Who Are We?
First, a brief introduction, since we're just speaking for ourselves and not any organization, and it helps to know where we're coming from. I'm a software engineer working for Northrop Grumman. George is a mobile X-ray technician. We live in Echo Park, near Dodger Stadium and downtown LA. We're both native Californians. George grew up in Lodi (a central valley grape-farming community), while I grew up in Granada Hills (in the San Fernando Valley). Our parents are still living in the same homes that we grew up in. My parents have enjoyed 48 years of loving marriage, and George's parents had been married for 60 devoted years when George Sr. passed away last year. Our parents have shown us what marriage should be, sticking together even when life got challenging. My parents never gave up loving my brother through some turbulent years of drug addiction (which he eventually beat and wrote a book about). George's mother faithfully cared for his father at home the last ten years of his life, after a stroke had left him mostly bedridden. Those are the sorts of family values we were raised on, and the examples of marriage and family that we aim to emulate in our own lives. When we met nearly ten years ago, as we grew to know and love each other, recognizing our many shared values, it made sense to both of us to follow the traditions of our families and community in the best way we knew how: by standing up in front of God, family and friends, and exchanging vows of lifelong loving commitment. And so we did, seven years ago, in a beautiful wedding ceremony that had personal and social significance, but no legal recognition. When the California Supreme Court earlier this year recognized our right to marry, we jumped at the chance, and we exchanged legal marriage vows in a judge's chambers in August.
What Difference Does Legal Marriage Mean For Us?
Legal marriage is important to us for both practical and philosophical reasons. On the practical side, there are all the legal implications of marriage: medical decision-making, joint financial responsibility, inheritance, and so on. It's not very romantic stuff, but it's important for us to be able to honor our vows and fulfill our responsibilities when it's sickness instead of health, when it's poorer instead of richer, and after the "until death do us part" part. It's just harder for us to do that if the law treats us as strangers to each other; if doctors, bankers, and brokers won't recognize us as each other's primary care-giver and legal/financial proxy. While lacking legal marriage, I've had doctor's offices refuse to speak to me about George's medical bills, even though I'm the one who pays them. And the financial firms that manage George's IRAs won't talk to me without us providing a separate notarized power of attorney for each account. The scenario that really worries me the most is what would happen if either of us had to go to the emergency room. We have heard horrifying true stories about gay couples where one partner is unconscious in the hospital, and they won't even let the other partner visit or talk to the doctor about their partner's condition. Can you imagine if your husband or wife were in the hospital, and they wouldn't even let you see them or let you know what's going on? Bottom line: having the state legally recognize our marriage means that George gets to ride in the ambulance with me, visit me in intensive care, and talk to the doctors and make decisions for me if I have a medical emergency.
Some folks may argue that we don't need legal marriage because "domestic partnership" will give us the same rights, or because we can achieve the same effect by having wills, powers of attorney, advance directives and so on. Yes and no. We're grateful that before the recent court decision, the State of California has been generous to create a status of "domestic partnership" that gives us many of those benefits, such as hospital visitation, default inheritance, and so on. But we're also very conscious, having lived as legal domestic partners for seven years, how much it is not the same as marriage. Everybody knows what marriage is, and what marriage means. Very few know exactly what "domestic partnership" means. Even most people who are domestic partners probably couldn't tell you exactly all the legal ramifications of their status. For one thing, it's changed a lot just in recent years. When George and I had our non-legal wedding in 2001, there was no state domestic partnership registry, but there was an LA County registry and a separate LA City registry, each with different legal rights associated. California created a state domestic partnership registry in 2003, which was initially mostly just symbolic, but has had various legal rights added to it in stages over the years since. So while many people may understand that "domestic partnership" is close to marriage, the woman in the doctor's billing office still isn't sure whether she's allowed to discuss George's bill with me, and the guy at Charles Schwab isn't sure whether he's allowed to talk to me about George's IRA. And in today's litigious society, who can blame them? In our nightmare hospital scenario, the hospital might refuse to talk to one of us simply out of fear of liability for disclosing private medical info to a legal "stranger." If one of us is having a medical emergency, that's hardly the time we want to be arguing with hospital administrators about the details of the 2007 amendments to the domestic partnership legislation. Simply put, having a domestic partnership is like hoping your personal check will be accepted, while being married is like paying in cash. Only marriage is accepted everywhere, no questions asked.
When we focus on things like hospital visitation or inheritance, some people get the impression that "we're just in it for the benefits." But think about that for a moment, does it even make sense? The way those people talk, you'd think a marriage license entitled you to big discounts on gas and groceries, or let you drive in the diamond lane or something. The "benefits" of marriage — being able to represent each other in medical, legal and financial matters — are tailored to the responsibilities of marriage. If there were all these compelling benefits that came with marriage, why are so many straight couples living together not legally married? Does anyone seriously believe that we want a marriage license just for the "privilege" of being responsible for one another's credit card debt? Oh, but don't you get a big tax break, some will ask? Yeah, ask some of your straight married friends about that tax break. For some people, yes, for others, there's a "marriage penalty." For gay married couples like us, it's even more complicated because we still have to file separate single federal returns, but joint state ones. Some things break in our favor, and other things work against us, but I couldn't honestly tell you whether we're ahead or behind. Even if it costs us a few hundred dollars extra on our taxes, we'd rather have the peace of mind of legal recognition, than have to worry about that emergency room nightmare.
What Does Our Legal Marriage Mean For You?
We realize that some of our fellow citizens have moral or religious objections to same-sex marriage, and we respect their right to have different opinions. It's important, with controversial issues like this, to remember the framework of liberty and religious tolerance that our country was founded on. America has thrived for over 200 years because our Constitution requires the government to treat all citizens equally, and not to take sides in religious issues. We recognize the liberty of each citizen to his or her own pursuit of happiness. In that light, it's important to realize what is and isn't on the table with Proposition 8. California voters are not being asked whether same-sex couples will be permitted to exist, to exchange vows of lifelong commitment, and to live their lives as married couples. Voters are not being asked to express moral approval of same-sex marriages. Whether Prop 8 passes or fails, Californians who disapprove of same-sex marriage will continue to enjoy every right to express their disapproval, just the same as they might disapprove of or disparage any marriage they consider ill-advised or a poor moral example (certain tabloid celebrity marriages may come to mind). Churches will continue to have the right to marry or refuse to marry anyone as guided by the dictates of their religion. What Proposition 8 does do is amend the California constitution to deny legal recognition to same-sex couples. That's it. If it passes, George and I will continue to live together as a married couple, as will the nearly 100,000 same-sex couples in California. Prop 8 won't make same-sex couples disappear. We'll just have a harder time at the hospital and at the bank. On the other hand, if Prop 8 is voted down, it will provide peace of mind for us same-sex couples, while having virtually no impact on anybody else (except on occasion for our personal banker, our personal doctor, and nearby hospital staff in an emergency).
Some people worry that the institution of marriage is embattled in our current society, and they worry that extending legal recognition of marriage to same-sex couples will further erode it. While we can understand the desire to resist change, we feel the opposite is true, that allowing same-sex couples to marry will actually strengthen marriage. What those worriers fail to realize is that we too are pro-marriage. We're on the same side. We believe marriage is a vital tradition, and that marriage and the family are one of the fundamental underpinnings of our society. It is because of the family values that we were raised with, and that we want to pass on to the younger generation in our family, that we have put such effort into being a married couple. (When you're straight, you've got your family, your society, ads and movies, media and marketing — everything around you — encouraging you to get married. On the other hand, when you're gay, you don't get married unless you really strongly value marriage.) We married because we admire and want to follow the example of our parents, in the best way that we can, while maintaining our self-integrity (another value that our parents raised us with). While we don't have children of our own, we have nieces and nephews and a godson and a goddaughter, and we hope to provide a good example for them. Not necessarily the same-sex part — that's incidental — we hope the children in our family will grow up true to themselves, whether gay or straight. We hope only to provide an example in the essential parts of marriage: lifelong devotion, mutual consideration, sacrificing for each other and for a common future, sticking together through the tough times.
We believe that marriage is a vital tradition: the "tradition" part means that the essential values of marriage are transmitted from generation to generation, but the "vital" part means that marriage has to adapt in order to stay alive, changing in ways that allow it to remain relevant while keeping its essential values. We believe that recognizing the ability of same-sex couples to undertake the same essential commitments of marriage is just such a change. We fear that refusing to accept that change may actually further damage and marginalize the institution of marriage, because it would increasingly be seen as discriminatory, old-fashioned, and less relevant. If we can do our job to provide a good example, we'd like the younger generation in our family to aspire to be married just like Uncle Tom and Uncle George. But if marriage remains frozen in outdated discrimination, our younger generation may look at us and think to themselves "I'd like to be devoted like Uncle Tom and Uncle George, and they're not even allowed to be legally married, so I guess that old-fashioned marriage thing is kind of irrelevant." Thus, we believe our participation in the institution will only strengthen it, not erode it.
Legally, we see state recognition of our marriage as a matter of basic fairness. If we undertake the responsibilities of caring for one another, society should recognize our commitment by giving us the appropriate legal recognition to fulfill our responsibilities. Society benefits from every married couple, because every married person has their spouse as a "first responder", a primary care-giver and means of support in the event that one of us falls ill, becomes injured, loses our job, or suffers some other misfortune. The state will have less burden on welfare, unemployment, and overloaded county emergency rooms, because I'm here to take care of my husband, and he's here to take care of me. In that regard, we are as responsible as any other married citizen of this state, and justice demands equal legal recognition of our responsibility.