A few weekends ago, Groom and I had the privilege of watching two of our dear friends get not-married this weekend. Not-married you say? Not-married because the state of Illinois is one of 45 states that does not recognize their relationship - but I do. I do and so do all of the wonderful guests at this truly moving event. The theme of the not-wedding was speakeasy, since hosting a not-a-wedding is also subversive. This meant that all the guests came dressed up, which added to the fantastic creative event.
The single most amazing thing about this not-a-wedding was the true feeling of community. Not only were guests there to witness the ceremony, but they were part of it. A number of friends were asked to say something - there were speeches, poems, a song, and most moving, a hula dance performed for the couple. (I'm getting teary-eyed recalling this). It was a great testament to this amazing couple that their friends gave of themselves so wholly.
However, there is more to this beautiful story. Jessica wrote her perspective of this event, and I am copying this because there are lessons in here about love that I don't want to forget. There are also lessons on love in this statement that I wish everyone would not forget.
I got not-married a few weeks ago. This is what I looked like in the minutes after standing up in front of my families (of origin and of choice), friends and loved ones declaring my love for Jet, stating that I choose Jet, and intend to keep choosing Jet. This was a joyful, celebratory, amazing day for me
It was also, unexpectedly, a transformative day for me, for us. Both Jet and I went into this thing without expecting it to be the best day of our lives thus far. It absolutely was. I went into it thinking that it wouldn't really change things between us or change our relationship. After 6.5 years together, we were doing it because it was important to me but not expecting it to change us in any way. I was so wrong. Standing up and saying "I choose you" to my beloved, with our families as witnesses and participants in the ritual we created? It changed me, it changed us, it was profound.
But it wasn't legal. In spite of the incredible beauty and tenderness of our ceremony, in spite of our families standing up and witnessing for and with us, in spite of the unbelievable amount of love and support present in the room, and in spite of the massive change it wrought: my relationship remains (legally) unrecognizable. So, oddly, after all that love and goodness I am left feeling exposed. This seismic shift has happened to my life and with my chosen beloved; the center has held and also moved at the same time. Things are different, tender, changed. But that tender new thing -- something I want to savor, something I want to be personal between my beloved and myself -- feels vulnerable and in danger and is at the center of a public debate that is painful and scary.
One example of that exposure: if I were to be hospitalized in another state (given my job, a distinct possibility), my beloved might be denied access to me. Might be denied the right to make medical decisions for me. Could be kept from my bedside. Might not even be called. If my beloved were hospitalized (say, for example, due to chronic illness), I might not know it. When my beloved was hospitalized, I was allowed at bedside through the grace of the doctor: I had no right to be there and I still don't. This is a terrifying place to be when you have to be on a plane every Monday for work. And I live in a state with some protections in place for same-sex couples, work for an employer who recognizes us, and have an incredibly supportive family. I am privileged in this, in a way so many same-sex couples are not. Even so, I am still vulnerable. Imagine the vulnerability of folks whose families aren't supportive or whose states refuse them even a modicum of recognition, imagine the complete helplessness of anyone whose partner is not a US citizen, particularly anyone who is not independently wealthy or able to relocate. Imagine the fear of queer parents who still lose their children simply for being gay, and how legal recognition and protection might resonate for them.
It's important for me to say that I don't think marriage is the only fight or the most important fight. It's important for me to say that I believe social justice is a never-ending endeavor, and that there are more than enough fights for us all. It's also important for me to say that I believe Federally-recognized-as-family status for our families is important, and I believe that queer couples should have the *choice* to participate in marriage (or civil unions that are truly equal) or not. I don't buy "abolish all marriage" arguments for many reasons (the lack of practicality of that argument being way up there in the list of why-I-think-that's-a-specious-stance), and I think it's far too easy to dismiss those of us who *do* want to get married using more-radical-than-thou arguments. I think it's a false dichotomy to set up those struggling to gain an important and materially-real right as 'draining' resources best spent elsewhere: marriage is not an either/or struggle, it is a both/and.For me, here's where it is: this is an easy thing. It's NOT revolutionary. It's NOT going to change the world in a splash. Allowing queer same-sex couples to marry will not have an impact on most of the state/country/world. Mostly, this is an intimate, personal change for those of us who would choose it. But it's also a change with huge ramifications for those of us whose partners are not US citizens, or whose families would lock our spouses out given the chance, or those who face illness without medical rights, those who are parents and for whom legal recognition is a bastion against that which would tear their families apart; there are many of us in these kinds of situations too. This isn't hard in any concrete way (the cost is nil and the potential payoff great). Same-sex marriage won't destroy businesses nor bring about Armageddon, nor will it mean the end of oppression as we know it. Same-sex marriage won't make queers "normal" (excepting those who already are) and it won't matter a lick to heterosexual marriages. Same-sex marriage won't hurt your god or make your children believe in the Easter Bunny. This thing can seem so insignificant and yet, it matters in large and small ways to so many of us.
Institutional recognition of our relationships matters on an macro level, because there are protections and rights and recognition-as-family by the State embedded in marriage, things EVERY family deserves (and the State recognizing families is a good thing, if always/already imperfect). It matters in politically-macro ways: we should be moving towards a more perfect union and institutionalized discrimination is not that. It matters in personal ways, in ways like being able to name my spouse as such and NOT having to explain -- over and over and over again -- that we are NOT legally wed; in being able to rest easy knowing that my spouse will receive the benefits I have worked my whole life for if anything happens to me; in knowing that my family is legally and definitively known and cannot be undone by someone else. It matters in micro ways, like being really tired of reminding straight people (who love me, and mean well) that just because I could do it in Iowa, if I lived in Iowa, doesn't actually matter. Because I DON'T live in Iowa, and because even if I did, the minute I stepped out of Iowa it would no longer be real.
I'm writing this now because today's decision by the CA Supreme Court (while not surprising) is personally painful for me. I'm writing it here because most of you are not queer, and this is probably something that isn't front-and-center in your life. But I need to tell you this: it's something that costs me, the person you "know" in a Facebook-way, or know in a real-world way, or knew back in the day, or love and care about now, it costs me dearly and personally. It says something about my not-marriage that is not true (my marriage is as real, as valid, as important as any other marriage and it is also as distinct and personal as yours). It says something about your marriage because you have something -- basic and profound -- that is denied me and mine. It says something about all of us. And I'm asking all of you to think about that, about the hurt and personal-cost of institutionalized discrimination and how you can work to change that.
I'm also saying this to all my beloved queer family, because I think we need to remember this loss and remember why we lost: organizing is NEVER about talking to ourselves about stuff we agree about. It's about talking to folks who do NOT agree with us and meeting them where they are, making our case, connecting in a real way. We can do this, we can change this thing, we can make the world a marginally better-place for ourselves, our families, our loved-ones. And then we can take on the next battle, because there will always be more to perfect.