I'm truly happy about the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings. I've been looking forward to something like this since I was 9 years old and afraid that legal action would take my parents away from me because they are lesbians. Of course, the timing makes celebration a little difficult, with the rulings on the Voting Rights Act and on Native American adoption. But still, this is an expansion of my rights and my parents' rights that I so desperately needed two decades ago.
However, in your celebrations I want to ask one teeny little favor of you. Please don't say "all couples have the freedom to marry" or "We finally have marriage equality." DOMA isn't everything. It doesn't change the legal status of couples who live in states that have not legalized same-sex marriage. And even in states with same sex-marriage, the statement that "everyone can get married now" is just not true.
I live in Seattle, and have been hearing this a lot since our state passed same-sex marriage last November. The theme for our Pride this year is "Equality: passed, present, and future." Get it? "Passed" because we passed marriage equality. But you see, here's the thing: I still can't marry my partner of 8 years, Ronan Kelly. Because it would mean I couldn't be married to my partner of 15, Fay Onyx.
I know, I know, the marriage movement doesn't want to talk about poly families at all. I've accepted that none of you are going to fight for my marriage to be considered equal. It's been bashed over my head forever that I'm not even supposed to talk about my relationships because we are the evil end of the slippery slope along with bestiality and pedophilia. I'm not asking for you to fight for my rights. I'm just asking you not to pretend that everyone has the right to marry when my family can't even get a civil union.
People often get confused about how poly relationships and legal recognition might work. You might be thinking that I've got access to all the rights I need now that I can marry one of my partners. You might be worried we're trying to cheat the system and get more than our fair share of perks like healthcare (I still can't believe healthcare is a 'perk' in this society). But that's not how it works.
A few years ago, my partner Ronan got a job that had health benefits. None of us were insured at that point - it's uncommon for all three of us to be insured at once - and while we knew that she wouldn't be able to add both Fay and me to her benefits, we thought she might be able to add me. She asked the HR department if we needed to have a marriage or civil union to access partner benefits, and was assured that was not necessary. Then we got the paperwork: the first line said, "I swear that neither of us is married to anyone else." So I remained uninsured, and Ronan's partner benefits went unused.
We contemplated having a divorce and getting a new civil union, but that's expensive, complicated, and we'd have to do it again next time our circumstances changed. It didn't seem worth it to get a health care plan with a trans exclusion that we'd still have to pay for and would discriminatorily exclude most of my healthcare anyway.
It's not just insurance. A lover of mine is in a bi-national relationship and attempting to figure out immigration issues. We don't want or need a legally-recognized relationship, but the mere fact that we are lovers puts their partner's immigration status in jeopardy.
I grew up without a legal relationship to one of my parents, and I know the impact that kind of insecurity can have on a child. I wonder about a future child we might have and who would be considered a legal parent. I'd really rather not have my child fear police or that the courts would take away their parents like I had to when I was young.
Ultimately, I don't really care about marriage that much as a political issue. It's taken a lot of focus away from issues like homelessness, suicide, and job discrimination. It's rooted in a sexist history of property ownership rights. It would be better to make things like healthcare and fair immigration options available to everyone - married or not - rather than slowly expanding who can get married while leaving others out in the cold. I'd prefer to focus my energy on universal healthcare, trans-inclusive healthcare, and availability of competent medical professionals to work with trans populations rather than working out a system to get myself healthcare that relies on a job that Ronan won't have forever.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if any of that is me crying sour grapes. I certainly believe there are better priorities, but perhaps I sometimes talk down marriage as not important because I expect that it is something my family will never have. When all those around me are celebrating this victory and the amazing power of their love, I think about the nights I've spent just staring at Ronan in amazement that I have such a wonderful person in my life. Or those times with Fay where we seem just so perfect for each other and capable of doing anything together.
I look at giddy proposals and declarations of love on Facebook and I have to admit, it stings to see so many friends being recognized in a way that I can't. It makes me want that too. Maybe not as much as I want an end of police profiling and harassment of queer youth, people of color, and trans women, but I definitely want it.
When I hear "Everyone can marry their partner now" and I have to add "except me" silently in my head, a little part of me is crushed. I swallow my tears and mumble something about marriage being just a piece of paper and try to get on with my day.
I'm not asking you to stop celebrating, or even to fight for my rights the same way I've fought for yours. But maybe you could avoid erasing me with your words. Maybe you could remember that we're not all equal yet. Certainly not in terms of employment, voting rights, or the criminalization of poverty. And not even in terms of marriage.