There’s Still A Long Way To Go For Gay Rights

Today is the day when the first gay marriages are being performed in New York. That’s a huge step forward and it’s great, but we need to remember that we still have a LONG way to go before we’ve got equality. I’ve been having a back and forth on Facebook with a classmate from grade school (I went to a very conservative Baptist school). One of his comments was “So you have gay marriage in New York, why are you complaining?” Let me explain why I’m still complaining…

Dan and I have been married since 2005. The problem is that our marriage is just not on the same legal footing as straight marriages. I’m being asked to be happy and content with the fact that a state here or there recognizes my marriage. But meantime…

  • I couldn’t give Dan a green card. What if his immigration status had been more tenuous? He would have had to leave the country and there’s a chance I couldn’t have followed him if he came from a country that didn’t recognize me as his spouse. (That’s academic for us, but isn’t for many bi-national gay couples). [Dan did finally get his green card this year, but the issue is that he should have gotten it 10+ ago based on his relationship to me.]
  • We’ve had huge legal bills to keep Dan in the country.
    • Before getting his green card Dan used to be here under NAFTA and we had to go through the process of getting him approved by immigration every year. The first few years we used a lawyer ($$) and then we had to do use a lawyer again after 9/11 when things got tighter… Very little of that would have been necessary if our relationship had been recognized and he had gotten a green card by being my spouse.
    • We had to incorporate our business twice because we did it wrong the first time. Immigrants aren’t allowed to be owners in the companies that sponsor them for work visas/statuses. Before 9/11 the INS didn’t really care, but after 9/11 we had to reincorporate the company ($$) so I was the sole owner.
    • We had to spend $5,000 on rather complicated wills. Since he wasn’t allowed to own the company that sponsored him if something happened to me we had to set things up so a trust would take over the company until he had his green card.
  • Health insurance has been an ongoing issue. 
    • In one company the (lesbian) general manager got rid of domestic partner benefits somewhat by accident (she didn’t realize the company had them since no one was using them). The executives over her were not gay friendly but luckily she was. When she realized her mistake she gave Dan a job so he’d have health insurance (he was already freelancing at the company). We just lucked out – most bosses don’t go that far for their gay employees.
    • When Dan was at other companies that weren’t so gay friendly I had to get health insurance through our company. That cost us an extra $800/month. While we could afford it, a lot of other gay guys and lesbians can’t. And for god’s sake – there were other things I would have rather done with the $800/mo.
    • Even now with Dan working for a gay-friendly state agency (CUNY) I get health insurance, but because the federal government doesn’t recognize our relationship Dan has to pay federal tax on my health coverage as if it were extra income. That tax is not imposed on straight couples.
  • Dan has had to do particular types of work to stay in the country. Since Dan’s Canadian he’s eligible to work here under NAFTA, but he had to do particular types of work – namely graphic design. If I had been able to give him a green card he probably would have pursued some other career option or had more time to pursue art. Only now that CUNY got him his green card last year does he have that flexibility.
  • If we’re hospitalized while traveling we may not be able to make medical decisions for each other. This is potentially a big one. Because there are places where our marriage is not recognized we may not be able to make medical decisions for each other in an emergency. We have executed heath care proxies and living wills but our attorney tells us they’re only valid in the state in which they’re signed. Other states can choose not to honor them.

So while it’s great New York is doing gay marriage now, unfortunately those marriages in many respects still aren’t equal to the same marriage performed in the same place for a straight couple.

My classmate from grade school went on to say “Actually, I feel bad for the situation you find yourself in, but as far as I vote, I answer to a higher authority than you and Dan. It’s not a personal insult.” Thing is, when you can look someone straight in the face and ask them to sit in the back of the bus, how are they supposed to interpret it? He, and people like him, are denying me my civil rights. They’re not necessarily bad people, they just don’t get how offensive their actions are to people like me. At one point he said “Let me ask you this, if you could get a green card would that make you happy? If you could have a ceremony in a liberal church would that make you happy?” What he doesn’t understand is that throwing scraps my way will never make me happy. I don’t want a little here and a little there. I want equality. We keep making progress (like gay marriage in New York), but we’re still not equal.

When you run across people who are against gay rights, please challenge them on their beliefs. They need their world view widened and you can make a difference…

3 Responses to “There’s Still A Long Way To Go For Gay Rights”

  1. Dean July 24, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    You have very well stated why I’m living in the UK now. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to move back to the US so long as Jay and I are together. Thanks for voicing this.

    Cheers, Dean

  2. Doug July 24, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    Good article, Jay. I find the layers of jurisdictions down there quite confusing – I didn’t realize the federal government still had so far to go. I believe it will eventually happen but it’s slow.

    • Jay Harper July 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

      In fact 33(?) states now have laws on the books saying those states cannot recognize same sex marriages from other states. What’s funny is my “friend” from grade school acknowledges that it’s just a matter of time before there’s gay marriage everywhere, but he’s simultaneously hoping for an amendment to the US constitution that invalidates all gay marriages everywhere.

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