Most married couples like to tell the story of how they met, and I’m no exception, so here goes.
One spring night a six-foot drag queen in high heels named Chantal led me across a crowded dance floor to a quiet, thoughtful-looking man standing on his own in a gay club in Connecticut.
Drag queens aren’t famous for their subtlety, so she put my hand in his and just said, “Baby, this is your destiny.”
There are a lot of things they don’t teach you when you’re studying in high school in Ireland. One useful nugget is that drag queens make terrific matchmakers.
That first star-crossed meeting between my partner and myself happened over 12 years ago.
A year later we moved to New York City in a big lumbering U-Haul to our new apartment where we’ve lived together very happily ever since.
In most every respect it’s your typical happy-ever-after tale, and I am as happy now as any man has a right to be.
But to this day, whenever anyone asks, I always call my significant other my “partner” because the term boyfriend, I feel, implies that we’re still dating (after 12 years, I think I’ve made up my mind.)
Of course the word “husband” still has a fairly loaded cultural significance. If I used it to describe my relationship to my partner it would suggest that we have rights and entitlements in law that we actually don’t (and it’s not for want of asking for them).
You’d be surprised how often this legal murkiness pops up. Whenever I fill out an application in a store or see a doctor for any kind of service I see boxes on forms marked married, separated or single.
I'm the invisible man
What this is telling me, over and over again, is that legally, my relationship doesn’t exist. I’m the invisible man. I’m so outside the mainstream that there isn’t language to describe me.
Because I love the wrong person, you see. There’s actually a wrong way to love other people, apparently.
And of course the Defense of Marriage Act which President Clinton signed, and now says he regrets, means that no state in the union needs to treat a relationship between two persons of the same sex as a marriage, even when it’s legal in another state.
The watchdogs of the federal government, who are not usually famous for the strength of their own marriages, have decided that only one man and one woman can get hitched. Everyone else is permanently out of luck.
If you’re heterosexual and married and you’re reading this, I am willing to bet you’d feel incensed if a state or federal government decided that your relationship was suddenly invalid.
Unprecedented legal limbo
But I bet you’d be apoplectic if your neighbors and your own state voted by a tiny margin to prevent you from getting married in the first place.
That’s what Proposition 8 did in California last November, that’s why it caused so much anger in the gay community. It was a tipping point that startled as many straight people as gay ones by its passing.
Overnight 18,000 previously legal same sex marriages entered an unprecedented legal limbo, and all future same sex marriages in the state were indefinitely postponed. That this was happening on the same night Barack Obama was elected president made it feel like living in two separate Americas simultaneously, with startlingly different outcomes, superimposed, one over the other.
Now I understand some people of faith have religious objections to unions they may see as unfortunate or even sinful. But I am not asking for their approval, and I’m certainly not insisting that they perform their religious ceremonies to mark my union.
I pay my taxes
Same-sex marriages aren’t compulsory. Muslims don’t sue to have Catholic priests or rabbis marry them; gays don’t go to parties where they’re not invited either.
In any case, I’m not religious. I simply want my relationship recognized as a legal union in law to avail of the same legal rights and entitlements enjoyed by other married couples.
It’s really that simple. I pay my taxes. I deserve the same rights.
But the reality is that for years I’ve been paying the same taxes (more actually) for far less rights.
If, for example, I had actually married my American partner in Massachusetts before I got my visa to live and work in this country, I would have been deported. You read that right.
But my marriage isn't good enough
Since the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, my Massachusetts wedding would have indicated an intention to stay here permanently, and that would have meant I would be forced to leave. Hilarious irony, isn’t it?
For heterosexual couples, of course, the opposite happens -- it’s a mandatory visa for the foreign born partner. Everyone I mention this to, even people who don’t support marriage equality, see the blatant discrimination at work here.
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