The Republic of T.

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

Inequality is Inconvenient

Usually, it’s just the inevitable question that comes up as one completes the mundane tasks of life, like rolling over a 401(k) or — as happened to me last week — while making an appointment with a new doctor: are you married. Usually it’s not so much a matter of life or death as it it just filling out a form.

Usually, I take a deep breath and answer that I’m “partnered” or that I’m “as married as I can be,” which is immediately understood. Then we move on to the next question. But there are a thousand different ways in which the answer to that question can impact our lives and our families, because we can’t legally marry, and the law can’t figure out what to do do with us, or how to define us, and hasn’t caught up with us as we forge ahead with our lives, making commitments to each other, and creating our families as we go. In those cases, we don’t often gee the benefit of the doubt.

Jason Hair-Wynn discovered that when he filled out a passport application with his married name — having married his partner and hyphenated his name — and the State Department basically said, “Who the fuck are you?” [Via The Mad Professah.]

As an AIDS counselor, Jason Hair-Wynn wants to bring his expertise to Africa, a continent that has been ravaged by the disease.

But when the Attleboro resident recently applied for a new passport so he could go to Africa, he learned the U.S. State Department would not recognize his new hyphenated name because he is a gay man married to another man.

He said the State Department said it was prohibited from recognizing his new name by the Defense of Marriage Act.

“We are unable to comply with your request for a name change based on the documentation you sent because of the Defense of Marriage Act …,” the letter states.

To give you some idea how schizophrenic it gets for same-sex couples, Hair-Wynn had no problem changing his name on his drivers license or his social security card. So, if he wants to go to Africa as part of a volunteer effort to teach children about HIV/AIDS, this guy has to change his name; basically, he has to deny — on paper, at least — his marriage.

Part of what we do when we marry is that we create kinship ties.

There should be no puzzlement over a gay couple, whose love and relationship may be every bit as deep and enduring as a those of a straight couple, would want to become recognized as kin, thus creating a new relationship and new ties not otherwise available. There is also no surprise that many gay couples have chosen to have one “adopt” the other, which is the only way such a bond is even remotely available to them outside of marriage.

Yes, gays are asking the body-politic to recognize their relationships as being kinship bonds — and there is no good reason why they shouldn’t be so recognized. There is nothing about the relationships of straight couples which makes them any more “worthy” of legal, social, and moral obligations we traditionally structure as “marriage.”

…In summary, what’s the point of gay marriage? The point of gay marriage is the point of all marriage. Marriage is different from other contractual relationships because it creates bonds of kinship. These bonds are in turn different and more important than other bonds: they create significant moral, social, and legal obligations both for those who are married and between those who are married and everyone else. Some individuals may not choose to acknowledge those obligations, but they exist and they constitute the basis of human society — a society which includes both heterosexual and homosexual human beings.

But if you’re a couple of homosexual human beings, you can’t take for granted those chosen kinship bonds will be recognized elsewhere. In fact, you have to consider that they likely won’t. It’s a factor that may well affect where you choose to live.

If you’re gay, moving with your spouse you can lose the benefits you had before your crossed state lines.

The kitchen table holds stacks of legal papers. Medication bottles litter a nearby countertop. The two-story home Robert Ryan, 42, shares with his partner, Ralph Martinelli, 53, overlooks a quaint suburb west of Boise, a rural landscape of ruddy hills that doesn’t seem quite as welcoming as it once did.

…Ryan and Martinelli met four years ago when Ryan was out of work and battling depression he developed after surviving the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. Ryan worked on the 74th floor of the south tower and escaped after the north tower was struck first. Six of the 20 employees he managed at Morgan Stanley were killed.

A year after they started dating, they registered as domestic partners in New Jersey. Martinelli was told he could insure Ryan under his policy as a Konica Minolta Business Solutions sales manager.

Ryan used the policy to pay for medication to treat his depression, anxiety and the childhood asthma that resurfaced from severe smoke inhalation in the attack.

But he was dropped from the policy last October, shortly after the Konica Minolta company found the couple had moved to Idaho, where they couldn’t register as domestic partners. In 2006, 63 percent of Idaho voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, effectively outlawing same-sex unions.

Martinelli is still covered by a COBRA policy through the company. Ryan now pays $650 a month for a separate COBRA insurance policy that will expire in March 2009.

“It’s ridiculous,” Ryan said. “It’d be like a married couple being forced to get remarried every time they moved.”

Perhaps we should require heterosexual couples to remarry every time they cross state lines. Some might have a better understanding of what it means to a couple to become legal strangers to each other for simply moving to another state. Maybe no one should be just as married in Mississippi as they are in Massachusetts.

Of course, that’s as unlikely to happen as the ideal (to some) solution of “getting the government out of the marriage business.” If people are afraid that just allowing same-sex couples to marry and have equal protections is taking something away form them, then actually taking something away form them (if the government stops sanctioning marriages and simply recognizes civil unions, say, for all couples consisting of consenting human adults) will go over like a lead balloon.

But, as I’ve pointed out before, civil unions are not marriage and “leaving it to the states” causes more problems than it solves.

But beyond the specific situation at the company, the governor’s letter hinted at the possibility of a broader battle that advocates for same-sex couples have warned about since a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling last fall saying that all couples must be treated equally, but leaving to the Legislature whether to achieve that through same-sex marriage or civil unions. Without marriage, the advocates say, many companies — either willfully, or because of the resulting legal confusion over how to define “spouse” — will not treat same-sex couples equally.

Andrew Koppelman, a law professor at Northwestern University and author of the book “Same Sex, Different States: When Same-Sex Marriages Cross State Lines,” cited two pressing issues as states wrestle with the evolving definitions of couples: “tangible benefits” and “symbolic approval.”

“If you read the New Jersey statute, it gives couples all the same rights and responsibilities and benefits” as heterosexual couples, Mr. Koppelman said. The objection that gay couples have is that civil unions are “different, and by implication, inferior to heterosexual unions.”

Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a statewide gay-rights organization, said that to date, 193 of the 1,359 couples who have registered for civil unions in New Jersey have reported to him that their companies are not recognizing their unions, though none have yet filed suit to challenge the law. “Companies are offering a gazillion excuses,” Mr. Goldstein said. “The law says civil union partners should be treated as spouses,” he said. “It doesn’t say they are spouses.”

Some companies, particularly those that are self-insured — like 51 percent of New Jersey businesses — contend that federal law creates obstacles to providing equal benefits. Some cite the federal Defense of Marriage Act, while many others, including United Parcel Service, refer to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The act, known as “Erisa,” pre-empts state laws and allows self-insured employers to choose how to define “spouse.”

Apparently, given Hair-Wynn’s story, so does leaving it to the state departmenet. And the Department of Defense? Forget it, unless your a member of Congress, and even then you’re gonna have to fight them on it.

The Pentagon at first blocked Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s domestic partner from traveling on a military plane with a congressional delegation on a trip to Europe but gave in after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi intervened.

The Pentagon said it was merely following House rules, which do not define domestic partners as spouses. Pelosi’s office countered that the Pentagon has its own rules about who can go on its planes.

Both sides agree that Defense Secretary Robert Gates reversed the decision to keep Azar off the plane after getting contacted by Pelosi, D-Calif.

…Morrell said that Pelosi asked Gates to honor her decision to waive House rules to allow Azar to travel and that Gates asked her to put that request in writing.

“She did so, and he — in this one case only — agreed to it,” Morrell said. “This is not a precedent by any means. This does not open the doors for life partners to travel on congressional delegations.” But Gates has agreed to review future requests, Morrell said.

Even in the halls of Congress, a queer is a queer is queer, and — to quote Harvey Fierstein in Torch Song Trilogy, “Queers don’t matter, queers don’t love, and those that do deserve what they get.”

That may apply doubly in court. Not that I’m planning on committing a crime, but let’s say that I did. Let’s say that I have an accomplice who happens to be heterosexual and married. If we were caught, and our both our respective spouses knew what we were up to only one of them would have to testify against against one of us. The other could exercise marital privilege. Three guesses which, and the first two don’t count.

A Frederick County man will avoid jail time in a domestic assault case because his wife exercised her marital privilege not to testify against her husband.

Without the woman’s testimony, Kirk Runkles, 47, of Myersville, was found guilty of second-degree assault and was given a suspended sentence Thursday. Because his wife of 22 years refused to testify, prosecutors said they were unable to obtain a first-degree assault conviction.

Runkles was accused of pouring lamp oil on his wife and threatening to set the woman on fire in November.

Martial privilege is just one of the many things we don’t get.

The right given to a HUSBAND AND WIFE to refuse to testify in a trial as to confidential statements made to each other within and during the framework of their spousal relationship.

The marital communications privilege is a right that only legally married persons have in court. Also called the husband-wife privilege, it protects the privacy of communications between spouses. The privilege allows them to refuse to testify about a conversation or a letter that they have privately exchanged as marital partners.

…The marital communications privilege originated at COMMON LAW. It was made formal in the English Evidence Amendment Act of 1853, which said that neither husbands nor wives could be forced to disclose any communication made to the other during the marriage. In the United States, the privilege came to be recognized in state and FEDERAL RULES OF EVIDENCE. By the twentieth century, the U.S. Supreme Court said that it was “regarded as so essential to the preservation of the marriage relationship as to outweigh the disadvantages to the administration of justice” (Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7, 54 S. Ct. 279, 78 L. Ed. 617 [1934]).

Of course, the preservation of same-sex marital relationships isn’t quite as important.

My guess is that would go double for the military.

When American soldiers get off duty in Iraq, the men usually return to their quarters, the women to theirs. But Staff Sgt. Marvin Frazier gets to go back to a small trailer with two pushed-together single beds that he shares with his wife.

In a historic but little-noticed change in policy, the Army is allowing scores of husband-and-wife soldiers to live and sleep together in the war zone — a move aimed at preserving marriages, boosting morale and perhaps bolstering re-enlistment rates at a time when the military is struggling to fill its ranks five years into the fighting.

“It makes a lot of things easier,” said Frazier, 33, a helicopter maintenance supervisor in the 3rd Infantry Division. “It really adds a lot of stress, being separated. Now you can sit face-to-face and try to work out things and comfort each other.”

Long-standing Army rules barred soldiers of the opposite sex from sharing sleeping quarters in war zones. Even married troops lived only in all-male or all-female quarters and had no private living space.

But in May 2006, Army commanders in Iraq, with little fanfare, decided that it is in the military’s interest to promote wedded bliss. In other words: What God has joined together, let no manual put asunder.

Except if you’re queer. Thanks to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” (Which actually brings me to my next post.).

It reminds of a quote from a favorite movie of mine, which I’ll paraphrase here: There ain’t no shame in being queer. But it sure is damned inconvenient at times.

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