The Republic of T.

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

Stepping Up

Y’know, it really shouldn’t be news when people commit to each other, except maybe for a engagement announcement or wedding announcement in the paper. It definitely shouldn’t be controversial, like Bishop Gene Robinson entering a civil union with his partner of 19 years. When two people step up to the altar or the steps of city hall to declare their love for one another, their desire to name one another as kin, and their desire to commit to one another, it should be celebrated, because it means a commitment to community.

And maybe that’s why it is controversial. Because, in many ways, it’s public. But it’s also personal. Sometimes in wonderfully surprising ways, when it turns out that you know the people behind the headlines.

We met Jeff, Andrew and their son Joshua last summer on the R Family Vacations cruise. (The same cruise on which the hubby and I got married after seven years together.) In fact, we have a great picture of Parker and Joshua at the beach, sitting on a rubber raft, with great big grins on their faces. Our boys, of course, enjoyed playing with one another. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see their picture in the USA Today article about New York gay couples going to California to get married.

Jeff Friedman and Andrew Zwerin were high school sweethearts on Long Island. After college and graduate school, they returned to New York to Rockville Centre. When they adopted Joshua, now 4, Friedman quit his job as a lawyer to be a stay-at-home dad.

Despite deep roots in New York, they will fly to Los Angeles this month to plan what Friedman, 40, says will be “a traditional Jewish wedding” under a chuppa, or canopy, at a cousin’s home on Oct. 11.

“We’ve waited 23 years,” says Zwerin, 39. “We’re not about to shortcut the pomp and circumstances.”

More than 12,000 same-sex couples from New York are expected to marry in California within the next three years, says a report today by UCLA’s Williams Institute, which studies sexual orientation issues.

Unlike a projected 55,000 gay couples from other states whose marriages will be mostly symbolic, New Yorkers expect to have legal standing on matters such as inheritance and taxes.

That’s because after California’s Supreme Court last month overturned a ban on same-sex marriage, New York Gov. David Paterson instructed state agencies to recognize all marriages, including those of gay couples, legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Those include Canada, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa and nearby Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage — but only for residents and those from states where it isn’t illegal.

Gay rights advocates are unsure whether New York’s unique situation will allow residents to marry in Massachusetts, but California looks clear — at least until November, when Californians will vote on whether to amend the state constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage.

I guess they’re joining the gay marriage rush that promises to boost California’s economy. (Spending dollars they won’t spend in their home states.)

Same-sex weddings could create hundreds of new jobs and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into California’s economy, according to a new study released Monday.

Gay couples are projected to spend $684 million on flowers, cakes, hotels, photographers and other wedding services over the next three years – so long as voters don’t put a halt to the same-sex marriage spree, according to a study by the Williams Institute at University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.

During the three-year period, the researchers project that about half of the state’s more than 100,000 same-sex couples will get married and another 68,000 out-of-state couples will travel to California to exchange vows. The nuptial rush is expected to create some 2,200 jobs.

The study estimates that over the next three years, gay weddings will generate $64 million in additional tax revenue for the state, and another $9 million in marriage-license fees for counties.

I can’t say that I blame them, honestly. If Maryland decided to recognize same-sex marriage performed in California, I’d be lobbying for a family trip to San Francisco. (Background: Before Parker was born, the hubby and I had planned a Thanksgiving holiday trip to San Francisco. We had everything lined up: a hotel for part of the time, a friend’s home for part of the time, a trip to wine country, spa treatment at Calistoga, and a tour of Alcatraz. It was never to be. One week before we were supposed to go, Parker was born. Instead of being up to our necks in mudbaths, we were up to our necks in diapers.)

What people have to understand is that if there’s even a chance at having legal standing on inheritance and taxes, and any number of additional protections — even if it’s only in our state — it would be more than we currently have or can have. Advance directives, medical powers of attorney, wills, etc., will get you maybe three of the 1,138 rights, benefits and privileges based on marital status. That’s a little more than 0.2%. All the protection we can provide for ou families adds up to little more than 0.2% of the protections other families enjoy. (It’s almost enough to make on wonder if we’re 99.8% less of a family than other families.) Domestic partnerships and civil unions don’t provide much more, and can alway be revised to provide less, or repealed altogether.

Kevin at Citizen Crane writes about the “gay disaspora” of bi-national gay couples denied federal legal recognition, forcing some to separate or choose between heart and home. The Defense of Marriage Act — which denies same-sex couples 99.8% of the benefits and protections heterosexual couples enjoy, prohibit the federal government from recognizing these relationships.

I’ve written about this on my own blog, and Chris has championed the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign born partners to immigrate legally to the United States. We do what we can. But once you make the decision to spend your life with someone (i.e. marry them, whether it’s recognized or not as legal), you jump with both feet off the curb and you don’t look back. Sometimes I feel that if I put too much energy into fighting to change the policies of the United States, I’d not be tending to my life as it is today, and my relationship would suffer needlessly. You end up putting your life first; it’s why you did all this in the first place. And it makes you an inconvenient player in the political realm.

Reading the excerpts of Andrew’s reader mail has been an emotional experience. It’s mostly because (and I’m surprised to realize this) most of us who live this life in exile don’t spend a lot of time talking to each other about how hard it can be at times being separated from home. We tend to focus on adapting to life out here instead. You do your best when you’re on the phone (or on Skype) with family and friends back in the U.S. to focus on the good stuff, and share the good news. You try to buck yourself up and focus on the adventure of it all, living abroad and adapting to a new culture and a new way of life. You also wake up to the aspects of life in the United States that are actually not so great after all- simply because (A) you can see them from far away, and (B) you want to do everything you can to avoid missing home too much. When you live abroad, you live abroad. Life in your new home affects you. You’re not who you were before.

But you can’t help but hear in the voices of those closest to you back in the U.S. that there is a lingering hope that something will happen that will allow you to come back. It’s part of being loved. It’s part of being in a family. It’s always floating around the phone call, or in-between the lines of the email.

And here’s the quote Andrew Sullivan posted, which inspired the reader email Kevin mentions in his post.

Heterosexual citizens have the right to marry foreign partners and bring them legally into the country with the right to live and work and even seek citizenship. Homosexual citizens don’t have that right; they must either choose another citizen as a partner or leave the country in order to be with their foreign partners. I know this issue intimately because both my children have foreign partners. My heterosexual daughter was able to marry and give her foreign partner the right to live here. My homosexual son can’t do that, and his partner isn’t even allowed to enter the U.S., so he has no choice but to live in his partner’s country. The people who claim to be protecting families are not doing anything to protect mine. Instead, they’ve torn it apart. I wish the Times would cover that aspect of the gay marriage issue because there are thousands of American families affected by it,” – a mother of a gay son, commenting on the story on Governor David Paterson’s decision to treat gay citizens married in other states no differently than straight ones.

(As an interesting aside, the Bush administration — true to form — has found a way to screw married heterosexual immigrants and their spouses. So much for preserving marriage…)

However far we have to go, and whatever the cost, there’s good reason to seek as much protection for our families as we can.

It came home to me in a very real way a few weeks ago, and helped me give voice to an understanding I don’t think I had before entering a committed relationship and becoming a parent. Like Wallis’ experience watching the finale of Survivor, I had my epiphany while watching television. The hubby and I were watching Noah’s Arc, and one of the characters (Ricky) who was struggling with his first real relationship mused that “When you fall in love with someone that way, you’re supposed to be shutting out a world of trouble.” (Or something close to that.) Without even thinking about it or intending to speak, I heard myself saying “That’s not true!”

It took me a minute more to articulate what I meant, but it comes down to this. Making a commitment to another person, as a partner or a parent, is the furthest thing from “shutting out a world of trouble,” because it means making yourself even more vulnerable to an already troubled world; something that really comes home to you when you’re loved one’s walk out the door to go to work, school, etc., and you realize how vulnerable they are, how much can happen “out there,” and how little you can do to protect them. It means, or it can mean, committing to making the world you and your loved ones journey through each day a little less troubled if you can. By extension that means, or can mean, doing the same for and alongside the families in your community.

It means investing in hope that the world you and your loved ones live in can change and the others will take up the work with you, if you make a start.

It’s the same reason that all of us have a stake in marriage equality.

Family is a choice too. We’ve all heard the saying “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives.” That may be true, you can’t choose who you’re related to by blood, but I think many gay people have learned that you can choose your family. Hell, we practically invented the term “family of choice” because so many of us have been rejected or kept at arms distance by our families of origin. I’m thinking in particular of the first decade or so of the AIDS epidemic, when so many of us took on responsibility for one another and became responsible to one another in the face of an epidemic the rest of the world hadn’t yet become concerned with. We taught ourselves how to be family to one another, and sometimes had the example of supportive blood relatives to follow.

We learned that families are born when people care for and about each other in the best and worst of times, and how individuals and whole communities can be buoyed by those countless acts of commitment in troubled times. Is it any wonder then, that so many of us now are seeking to build families together?

And that’s probably one of the reasons we still encourage marriage in our society (albeit not as much or as strongly as some people think we should), and why we reward and support some people for making that choice.

So, safe travels Jeff, Andrew, and Joshua. Congratulations! And thanks for “stepping up,” not just to the altar, but to claim what should rightfully, belong to all of our families. May you and yours grow in love and strength together.

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