If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1 squillion times: The way we will win equality is by telling our personal stories. And yet, all too often recently, I realize the shortcomings of telling those stories on our own behalf. We can’t be viewed as objective and disinterested parties in the fight for our own equality. Too many people view this fight as completely selfish and self-serving. A woman even told me once that LGBT people are like a teenage boys who are begging for a car of their own: We don’t really need a car, we have substitutes for our own car that are just as good, and having our own car creates more hassles and risks for others than it benefits us.
No, I am not kidding. She actually said that.
So, when it comes to making headway in the fight for equality, the most powerful stories are proving to be the stories told by our straight allies, both the stories they weave about themselves and their own thoughts on equality and marriage equality, but also the stories they tell about us. They are amazingly eloquent. And, they have no dog in the fight. For a straight couple, who can get married without impediment, to stand up and say, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, it isn’t American for us to be able to marry when some of our friends, family, and colleagues cannot.,” I mean, how do you argue with that?
Last night, I attended a house-party fundraiser for Washington United for Marriage and the Approve Ref. 74 campaign. It was hosted by a good friend, not only to me personally, but to several of my other LGBT friends and also the LGBT community as a whole. She has done remarkable things professionally, too. Most recently, she has played an instrumental role in helping a great, Pacific Northwest company be more inclusive and take a very public stand about LGBT equality. She is a straight woman, and she and her partner have been together for many years. They are not married.
Now, I am a bitter, jaded, cynical gay who has been involved in the fight for equality very intimately for more than a decade. I think I’ve heard it all–every argument for and against equality and marriage equality in particular. Last night, however, I was nearly moved to tears by something she said. Something so simple and yet so fundamental to the fight for marriage that I am ASTOUNDED that I hadn’t heard someone say before or hadn’t, frankly, thought of it myself.
She spoke for a few minutes about the struggles that all couples have: from financial to health to family to professional and on and on. But then she said the thing that put me back on my heels:
I hate to admit this, especially in a group of people where so many of you cannot get married and have to go through all sorts of machinations to legitimize your relationships. But, when the going gets tough–financially, health, house, kids, work–and questions come up about my relationship with my partner, I never explain. I simply say the words “married” or “husband” or “wife” or “spouse,” and that resolves any problems. We aren’t married. We have no license. And yet if something happened to him, and he was at the hospital or worse and I showed up, all I would have is to say is, “I am his wife.” No one would question me. No one would blink an eye. There would be no paperwork to fill out. No questions to answer. No explanations to give. It would not be true, and yet, in that moment, it wouldn’t matter and there would be no ramifications for anyone by telling that white lie.
She is exactly right. The word “marriage” has meaning. Important meaning. And not just because certain legal rights come with it. In fact, after last night, I believe that the other benefits–the non-legal benefits–that come with the word and status of “marriage” are more important. It is the cultural and societal acceptance and understanding that is inherent in the legal relationship of marriage that are as critical to equality as the legal benefits and obligations that will be mine when Referendum 74 is approved in November.
In the course of writing this very blog post tonight, another eloquent straight person wrote a frighteningly similar post about her own relationship, On Relationships, the Trouble with Titles, and Marriage Equality. Frightening, because perhaps she and I share a brain. Which should frighten her more than it does me.
On the issue of marriage equality, she, like the host of last night’s fundraiser, is exactly right:
We are keenly aware that even having this decision [to marry] is a privilege of status, gender, and sexual orientation. Even having the choice is a mark of access, ability, and acceptance.
. . . Think about what it means to be a person who is married, as opposed to someone with a boyfriend or a partner. Think about how you would feel if you didn’t have the choice–if your relationship could never be validated in that way.
I love you, straight people. Thanks for taking up our battle for equality. We cannot do this without you.
Now, one more thing about last night that all but one of you will understand (maybe two), so if you don’t think you’re that person, you can stop here.
To my friend, my partner in activism and crime and laughter, my friend who attended the event last night and without whom I certainly would never have even met our hosts: If I had known that your life was literally minutes away from being changed forever last night when I hugged you goodbye, I would never have let go. I would not have been able to. I would not have wanted to. I love you. Life is filled with struggles, some of which we take on willingly ourselves and some of which are cruelly handed to us by forces outside of our control. I am here for you, no matter the struggle, and I can’t wait to cause more trouble and laugh together soon. I am thinking of you constantly and am here for you always.