I Need Marriage Therapy (Or, Why I Want To Be Dan Savage)
I need marriage therapy. Not because my relationship is on the rocks but because I have become obsessed with the unfair truth that 30 percent of gay/lesbian Americans now are able to enjoy full-fledged federal marital rights while the rest of us cannot.
My obsession overwhelms, upsets and angers me on a daily basis, for instance on a recent business trip to Atlanta. After a long day of work, John and I were enjoying drinks and dinner at a bustling bistro called 10th & Piedmont in the heart of the city’s busiest gay neighborhood, Midtown. The crowd was as festive as the staff was friendly, and laughter rang so loudly through the high-ceilinged room that we could barely carry on a conversation. Which allowed time for my obsession to rear its head deep within mine.
Almost none of these people, not the cheerful customers, the hard-working servers, or the countless gay Atlantans passing by the restaurant’s huge windows can wed the one they love and receive federal marriage benefits. No LGBT couple living anywhere in Georgia can reap the benefits of marriage, the same for all of us living in every southern state.
Why is it that only cold-weather states are warm-hearted enough to have marriage equality? Why can’t at least one state with mild winters respect our rights? Okay, we now have California (again), but loving gay couples live in all 50 states, and we are all American citizens required to pay taxes so that we may share the blessings of a society supposedly based on equality for all.
My obsession struck again the other night when Bill Maher interviewed gay journalist Dan Savage, who excitedly boasted that he could now die in peace because the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling means he will be able to pass his estate to his husband tax-free and he can rest assured that his husband would receive his Social Security spousal death benefit. I kept waiting for Savage, who lives in Washington State, to mention that less than a third of America’s gay couples are so fortunate, but he never uttered a word about the plight of the rest of us. He was too giddy, acting like marriage equality is a fait accompli across our land. Yeah, right, Dan.
“Calm down,” some of my friends told me a tad testily after they read my last column in which I reported how the Obama administration cannot simply ignore federal statutes to extend key marital benefits to those of us who live in oppressive states like Florida (and by oppressive I am not speaking of the heat). “Give the Administration a few months,” one friend told me. “The President has great minds looking for a way to make the Supreme Court’s decision apply to all of us, so don’t pick up stakes and move too quickly.”
Other friends have suggested we share a moving truck.
Oh me of little faith! I would love for my optimistic comrades to be right, but my scrutiny of Social Security law (as only an obsessive would do) persuades me that it will take another trip to the Supreme Court, likely years from now, before we all have the same marriage rights. And at age 66, my patience is thinning faster than my hair. I just want to to be Dan Savage.
However, there is suddenly a bit of hope emanating from a most unlikely place. I would not have thought that an end run around the law was even a remote possibility until the Republican-dominated House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) announced this month that, in light of the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling, it will no longer defend a statute that denies veterans’ benefits to married same-sex couples. House Republicans, of course, had spent millions of taxpayer dollars defending DOMA.
This is a potentially seismic shift if the Republicans are saying they will refuse to defend other similar laws or lawsuits that prohibit gay/lesbian marriage rights. Of course, it would be better if they would work to repeal the statutes that deny us federal benefits rather than saying they will ignore the laws that remain on the books. But their new attitude just might give President Obama an opening to circumvent existing statutes that deny federal benefits to married gay/lesbian couples in non-marriage-equality states. While the laws would continue to say one thing, government policy and practice could be to the contrary. Hmmm….
The biggest problem with such a circumvention of law or with any government policy set by administrative or executive order is that a future president could with a few strokes of a pen reverse it. Can you imagine the chaos if federal marital benefits were to be rewarded and taken away based on the mood swing du jour of Washington’s leadership?
But there I’m sounding pessimistic again. I know it’s not healthy to dwell on the negative, so for the rest of this column I will try to rebuild my positivity by noting a few bits of hopeful news that have been making headlines for LGBT people domestically and abroad.
Raising Kane: Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that she won’t defend her state in a recently filed federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of its ban on same-sex marriages. Kane called the prohibition “wholly unconstitutional.” The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Pennsylvania on behalf of 23 residents, including ten couples, a widow and two children, naming Kane and Gov. Tom Corbett as defendants. Kane said she was withdrawing from the case “because I endorse equality and anti-discrimination laws.”
However, unlike when then-California Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to defend the backers of Proposition 8, Kane’s decision does not mean that Pennsylvania will be unable to defend its ban on same-sex marriage. As Kane acknowledges, Pennsylvania General Counsel James D. Schultz will represent the governor in the suit.
ENDA the Line?: Even though same-sex marriage is now legal in 13 states and DC, gay folks in 29 states can still be fired simply for having a picture of their spouse or partner on their office desk.
In those states, it is still perfectly legal for an employer to dismiss a worker simply for being homosexual. The number is 33 states if you’re transgender. But that may finally be about to change.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, by a margin of 15 to 7. All Democrats supported it, along with three Republicans: Orrin Hatch of Utah, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who recently stated her support for same-sex marriage.
Sponsors hope the bill will reach the Senate floor this fall. ENDA has been introduced numerous times but has not had a floor vote since 2007, when it passed the House by 235-184. Although the House approved the measure at that time, the outcome is less certain this year as the political makeup of the House became more conservative in 2010. The bill is given higher hopes in the Senate.
Hail to the Queens! Her majesty Queen Elizabeth signed her Parliament’s new law recognizing same-sex marriages throughout Great Britain. As one of my friends posted on Facebook that day, “How refreshing it would be to live in a country that realizes all of its citizens have the same marriage rights, not just those who live in select shires.”