the president, queer civil rights is an “evolving” issue, whether it’s marriage, job discrimination or serving in the military (the very day the New York vote came in, soldiers were being discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because until the repeal is certified, it remains the law).
So what about those of us who might not have time for those like Obama with a loose grasp of how evolution tracks?
Over the years the marriage-equality battle has raged on, and I have reported on the damage wreaked by marriage segregation. I’ve written about lesbians who have stolen their children from partners unable to prove legally that they really were partners. I’ve seen other queers lose their homes in bitter break ups for the same reasons — no legal protections. I’ve seen people kept from their sick and dying partners by doctors and hospitals and families of origin.
Marriage inequity doesn’t just deny us community approbation or the security of knowing our families and homes can’t be taken from us. We are denied the economy of marriage as well: tax benefits, family leave benefits, shared health benefits and, ultimately, death and estate benefits.
I am battling serious illness. I spend just under $1,000 for my HMO every month. My partner pays half that for hers. If we were married, I would be covered as her wife. We would save $800 a month — nearly $10,000 a year. Our shared tax burden would also be significantly less. And we would be treated as a married couple — not as legal strangers.
Not being able to marry costs queers a lot both by keeping us from legalizing our commitments and from protecting us if those commitments sunder.
At present, Pennsylvania queers must engage in lengthy and expensive legal battles with former partners to acquire what marriage automatically protects. It’s an outrage and one more example of our continued second-class status.
We shouldn’t have to be community icons with 50 years together to be considered “real” couples, nor should we have to be in a hospital bed for people to get what marriage segregation means.
Happy as I am for my friends in New York, I wonder when will equality come to Pennsylvania where marriage segregation is the law, which makes every straight Pennsylvanian complicit in the second-class status of queers. Abrogating the civil rights of others is a crime when applied to race or religion. It should be a crime when applied to us as well.
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