The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Marriage Matters to Our Kids, Too

Until yesterday, I hadn’t blogged about marriage much lately. Maybe its our impending nuptials that have me thinking about it. Anyway, when I read stories about what happens to our families without the protections of legal marriage, I can’t help writing about it. I couldn’t help writing about Bobi and Sandi Cote-Whitaker.

And I can’t help writing about little Aidan Scott. He’s two years old, and have two parents at home who love him and who are deeply committed to each other, one of whom stays home to care for him. Aidan is autistic, and for that reason one of his parents stays home to care for him while the other works to support the family and supply much needed health benefits. For now. Depending on how a court ruling turns out, Aidan may not be able to get medical help because his parents are a lesbian couple.

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With a 2-year-old son battling a form of autism and requiring constant supervision, Howell’s Erin Otteman relies on her partner to bring home not only income, but health-care benefits as well.

But if a state Court of Appeals’ February decision is not reversed, Otteman; her partner, Rachel Rangel, and hundreds of other gay couples throughout the state could be impacted in the wallet.

The decision reversed a lower court’s ruling and said public employers cannot recognize same-sex unions for any purpose, including for health benefits.

Otteman, 26, and Rangel, 24, would be in a bind because the latter works as a custodian at the University of Michigan and Otteman’s son, who is her biological child from a previous relationship, goes to the doctor’s office several times a week.

“It’s hard to think about it, it really is,” said Otteman, who is also trying to pursue a college degree from home. “It’s unfathomable for me to have to go to work full time to get benefits.”

The reason? Well, back in February, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the state ban on same-sex marriage includes benefits for same-sex partners.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage prevents public institutions from providing benefits to same-sex partners of employees.

…In September 2005 Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk said health care benefits are benefits of employment, not marriage (story) and Cox’s office appealed.

The three-judge Court of Appeal panel overturned Draganchuk’s ruling.

The constitutional amendment defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman and is the only agreement that can be recognized as a marriage “or similar union for any purpose.”

It was those six words that led to the legal battle.

“The marriage amendment’s plain language prohibits public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose,” the court said.

So, civil unions and domestic partnerships are out of the question if it means our families might be able to get even a few of the protections afforded married heterosexual couples. If our families can’t be recognized neither can our children. The supporters of the anti-gay marriage amendment like to pretend that it doesn’t stop Aidan and other kids with same-sex parents from getting health benefits, and tosses the ball back in the employers’ court by saying employers could just allow both gay and straight employees to choose beneficiaries, since giving benefits to same-sex partners would be “special rights.”

I guess the argument is that to do so would discriminate against unmarried heterosexual couples. But that ignores the reality that heterosexual couples have the option of marrying, always have and always will, whereas same-sex couples don’t. And requiring the erection of an entirely new system, instead of making the existing one inclusive of our families is what I call supportive non-support.

The tactic is one that I’ve seen here before, and it works something like this. You agree in theory that there’s a problem, but not with the proposed solution.

Then you say that the absolute only right way to go about it is one that is so unwieldy or unlikely to ever gain popular support that it is never going to come to pass no matter how long and earnestly one tries.

…I had someone tell me that he agreed that gay couples should have equal protections, but extending marriage to include them was the wrong way to do it. The only right way was to completely change our socio-economic system. Do that, and we can have all the equality we want. Right?

Right, but only if we take everything apart and then put it back together again, because that’s the only way.

Oh, and if we want pension inheritance, family leave, health benefits, etc., then we have to lobby each and every individual employer in America. One at a time.

Combine those two tactics and most of us having families right now will be dead before either yield even a modicum of success.

There are over 1,000 federal benefits and protections granted on the basis of marital status, from social security inheritance to game & fishing licenses (to keep those family fishing businesses in the family after a spouse dies, etc.). And that doesn’t begin to cover state and local laws.

And we’re supposed to go through each of those individually? One by one?

In other words, the argument above is just another way to say “it’s never going to happen,” because if you’re not allowed to come to the mountain won’t come to you, you’re gonna have to move it one teaspoon at a time if you want to get there. And that means, you ain’t gonna get there.

And that means our families are left in the lurch.

Cunningham said the law permits the university to honor its health care commitments through the end of the calendar year or through the end of the current contract for bargained-for employee groups.

At that time, Rangel, Otteman and others might be in for some rough times.

“We’re the only ones who have to live our lives, so I don’t understand,” Rangel said. “It’s not affecting anybody else, it doesn’t seem.”

Otteman feels the issue has become too personal for some.

“I really want people to know that it’s not about, you know, their personal feelings about how they feel about same-sex couples, it’s that everybody should have health care, whether it’s from their significant other or not,” Otteman said. “It shouldn’t be a personal issue; it’s a civil issue.”

But it is a personal issue, as well as a civil issue. So, I only have one reaction when I get comments like this one, on the Cote-Whitacer post I crossposted to Booman.

Just wondering if “gay marriage” was introduced as a wedge issue into political discourse by “gays.” If not, why choose this particular moment to make such an issue about it? Why?

Every married couple is struggling right now and so is every human being and so is every living thing on this planet. Sorry if that sounds unsympathetic, you have ALL my sympathy. However, who you marry and who you sleep with is a personal matter, in my opinion. Why choose this particular moment to make such an issue out of gay marriage when there is so much at stake for the future of the human race and for this planet. Why?

Over the past 30 years, I have seen health care protections for children disintegrate since married couples who both pay for health insurance can no longer coordinate their health benefits. I raised a disabled child and so I was on the front lines to witness this crime against humanity. Tax protections for married couples have also been dismantled.

So don’t drink the right wing extremist koolaid that makes marriage so “meaningful.”

A sense of humanity trumps identity politics, and if we don’t get that then the Democratic party is doomed. Doomed.

Let’s stop talking their language and fighting against the straw men that the corporate media set up for us and get down to the real issues.

First of all, it was not “introduced” at “this particular moment.” I’ve been in D.C. for almost 13 years. I came here in 1994 to work for the Human Rights Campaign. The marriage issue was “introduced” back then, when couples in Hawaii filed a suit in 1990. The timeline of the Hawaii case is here. There’s more on the 1993 rulings here.

I posted about this on my blog a while back. At that time, in 1994, almost no gay organization wanted to touch the marriage issue. Because no matter how you looked at the numbers it was not a winning issue. But the push for it came from the grassroots, from the community, from the bottom up; from people who, in the course of their day-to-day lives, became aware of how few rights they had and even fewer protections.

I could do an entire post (and have on my blog) about what happens to our families in the absence of marriage equality. I’ve done post after post about it on my blog. I do it for one reason. Because hearing those stories makes a difference.

Laurel Hester’s story is one example, actually, of how bloggers made a difference in publicizing a story that wouldn’t have been heard outside of her hometown. But when people heard her story, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with same-sex marriage, the discrimination she experience outraged their sense of morality.

As more people hear these stories, more people have the same reaction. Now, we’re at a point where a majority of people support legal rights for same-sex couples. And, while a majority still oppose legal same-sex marriage, opposition to marriage equality has dropped by 12 points since 2004. As for the future, research suggests that young people are much more supportive of marriage equality than their elders.

I think there’s at least one reason why, and I wrote about it last summer.

And how did this happen? As noted in their column, it’s because people like Steve and Cokie Roberts have gay and lesbian friends they care about, because couples like Kevin and Grant came out to them and shared their lives with them. It happens because people like Steve and Cokie will live next door to gay couples, go to the same churches, and send their kids to the same schools as kids with gay parents. It happens because those same kids will have gay classmates who come out to them and/or they’ll see realistic portrayals of gay people in the media, to the point where it becomes no big deal to them; like the people who didn’t feel it necessary to even mention that one of the couples celebrated at the party would be a gay couple.

It happens because we — gay & lesbian people, and our families — continue to “do our job” of just living our lives openly and honestly. You see us go about our every day lives month after month, year after year, all while noticing that your own marriage hasn’t crumbled as a result (the oceans haven’t boiled, the mountains haven’t disintegrated, the earth hasn’t spun off its axis and into the sun, etc.) and we just don’t seem that interesting anymore. In ten years, we’ll be even less interesting.

That’s the reason I continue to tell these stories. To look out our families from the outside in, you wouldn’t necessarily think we lack much compared to other families. But that’s because the rights and protections we lack don’t come into play until moments of crisis — the illness or death of a spouse, the illness of a child, etc. — and the consequences for lacking them play out behind the closed doors of hospitals, court rooms, funeral homes, etc., where almost no one sees that part of the story. When they do, some of them learn things they didn’t know before, and a few more minds are changed.

Over and over again in the netroots when it comes to gay issues I’ve been told that we can’t expect our political leaders to lead on our issues, at least not until we make it “safe” for them to do so, because they’re not “majority” issues. Our job, I’m told, is to educate the public and shift public opinion, so that our “leaders” can safely speak what are supposedly their values: fairness, equality, inclusiveness, etc.

Telling these stories is part of that job. I’ve stopped asking or even hoping that Democratic leadership will actually lead on issues of equality. I don’t expect them to make it a major campaign issue. I’ve even stopped hoping that they will at least stand and speak against discrimination when the issue is brought up, instead of dodging it.

I’ve stopped even expecting them to show up on this issue. But I’ll continue to show up. I’ll show up on health care. I show up on choice. I’ll show up on economic inequality. I’ll show up on poverty. I’ll show up on education. I’ll show up on the environment. I’ll show up on foreign policy. I’ll show up and lend my voice, my support, and my efforts because progressive positions on those issues are part of my values. I’ll do that work, because every one of those issues effects not just me, but my community, my family, friends, people I care about, and people I don’t even know but am connected to by virtue of being a human being.

I’ll show up for all of the above, and not even expect anyone to show up when the issue is equality for families like mine. I’ll show up on that issue because I have to, even if no one else does. So, please, don’t ask me not to do that work by not speaking up about it.

I can let go of any hope of support or leadership from Democratic leadership. But I can’t keep quiet about it, because experience shows that speaking up about it makes a difference. I’ll accept that I can’t expect Democratic leadership to make a difference on the issue.

But don’t ask me not to make a difference. Or not to at least try.

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