Thursday, October 26, 2006

The clouds are parting

A ray of sunshine from the States: the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that it is against the state's constitution not to give committed same-sex couples the same rights at married couples. They're leaving it up to the legislature to decide whether to call it marriage or civil union or George.

I surprised myself when I discovered how deeply I care about the issue of same-sex marriage. When I came out and met my wife (lo, these many years now), I pragmatically recognized that this meant I could never be married. Have a committment ceremony, perhaps. Replicate some of the rights with legal documents. Have a family, if we wanted. But I figured that marriage was off the table.

Then some little things cracked my resolve. Made me think things might change. It started in Hawaii, the first state where the legal argument was advanced that the state constitution was written in such a way as to rule out discriminating against gay couples. While it didn't pan out as I'd hoped, though I believe that Hawaii has at least limited domestic partner rights, the seed was planted. It took several years and several cases that did not really have legs.

And then Vermont. My wife and I did not rush up there for a civil union. It wasn't a marriage, it wouldn't translate across borders. But we rejoiced for what it symbolized. A crack. A foot in the door. Change.

Massachusetts was the big one for us. The joy was tempered a little because the state attorney general found an old law on the books, originally intended to keep out-of-state interracial couples from marrying in Massachusetts, that said the state would not marry people from other states if their state would not recognize their marriage. But we both like Massachusetts and had practically decided to simply move there first, worry about jobs second.

And then the presidential election happened. The rhetoric from the right was scary, we felt like our family was under attack. Even liberals were making it very clear that they believed marriage was between a man and a woman, though they might entertain extending benefits to same-sex couples.

Yet in the time that I'd started to realize there was some small possibility that I might be able to get married, I'd found that I cared. A lot more than I'd expected. It mattered to me. Not just the rights, but also the word.

In time, we ended up in Canada. Where we are really, truly married. We do not know where we want to go next, but we would at least like to feel that we have the option of returning home. Despite my opinions on the language of the matter, we would be willing to move to a state with civil unions. Each state that extends benefits is another opportunity. Another state that suddenly seems safe and welcoming.

Our move to Canada was entirely voluntary, but it sometimes it feels like exile nonetheless. We very well may decide to stay up north, but knowing that we would have some options in the States soothes the sting that set in nearly two years ago.


Mad Hatter said...

Although I have been a staunch supporter of gay marriage in Canada, I didn't really know what the lay of the land was in the US. Thanks for this.

Mouse said...

Election day may bring changes in Colorado, but it's uncertain what they will be--the voters have a choice of one item setting up civil unions/marriage and another item banning all recognition of such relationships. It will get really interesting if both somehow pass.

And then there's the case of California. Their legislature passed a bill legalizing civil unions (or mariage, can't remember the exact wording) and Arnold vetoed it with the reasoning that it shouldn't be decided by the legislature, but by the courts. The courts recently dismissed a case on the issue, saying it shouldn't be decided by the courts, but by the legislature.

So many circular arguments, but at least there's some movement in the right direction.