Friday, December 4, 2009

Same Sex Marriage-Until Death Did Us Part

Until Death Do Us Part,
originally uploaded by nyomee wallen.

Today I feel the need to ramble on about our ongoing fight for equal marriage rights in this nation. I continue to read the headlines regarding marriage rights initiatives being kicked around on the east coast, and the high profile that the Catholic Church has taken. What ever happened to the concept of separation between church and state?

Last year my spouse, Michael, and I were fortunate to have our marriage blessed, made legal, and shared by all of our family and friends. We had a wonderful minister officiate the ceremony. He committed to our wedding after having met with us to discuss why we were making this commitment. Our minister admitted that he had never officiated over a gay wedding, but that his adult son had been challenging him about what he would do if approached with this request. After meeting with us for a couple of hours, he shared that he could see the great love and commitment we had for each other, especially in light of Michael being diagnosed with a life threatening illness, brain tumor, the prior year. Our day went with out a hitch. We had up to five generations of family members in the room. What a span of shared experience and history that we benefited from as we looked out to see that everyone, young and old, were so filled with the joy of being present to this wonderful occasion. There were plenty of tears when the minister had us read our vows, especially when he uttered the words "in sickness and in health, till death do you part."

Here were two adult men. Men who were raising three lovely children in our home, and closely assisting with the raising of two nieces and a nephew. Why shouldn't we have the right to be recognized as a legally married couple? In time the California Supreme Court did confirm that couples like Michael and I were still legally married, but there would be no future marriages.

These past few weeks reading or watching the news has left me with much disillusion. Throughout the east coast grass root groups are working hand in had with politicians to demand equality in this "Land of Equality." Our people, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender, have been lifted up with the support of our straight friends and family. Our time has come to expect to have our relationships, and families, protected under the law. We deserve to have the honor, and communal understanding of what a legal marriage represents. We are no longer willing to take on second rate designations such as domestic partners or civil unions. What the hell is that? We are talking about the loving and committed union that the people of this country understands when someone says they are married.

Michael and I were married on October 19, 2008. He later died on September 13, 2009. Looking back at our wedding, we were down to the last couple of weeks that LGBT couples knew they could legally marry in California. Two weeks later we were on our honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta when we heard on the news that people who didn't even know us, in our own state, voted to take our marriage rights away. We were very hurt, and saddened. Can you imagine all the straight couples who also happened to be on their honeymoons that same week. What if they got word that while they were gone the people back home decided their marriages were not legitimate, and had voted to take their rights away as well? Perhaps the state could send out a charter bus to Las Vegas to pick up all the drunk and passed out couples who met the prior night, got drunk, then headed over to Elvis' Chapel of love. They could then pass out all the forms needed to annul these marriages before the sun came up. Okay, I'm getting a bit bitchy. I'll cool off.

Back to my tirade!!! I find it alarming, that various church groups are the one's who get to define public policy in our country. Anger and fear generated about the possibility of giving us gays this simple human right has gotten groups like the Catholic Bishops all in a tither. I don't understand this. Hey, if you don't want to marry us in your church we can just fly to Vegas and pick from an assortment of more entertaining chapels.

Now I am not anti-Catholic. I am in fact a Catholic. I spent three years in my early twenties studying to become a Catholic priest. I send my children to our local Catholic church for their catechism and spiritual development. And I do this knowing that God loves me, God loves Michael, and God loves our children. I don't need my church to necessarily understand this committed and faith loving family. I don't necessarily expect this because we are all a product of society, and our upbringing. I feel sorry for the church hierarchy. They are so trapped in a double bind situation. A sizable majority of the priest and nuns I knew, and know, are in fact gay. Perhaps the church should just come out with a new dictum that says all lesbians and gay Catholics are prophets with enormous hearts, which should be shared. We will make all of them our spiritual leaders. They will sacrifice not having a committed relationship, or children, in place of a lifetime of service. At least with this plan, when the New York Catholic Bishops say that anyone caught supporting the rights of gays to marry will result in their not being eligible for communion, all of us gay priests can step aside and say wait a minute, all God's children are called to his table. It then becomes all or nothing. Maybe that will change some minds. When the Catholic bishops says they will take away social services provided to the community if gays are allowed to marry, then all of the lesbian nuns can say,wait a minute, you have had us teaching these children for decades, and now you want them to go without just because two people of the same sex are in love? Crazy.

Okay, lets all calm down a bit. Let's bring this back Michael and I. When Michael was diagnosed with his brain tumor we found ourselves scrambling to get registered as state domestic partners so that he could be on my medical insurance. He had his own, which was a very good policy from his employer, but Michael was just about to receive his one year probationary evaluation which could either provide a raise, or we worried, leave him unemployed. We also had to get documents signed by notaries, other documents completed by an attorney, make sure our bank accounts were listed in both of our get the idea. We realized that with his illness there were going to be many opportunities for medical providers to question our relationship, and possibly not allow me access to the services, products, and medications that Michael needed me to secure. A simple marriage certificate could have alleviated all these concerns.

Our later marriage did take care of all the mundane tasks that would have been a real emotional strain had I, as Michael's caretaker, had to explain the nature of our relationship at each juncture. When providers asked what my relationship was to the patient I was able to say I am his legal spouse (please take notice of the simple, yet elegant band on my left hand). Fortunately for me, I would be hard pressed to remember anybody that questioned this. Now maybe it was easier for them to not get into the legalities, but I have to believe that the designation of "married spouse" was universally understood and accepted by those I encountered.

This type of reception, during a major life trauma, is what we all deserve. Michael and I were going through plenty during his last two years on this earth. We didn't need to have our relationship questioned, requests delayed, and access denied. We were also blessed to be living in San Francisco, where there is a heightened awareness of accommodating same sex couples.

Lastly, I wish all those that have fears, concerns, or misunderstandings about who we are, and how we live our lives, could have spent time observing our marriage. They would see how lovingly attentive we were to each other. They would see that in the face adversity, we maintained an optimistic outlook on life. That we continued to meet our children's needs, that our family and friends fully participated in our life. They would have seen how much we have contributed to the community at large, both here at home and abroad.

I could have been that priest that is possibly instructed to deny someone communion because my superiors don't like their politics. Well, that is certainly not how Jesus treated others, and it is certainly not how I do either.


  1. Dan, unfortunately there are a lot of bigots in this world, as well as hypocrites, and most of them seem to have entered the arena of politics or religion.

    I do believe that marriage begins with the heart not a piece of paper, however I also understand that those words, although genuinely meant, will be small compensation for those who are denied the basic human right to have their love and commitment to one another be recognized by law.

    You are married ... in my eyes.

    It's sad that money and power, as well as the fear of losing votes are driving this decision, as opposed to doing the right thing for the right reason.

  2. Thanks for your support. I just made some changes to this post, as it was written rather quickly during my lunch break at work. Actually, Michael and I were able to maintain the legal status of our marriage, but any future rights were taken away.

    A prior post of mine was featured on a new web site recently. I'm trying to bridge an awareness between the gay community and those of us in the grieving community, and at the same time bring an awareness to the larger community as well. As you know grief is something most people are completely uncomfortable with. It is my hope to lead other widows/widowers, gay or straight, to our blogs. There are so many of us out there who begin this process feeling so alone and isolated.

    We all have so much to share, and so much to benefit from each other.

  3. Thanks for sharing this Dan, and for bringing awareness to such an important issue. I've always supported gay marriage anyhow, but to see how much you would have struggled had you not been able to have that legal bind makes me sick to think that others are not so 'fortunate' (in a terribly unfortunate situation).

    Loosing the love of your life is a big enough challenge, to have the added grief of dealing with politics and extra paperwork, delays, money, etc is just unthinkable and completely unfair.

    Trying not to sound too crazy, but from a religious standpoint (in no way judging religion, only offering a thought), I know the bible is considered the word of God, but it was 'penned' by man, and according to the bible itself man is by no means perfect; so maybe man could have made an error or two in some of God's intent - such as the acceptance of homosexuality . . .

    Even look at the chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - 4 accounts of the same events, though there are often discrepencies. Take 20 witnesses to a crime, you will get 20 different stories, each with varying degrees of the truth. Sorry ramble off on a tangent here, but my main point is - not to say that the bible is all wrong, but perhaps we could lighten our view on some issues . . .

    I hope some of that makes sense - I have a two year old and a four year old throwing puzzles at me and chattering incessantly, making it hard to concentrate, and type =)

  4. I am continually amazed at how focused organized religion is on hate. To focus so much on making sure people cannot (legally) love and commit to each other seems too absurd to be true but there it is.