Marriage equality and family support

With her permission, I’m posting a letter that my sister wrote to a friend of hers today. He’s the husband of one of her closest friends, and on the fence about Proposition 8.

I include it here for several reasons.  One: gay people usually come from straight families; if all goes well, we remain interwoven with one another our whole lives.  The stability of all our families extends beyond our own immediate nuclear units.  Two: if every sister or brother or mother or father or daughter or son of a gay person in California reached out to their fence-sitting friends and co-workers, I’ll bet there would be a sea change in this election.  There are upwards of 850,000 (and I mean way upwards: some estimate 2 million) of us in this state, after all. That’s a lot of kindred.  And three: I’m every inch as proud of her as she is of me.

From: [my sister’s name]
Subject: Yes on Love
To: [The husband of one of her closest friends]
Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2008,

Dear [Friend],

I’m stretching my neck out, and only doing this because I care deeply about you as the loving half of a couple who mean the world to me. You two are essential in my survive my life with some grace kit. Your empathy is spontaneous and spot on. So here goes.

I have excerpted a piece of an extraordinary document below. It is beautifully written, and wonderful on its own – but even more so when you know of its origin. It was crafted by the quite conservative California Supreme Court, who had to dig deep past their own party lines and conservative opinions to write their legal opinion on the basis of marriage. The news release from the Supreme Court on May 15, 2008 summarizes it well:

“Upon reviewing the numerous past California decisions that examine the underlying bases and significance of the constitutional right to marry, the opinion explains that the core substantive rights embodied in the right to marry ‘include, most fundamentally, the opportunity of an individual to establish – with the person with whom the individual has chosen to share his or her life – an officially recongnized and protected family possessing mutual rights and responsibilities and entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded a union traditionally designated as marriage.’

The opinion then observes that

“in contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibility to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual’s sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual’s sexual orientation – like a person’s race or gender – does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.”

These are the words of the majority of the California Supreme Court, not just 4 San Francisco judges, as the Yes on 8 info claims. [NCLR’s page of In re: Marriage court documents here.]

And it is they who have the ultimate right to speak about marriage, because no matter how convincingly a religious ceremony includes the words, “I now pronounce you man and wife!” you know that if the couple in question have not filed their marriage certificate at city hall, they most certainly are not!

Marriage is a mixture of many things. And if you think about it, as I know you have, you must have thought about what really endangers a relationship – greed, anger, unfaithfulness. And what is it that strengthens a marriage? Yes, the enduring respect, the willingness to forgive, the daily show of support that makes your bond with your wife continue to weather come what may through the years. I know this is why my husband and I are still married, despite the fact that 95% of couples divorce after the death of a child.

Threats to marriage do not come from outside the marriage. Whether my sister is married to her beloved or not does not in any way threaten my marriage to my husband, nor does it threaten your marriage to your wife. Nor will it ever. Gay couples who decide to marry do it for the same reasons we did – to establish a deep committment to a person with whom they intend to live the rest of their lives.

I do not question the celebration that the church puts on in the name of this landmark civil change in status. By supporting the civil union, the church wishes to stabilize it, and that is wonderful. But in the end, marriage is and always will be an economic union – a way for people to increase their chances of surviving in the world. When a marriage dissolves, the result (unless one it quite solvent) is economic strife as well as emotional distress.

Marriage currently provides over 1000 civil rights that domestic partnership does not. Some of them have been highlighted by the media, such as the right to visit your loved on on his/her deathbed or sickbed in the hospital. But there is a lot more. It will be an uphill battle against the same forces to legally grant domestic partners what they should have if they want that extra step up in committment normally associated with the desire to create a family.

[My husband, my son] and I are attending a dear friend’s wedding on Saturday (and actually we will also be setting up party tables and I will lend a hand at bartending, my secret second profession). It will be four years from the date that Becky’s beloved partner Kay was killed. Our dear friend in Norway will also be getting married this year, three years after his lovely wife died of cancer. Both of them deserve this happiness, so hard won.

When Kay died, her life insurance went to her parents, who never really had approved of the ways of Kay’s heart. Becky and Kay owned a house together for over ten years, and were the closest thing to a grand old married couple I ever knew.

When Kay bought life insurance, she meant it to go to Becky so that she could continue to live in that house – where mortgage payments were based on two incomes. The insurance company decided not to honor Kay’s designated payee because they were only domestic partners and not married. (In fact, their San Francisco City Hall marriage of February that year had only just been anulled by the state two months before Kay died.)

When my good friend officiated at my sister’s marriage this summer, she quoted the Supreme Court’s decision with pride. At the reception, which was at my house, were the happy sounds of children – lots of them! Lesbian couples are marrying to provide a stable base for their children, much the same reason that my husband and I married. I was proud to be part of a place where children are valued and protected in this manner. And I must do what I can to protect my sister, her wife, their children and the integrity of their marriage. They are the ones needing protecting – not marriage itself!

It will break my heart if Proposition 8 passes. Every time I see a Yes on 8 sign, it is like a hard kick to my innards. For me, it is deeply personal. It is my sister. My sweet niece and nephew. It reminds me of our mutual friends [an interracial couple], who some years ago would be facing the same prejudice.

Thank you for muddling through this. I needed to have said it, again, because it matters to me that you think it over. If I didn’t care so much about you as a friend, I wouldn’t have sent this as I am deeply non-confrontational. I respect your right to make this decision on the basis of your convictions. So I will never ask you how you voted. Don’t want that to taint things. But I had to speak of my heart. And thank you for at least listening.

Best wishes, [my sister’s name]


fight [next in this marraige equality series: Pep talks]

6 thoughts on “Marriage equality and family support”

  1. It is with blurry tear-filled eyes that I type this simple reply. Please give your sister an extra hug for me, for all of us who wish we had siblings, hell any family, who were so well informed, equality minded, and comfortable speaking about these types of issues in anything other than a whisper to anyone other than their LGBT kin and only while noone else is around.

  2. You’re very welcome, L,D. Everyone should receive this kind of loving support from their family. It is poignant to know that folks like you, Shane and Tina-cious, don’t have it (way too many of us don’t; I suspect that the kind of loving support I’ve got is more the exception than the rule — though I hope I’m wrong). This proposition, threatening to roll back a supreme court recognition of equality, is certainly providing all our straight allies a clear opportunity — really more an imperative — to stand up. Doing nothing to support us, at times like these, is very clearly sitting down with hateful intolerance, and ensuring that it wins the day. Since like with so so many things, we aren’t going to win this without the help of our justice-loving straight family, friends, and acquaintances.

    I don’t know, exactly, how to gradually change things. But I’ve got to think that the example of others stepping up has got to inspire. Least I hope so.

    PFLAG makes the education part of it easy:

  3. Just beautiful.

    This letter, and her willingness to let you share it with the world… so full of love and respect and courage.

    I hope her example will indeed inspire others.

  4. You and I only exchanged emails once I think, way back when I was blooming at the mouth of Blogher, but that’s not why I’m writing this.

    I’m writing it because…..I am 40 (that’s only important so you know the time in which I grew up which would be 70’s and 80’s for the most part). My father was gay. He never ever let anyone in our area know it and I have never officially been told that. It didn’t take brain surgery to figure it out though. He was a great man. He had various partners that lived with us over the years under the disguise of roommates and helping pay the rent. However, he was a school teacher who lived severely below his means in our town so that he could travel extensively and pursue his real feelings, the real life he wished he could live.

    Anyway, I am many miles from you in a place where nothing will happen in many years that can be as great as you marrying your partner as anyone else would consider doing. I just wanted you to know though that this was a great piece of writing…I enjoyed it and I wanted to say, AMEN!

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