Sunday, March 15

Heresy, Continued

It's a new day.  I bet you thought I'd think better of it.  Maybe I'd show up today and say "Eh, I was just tired and cranky....just kidding", or maybe I'd be cowed by the pressure of political correctness.  No such luck.

Of course, in the interim, I've been pleasantly reminded by my friend Pat that I am likely to get hoisted on my petard.  (Okay, I had to look up this reference, cuz using expressions I don't really get bothers me to no end.  You can read about it here.  You're welcome.)  I'll take my chances.  If I edit myself on my own blog, what's the point?

So...back to the subject at hand.  Here's what I was trying to say yesterday (If you didn't read yesterday's post, you can see it here.)  

The arguments that are most often heard--the ones about hospital visitation, about getting the house if your partner died, about benefits, about joint custody of children--are, of course, all real and valid.  But I still have two comments, because there's something (or somethings) that I don't get here.  First, as far as I know, there are legal ways to take care of some of those things, mechanisms that have been available to us for a long time.  So when people argue that we need to be married because they weren't "allowed to visit [their] partner in the hospital or make medical decisions", I find myself shouting at the television or computer screen, "That's called a power of attorney!"  I know, I sound critical.  I don't mean to be...really.  What I mean to say is that, if we are going to argue our right to civil rights, our argument ought to be firmly grounded in rights that are not possible to have without marriage.  It's more compelling.  

I know, that was only one question.  The second question is more basic to my stance.  It is this: Shouldn't everyone, no matter who they are, no matter what relationships they choose to have or not have, no matter their marital status or preference, have the right to designate the person or persons that they want to be able to visit them in the hospital and/or make medical decisions on their behalf?  Why should this be one of the rights of marriage?  I'm a terrific example.  If I never get married, shouldn't I be able to choose who I would like to be by my side in ICU and who will make decisions for me?  What's it got to do with marriage?   

And there are ways in which the centralization of the marriage paradigm work against us, let's remember that.  For example, my own experience of health insurance.  I get my health insurance through my employer (which I feel very lucky about, especially in the current climate).  There are multiple health insurance options, but as is often true, there is one that is really the obvious "best" choice--that's the one i have.  In that option, I have the choice of Individual, Couple, or Family, "Family" being the most expensive, obviously.  So I could cover myself.  For a bit more, I could cover myself and a spouse.  For more, I could cover my spouse and children.  Note:  The only one that includes children is "Family", and that insurance presumes coverage for three people at a minimum---you know, two adults and "x" children--that's a family, isn't it?  Since that is the presumption, that is the cost.  If I am a single parent, and I want coverage for me and my child, I have to effectively pay for three people, rather than two, which, as you can well imagine, is VERY expensive.  I know, I know...this is not the fault of my employer, and certainly not the fault of those working for GLBT marriage equality.  But, I would argue that such practices on the part of insurance companies are supported by our societal "agreement" that a "family" is a married couple, often with children (a model which largely presumes heterosexuality, by the way).  Why should this relationship model dictate our policy so broadly?  I don't get that.

The same two questions above go for most of the arguments in this case.  Right to inheritance of a house?  Co-ownership as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.  Benefits?  Same as what I said about hospital visitation.  Joint custody of children?  Yes--absolutely, I believe we should be fighting vigorously for second parent adoption and full parental rights for GLBT folks everywhere.  Social security and/or tax benefits?  AHA!!  Now there's a good point (that carries with it its own set of questions).  First of all, the legal marriage we have obtained does NOT carry with it any of those rights which, by the way, also makes divorce very difficult and different than for our heterosexual counterparts, even in states where marriage is legal, just in case you didn't know that.  So let's be clear and transparent about this--if the fight for marriage equality in individual states is, in reality, a stepping stone to full equal rights--not to marriage in particular, but to equal rights in every way for GLBT people-under the federal constitution (which for some people it is), let's move forward and keep our eyes on the prize. 

Wait, back to the hospital thing for a minute.  This is where the naivete (not mine this time) comes into play.   I have heard so many people say "Yes, I could [or did] fill out the paperwork and say that I want my partner allowed into ICU, but where I live, the hospital personnel just might not [or did not] abide by it--they just said no".  And these people think that having a marriage certificate instead of a power of attorney will magically repair that state of affairs? Homophobic hospital personnel--doctors and nurses and administrators that think they have the right to "just say no" to a power of attorney--are somehow going to do what they are supposed to just because you're married?  I don't think so (and you know as well as I do that plodding through the legal process to get them to do it is not exactly what you're thinking of when your loved one is hospitalized).  The problem here, the enemy here, is homophobia and individuals who think they do not have to follow the law if it conflicts with their personal or religious beliefs.  Let's fight THAT.  I know, you'll say we *are* fighting that, at the same time. In that case,  I recommend that you take a look at the relative percentage of GLBT fundraising dollars that are going to this sort of work.  

Of course there's also all the old, crunchy, anarchic, lesbian feminist stuff (just plug your ears and hum if you can't stand it).  You know, marriage as a patriarchal institution, the risk inherent in allowing government into our intimate relationships, why in the world do we want to be like straight people....the list goes on.   (check out this article on Marriage and the Patriarchy here---very interesting).

Lest you think I am hopelessly deluded, take a look at the statement and signers on Beyond Marriage, and read the position statement on marriage offered by the Audrey Lorde Project.   And if you don't know who Audre Lorde is, (tsk tsk) then you might get going on that too.  

And if you think heresy is's a chuckle for you.  I am the President of a chorus whose whole spring schedule is organized around performing works about marriage to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the first legal same-sex marriages in Massachusetts (accompanied by a high-profile fundraiser to benefit organizations working for equal marriage).   So what is my role in all of this? 

My role is that I'm president, I'm a singer, and I'm a supporter of the chorus in every way and form, which extends to every goal and cause we embrace as a collectively run organization.  So, what am I doing?  I'm pitching it. I'm talking it up.  I'm working my butt off to make it a success.  I'm memorizing music.  I'm promoting it.  I'm "in" one hundred percent.  

I'm hoping that it goes to prove my point.  I'm not AGAINST same sex marriage.  I'm thrilled and honored to live in the first state in the U.S. where it has been legal for five full years come May.  I'm just not an all-or-nothing any way.  So I can be fully in favor of it--as I said, it's equality, how could that be bad--and critical of the way in which it has overshadowed every other GLBT rights issue at the same time.  

I guess, in my naivete, I'm imagining that my brothers and sisters are stepping away from the era of "you're with us or you're against us".  Nothing is that simple.

So, in response to my friends who are concerned (or giddy) for the "onslaught" or, even those who look at me askance when I say things like that which I've written here today,  and even for the part of myself that doesn't want to get yelled at, even virtually, I offer the words of the aforementioned Audre Lorde:

"When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Robin. I don't think marriage should be our primary issue AND I appreciate those who have fought for it and are engaged in it. Now, affordable, quality health care for all? That old thorn in the side equal pay for equal work? Racial equality? Ageism (that will affect us all - is, in fact, affecting me and good friends in our workplaces today)? Global peace? Jawea

Robin said...

Thanks, Jawea. So what do we do with our dollars (the few we still have)? So many competing, though not really competing, "causes" at the same time. Where does YOUR energy go?

Coffeegurl said...

Well, I hear ya, and I agree with a great deal of what you say. Where rights are concerned, the federal stuff IS indeed the big financial prize, and it's got to be called marriage at the state level in order to wage that fight (as MA started to do last week in federal court).

That said, I feel compelled to add one piece, speaking only from my own personal experience. Neither Arinne nor I had parents who weren't "accepting". We were each respectfully welcomed to each others' family events, there were calls of concern when we were ill, etc. And yet, when we married, it changed. We were surprised, but it was palpable. Like the narrated text of "We the People" says, a kinship network was created. Lee went from being Arinne's dad, to being my father-in-law. He now calls me daughter #2. There is a recognized permanence and a level of "access" to the family that was not previously there. Our relationship was recognized differently by not only our families, but our work colleagues and (mainly heterosexual) friends. They *get* the depth of our relationship and commitment in a different, more relatable way, and yes, I do think it has contributed to a greater acceptance and understanding of GLB relationships and lives as a result.

Mind you, I had no way of anticipating that. It was NOT the primary personal reason for wanting to be married (that story is for another time), but I thought it bore mention.

Do I think marriage needs to be #1 on the agenda? No. But I do think it stands for more than the state rights it gives at this exact moment in time. My 2 cents :-)

Elaine said...

Okay - you wanted comments. You know Sue & I have been together for nearly 29 years. In that time period neither of us has wanted to get married because it doesn't represent what we are to one another. Like you said, we've found paper ways around most issues that confront us as a couple. BUT now that we're getting older, there are issues we can't get around - issues of inheritance. I believe lesbian & gay couples will not get full equal rights on the state and federal level because of the financial implications.

Robin said...

Thanks for adding that, Elaine. I get it about inheritance law, and that's a good reason. At the same time, the same principle still stands. If Leona Helmsley could leave her fortune to her dog, then why can't we manage our inheritance any way we damn well please, whether we're married or not? I'm curious about why no legal remedy for this is available, and still disturbed by what that says about our culture's absolute insistence on marriage as the sole legitimate model. It all seems to come down to basic changes in federal law (tax, social security).

Are you saying that you don't think lesbian and gay couples will get full equal rights until it is resolved at the federal level, or that you think it will not succeed at the federal level?

Audrey said...

We can manage our inheritances however we please--but Leona's dog suffered from inheritance tax, poor thing. In heterosexual relationships, the spouse inherits free of estate taxes, which doesn't happen with unmarried heirs. I don't agree w/you, Elaine--I think it has very little to do with financial implications (there just aren't enough of it to matter), and a lot to do with old-fashioned prejudice and hatred.

Elaine said...

Robin - yes, until the law giving us equal rights to straight people is changed at the federal level, we will never be equal in this country, no matter where you live. As to this happening, I don't anytime soon.

Audrey - I think much hatred comes from the "haves" not wanting to give up anything for the "have nots". They see us getting rights and they think they're having something taken away from them. They don't look at it as benefitting everyone in the long run.

To me the whole thing IS financial. The first thing anyone in this country looks at is "how is it going to affect me?" And that always leads to the pocketbook one way or another.