Equality Is No Longer Just a Concept
The last decade in the LGBT equality fight in Delaware and elsewhere has been momentous. We all know the gains made, including anti-discrimination, civil unions, and marriage equality. Celebrations following state legislature votes were loud and proud. Weddings abounded with caterers, wedding planners, DJs, squabbling relatives, gowns, tuxes, the works.
We cheered for Edie Windsor and the Supreme Court’s overturning of the heinous Defense of Marriage Act. Couples who’d been together two, three, four decades got married; young, newly-together couples married with all the requisite pomp, circumstance, first dances, and wedding cake in the face photos.
But what did this actually mean in real life? Past the ceremonies and parties, and joy of being recognized by the federal government as equally deserving the right to marry, what happened? What part of the testimony, repeated over and over for years, about the rights marriage would bestow on our minority, did I actually get to see?
My wife and I jointly filed taxes on April 15, as married as anybody else in the eyes of the Delaware Division of Revenue and the Internal Revenue Service. Good start.
When a dear friend lost his partner of over 40 years, he and I went to the funeral home together. After the funeral director explained the services offered, he took out some documents and asked “Which of you is next of kin?”
My friend quietly slipped the marriage certificate across the table.
“That’s all we need,” said the somber gentleman.
How different it might have been decades ago. Actually, only months ago. There were certainly residual butterflies in my stomach. I wondered if my grieving friend would be treated with respect and given permission to do whatever was necessary to deal with the business of death. He was. But for many of us, it may take a long time for the fear and silently raised hackles to disappear.
Likewise, when my friend called Social Security to let them know of his mate’s passing, we were both delighted with the professionalism of the response and the survivor benefit adjustment in his social security payment. It was one of the rights we sought in our testimony for marriage equality, now come home, in real dollars and cents.
For my part, when my wife Bonnie was under medical treatment in Annapolis as well as here at Beebe and various doctors’ offices, we clearly saw a positive change in attitudes. In all matters medical, I was treated with utmost respect and spousal privilege.
Naturally this thrilled me. But not so much when one of the doctors just assumed I’d want to stay in the room holding my wife’s hand for a procedure involving blood. The good news: the patient was distracted from the procedure by worrying her spouse would pass out. The bad news: I came ridiculously close to doing so.
Even in this world where HIPPA privacy reigns, I was able to take information directly from Bonnie’s doctors, medical personnel and medical billing offices. There was no phone call I could not take, or paper I could not sign.
Sure, you could tell there was disapproval lurking in the eyes of a very few people whose paths we crossed, but it was so far the exception I found the whole experience remarkable. And though I could sense their religious or political objections, I was delighted that the law was forcing them to treat us equally. Revenge is sweet.
The truth is, so many people genuinely congratulated us on our right to get married and the fact that we had actually gotten married, we could feel the paradigm shift like an earthquake.
Giddy with equality, I knew I would eventually meet my waterloo and figured it would be with our health insurance company. That enormous bureaucracy, with its foreign call centers and reputation for bad customer service would be the one to burst my bubble.
Nope. When, after choosing one, two, or three, from six different menus, I finally got through to a human being in Mumbai, all I had to do was say I was the member’s spouse and I was given access to all the info I wanted, the status of all bills, and the specifics of Bonnie’s coverage.
Of course, spousal privilege did not keep me from being stuck on hold for an eon and suffering tinny classical music. We wanted equality and I am happy to say we are now, by law, destined to be treated as badly as everyone else.
I can’t speak for other folks who have spent the last decades advocating for marriage equality, but in my legislative testimony and letters to state and national representatives, my passion was always real, but my words were often clinical. “Access for hospital visits, social security survivor benefits, 1000 federal rights, taxation equality…”
While I was talking or writing, I never actually pictured sitting with a grieving friend and an undertaker or signing permission for surgery while my wife lay sedated on a gurney. And that’s probably a good thing.
Songwriters Kander and Ebb, who wrote Cabaret, probably said it best.
“How the world can change, it can change like that, due to one little word, married.”
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach, For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries, and her newest book Time Fries—Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach.