Archive | June, 2013

Dealing With DOMA Hangovers

27 Jun

This adorable little boy at the Tuscaloosa celebration for the end of DOMA

Forgive me if I go a little off topic but I’m having an emotional hangover. Yesterday was a climactic day; it was a day in which the federal government recognized that legally married same sex couples deserve the same rights as opposite sex couples… long as you live in the right zip code.  With the striking down of DOMA roughly 30% of the nation’s population is now able to achieve full equality under both state and federal law. While The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS for those of you who have never seen an Aaron Sorkin tv show) failed to rule on Proposition 8, it did uphold a lower court ruling striking down the ballot initiative, thereby re-validating hundreds of California marriages and restoring equality to the state.

It was a grand day, a historic day. When the decision came in Chris called me from work and we both cried a little  (I cried a lot) as we thought about the possibilities this meant for us and millions of other couples who hope to enter a legal union during our lifetime. My country was willing to admit based upon the constitution that Chris and I, as well as millions like us, are equal under the law! Phone calls were made. Friends and family members sent text messages of support and love. Even my grandfather, who I have never formally come out to except to introduce my boyfriend to him, called me on the phone to say he could imagine me standing in front of the supreme court with signs. Coming from a 72 year old Sicilian man this brought me to tears, well more tears. I even joined fellow LGBTQ brethren in downtown Tuscaloosa at a rally in the government plaza and local gay bar to celebrate the historic achievement.

         It was a joyous day and one worth celebrating. Then like a night of drinking too many sugary-hollow frozen daiquiris, this morning I found myself deeply and regrettably hung-over.
I began to think of the millions of questions that arose out of yesterday’s rulings. Would Chris and I be able to get married in a state that recognizes our marriage and then file federal benefits even though we live in Alabama? What would happen if we moved to NY then later moved to Missouri? How would all of this upset our grand plans?

You see, Chris and I were planning a heist on our state government, but don’t tell anyone.[i] Like any good heist we’ve assembled the team for one last con, and this con would dupe none other than the great state of Alabama. The motivation for the heist was simple, the voters in Alabama voted in 2006 to deny marriage equality to same-sex couples. The amendment to the state constitution passed by an overwhelming 81%, and the majority of voters in Alabama thought they would never have to see a legal marriage in their great bastion of “conservative family values”. Thus our heist-scheme was born.We gathered the team for one last job: a loving couple, an ordained minister, witnesses, family members all to make things look legit. After our official ceremony in Alabama, the plan was to hold an additional wedding ceremony in one of the states that legally recognizes same sex couples. Then, with the recent defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act, we could return to Alabama file for federal marriage benefits and BAM the U.S. government would say there was a legal marriage in Alabama even if that would make us ineligible for state benefits.

           As I did more research and asked more questions I was left with the general feeling that despite our elation for the millions of Americans residing in the “legal” states able to bask in the glory of full equality, we are pretty much screwed.

For example, currently the IRS determines your eligibility for federal benefits based upon the state in which you file, not where the marriage was “celebrated” so that’s off the table. Moreover different elements of the executive branch differ as to how the marriage is technically defined so it turns out our plans, and the options of millions like us aren’t as open as we once believed. Yes, yesterday’s rulings do establish a wonderful precedent for future cases. Certainly, yesterday’s rulings were a step in the right direction and we have to celebrate the milestones on the journey, but they are just steps.

Somehow I fooled myself into believing that yesterday changed everything, and in some respects it did. However when we are still determining rights based on where you live and whom you love we still have a long way to go. In the afterglow of my post DOMA death I begin to worry if the wider world believes that yesterday accomplished marriage equality? Will people begin to have fatigue about this cause in the way people are tired of hearing about the war in Iraq, racial equality and other issues we’ve supposedly moved on from.

Equality, like any form of social change, isn’t a given. It isn’t inevitable, it has to be demanded. Less than a month after I wrote about the power of staying we started thinking about future opportunities for us to move where we are wanted. That we have to consider this highlights a stark reality. In the post DOMA world  there are no longer red states and blue states, but states where we exist and states that, governmentally, refuse to recognize us; as if we aren’t even here.

So what happens next? Certainly time and generational politics are on our side for marriage equality, but there is a whole host of LGBTQ issues that extend beyond marriage equality. Right now someone is being persecuted for being gay, someone can legally be fired for celebrating yesterday’s ruling, a transperson may be unable to vote because their state approved ID doesn’t match their preferred gender. People of color still have to face institutionalized forms of oppression out of misunderstanding and fear. There are so many miles to go, more legal challenges to file, more minds to reach. I have come to realize I have to do more. If you liked yesterday’s rulings, carry on the journey. If you called someone to congratulate them on their “victory” yesterday, let’s start a conversation on how we can make that victory with fewer empty calories and more people invited to partake in the meal.

As for our heist plans (see disclaimer below), well we might just have to consider following through with it and see what happens. Who knows I think we’re attractive enough to make decent plaintiffs in a lawsuit, even if it means I’d have to lose a few pounds.

[i] For future legal purposes I’d like to note that the aforementioned “heist” is merely a piece of sarcasm to overcome the emotional pain of having to fight your federal and state government into treating you as an equal citizen, despite the fact that you are paying the taxes of an equal citizen. We regard the institution of marriage as a very serious step in being in love and in a fully committed relationship. No one should enter into a marriage for the purpose of achieving benefits, legal or otherwise. However, as long as there is a class of citizens whose behavior is privileged with legal access to tax and legal benefit and another class that is denigrated to second-class status I will make a mockery of a system designed to tell us we are less than human.

Coming Out: Wedding Vendor Edition

6 Jun

“Do you have a problem working with a same-sex couple?”

It’s a simple question; it’s a series of words with a question mark at the end. It is also a necessary condition for Chris and I as we plan our wedding in Birmingham Alabama. It’s an important question for us, as a key element of our wedding day is avoiding feeling uncomfortable at any point in the day.  I also feel it is important to establish exactly the kind of people we are working with up front.

Like any good sales operation, wedding vendors like to talk to you and get to know you before they talk numbers. Most of wedding planning is done via phone and email which leads to additional complications. The online forms and websites you have to fill out to get a phone call from venues and vendors are surprisingly gender neutral as they ask for a Fiancé’s name instead of bride/groom etc.  However, I’d hate to start working with a vendor only to discover their horror when they realize the nice couple they’ve traded emails with is in fact their version of a walking abomination. Although one might assume that using the terms “partner” and the name Chris would lead to the conclusion that this is a same-sex venture, I’ve learned it is best not to assume. So within the first minutes of any conversation I have to open with “just so we’re clear, do you have a problem working with a same-sex couple?”

As someone who has lived an out and open life for quite some time, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Nevertheless in this moment that is supposedly about affirming the love between two people we open ourselves up for people to say no. What would I do, how would I react?

For the last few weeks since starting this process I have imagined what this would feel like so often that I’ve simply avoided contacting anyone all together. I wondered, would I be righteous enough to circle the wagons and lead a media firestorm? Could I follow the footsteps of the couples in Oregon & Denver who turned a trip to get their wedding cake into a national conversation on free speech and religious exceptionalism? If that can happen in Oregon, what will it be like in Alabama? I know what Chris would do if he were the one doing the talking, he’s not afraid of anything and I love that about him.  The truth is, despite all the talking, reading, and writing I do about identity and social change, when faced with a potentially oppressive situation, there’s a dreaded fear that I might not do anything at all.

As a rhetorician, I’m also at odds with the language. Is “same-sex ceremony” the right term, does this make it seem like something other than a wedding?  Calling it a “gay wedding” makes it sound like the qualifier is necessary. Does the practical needs to convey the type of persons involved in our ceremony overpower the political ramifications?   I wish that Chris’ name didn’t carry an androgynous connotation so that when I told people my fiancé’s name that I could be assured that this would clue them in that there would indeed be two men involved in planning this wedding. I wish that there wasn’t a heteronormative assumption when it comes with making a lifelong commitment to the person you love. I wish I was not required to ask a perfect stranger for approval of my relationship prior to engaging in a business relationship with them. I wish that this question wasn’t necessary. But it is, and we have to deal with it.

So, back to the question. Two weeks ago I got up the nerve and I did it. Like everything in my life the response was both comforting and oddly hilarious. It was the second venue we wanted to look at, a large warehouse with exposed brick and a place that was prominently featured on wedding websites. When I talked with the event coordinator I took a deep breath and just blurted the question out “I just want to make sure that you are comfortable with working with a same-sex couple” opting for a statement instead of a question.

The woman on the phone paused, more out of surprise than indignation.

“Oh…..well….no of course not. We hosted an AIDS fundraiser here in the spring….so we’re very supportive of….of that organization.”

And I breathed a sigh of relief as I silently chuckled at the woman who was very clearly caught off guard and forgave her ignorant correlation of AIDS and homosexuality.

Then the woman sputtered out “Oh and one of our bartenders is…….he and his partner celebrated their anniversary here….do you know him? Steve ______”

And I laughed, I laughed hard.

I wanted to tell the woman that I had failed to see him at the most recent track lighting convention. Instead I simply stated that I had not met Steve. Perhaps this whole experience would be less judgmental than I imagined. It was then that I remembered that the wedding industry is first and foremost about money. As a service organization that trades in dramatic symbolism, the wedding industry is made up of people who want that money, no matter who you are.

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