Undoubtedly many of my friends feel bombarded by all of the rainbows, all of the repetitive expressions of joy and celebration over the Supreme Court decision on marriage. But consider how we have been bombarded with your symbols that have excluded us all of our lives.
Every time you posted about a wedding or an anniversary, it was a reminder that until very recently (and even today in LA) we didn’t have that right, our celebrations had to be held in secret, if at all. Or we were relegated to celebrations of a lesser status (civil union). We were constantly reminded of being denied that simple opportunity to make a public commitment to our life partners and share our joy with family and friends. And because we couldn’t marry, we couldn’t have wedding anniversaries.
Every time you posted about your spouse’s illness or injury, it was a reminder that if one of us were ill or injured, we didn’t have hospital visitation rights, wouldn’t be given information by doctors or hospital staff, couldn’t make necessary medical decisions.
Every time you posted about new children in your family or your child’s school play, it was a reminder that we’ve been denied the right to adopt because our society would rather see children live without parents than place them in loving homes where they might be cared for by two men or two women. And if we had children, it was a reminder that we had to hide to protect them from those who would bully them, or worse.
Every time you posted about your teen’s prom, it reminded us that our children might be denied the right to take whomever they chose to their prom or that they might never make it to their prom because gay teens face such higher risks of violence and suicide.
Every time you posted about your office holiday party, it reminded us that we risked losing our jobs if our boss knew the truth about us.
Every time you posted your grief as you mourned the loss of your spouse, it reminded us that our loss wasn’t recognized because we didn’t have a spouse, we only had a “friend”.
We have been bombarded by your postings that remind us (as if we needed to be reminded) that we have been denied the rights you enjoy.
You probably didn’t mean to do this but nevertheless, it has been our reality. Likewise, we don’t mean to flaunt anything in your face, we are simply rejoicing that we have finally been granted one of the rights you take for granted. And we’re rejoicing even though it is only one of those rights.
Yesterday started out like any other … I was sitting on the couch with my morning coffee reading the news when Phoebe (our 1 1/2 year old Jack Russell/Border Terrier mix) jumped off the couch, ran into the middle of the room and began to vomit. Lovely. But then as we began to clean it up, she repeated this two more times. It didn’t seem to be too much of a problem and there wasn’t much we could do at this point. I had to go to work and my wife had to go to the eye doctor.
Around 11:15 a young man came to my office at the church looking for a clergy person to discuss some theological questions with which he was wrestling. He was facing a personal crisis and was battling with his faith. Since there were no clergy available I spent a bit of time with him, listening to his troubles and his questions, and reassuring him that there was nothing wrong with questioning and that our clergy would be happy to talk with him as soon as someone was available. In the midst of our conversation my phone rang – perhaps not the most opportune moment for the theme song from “The Big Bang Theory” to begin to play but the young man was unfazed and commented that he watched the show as well.
The call was from my wife. She was still in Philadelphia after seeing the eye doctor and was quite upset. The pressure in her eye was high and there is concern about her optic nerve. New medication, she has to go back again in another week and oh, by the way, it looks like surgery is going to be necessary. I know this worries her and now I’m concerned that she has to drive over an hour to get home.
The next time the phone rings I’m expecting it to be her telling me she’s home safe. But instead, she’s calling to tell me that Phoebe is still vomiting and she’ll be going to the vet at 3:30. I have a 4:30 dentist appointment so I can’t go with her. We text back and forth while I’m in the dentist’s chair — x-rays and bloodwork – what are they looking for? – an obstruction or pancreatitis — and as my worry for our baby is increasing so are the dollar signs in my head. Just as I arrive at the vet she’s ready to go. It’s good news, there’s no obstruction and she doesn’t have pancreatitis – whew, no surgery – but they still don’t know what it is. So they’ve hydrated her, given us a can Rx dog food, three medications and lots of instructions. We get home and Phoebe has a little dinner (she would’ve liked more) but she still isn’t herself and just curls up next to us. We’re all glad the day is over.
This morning Phoebe still isn’t quite herself although she does seem a little better. So it should be a good day. On my way to work I start thinking about yesterday and suddenly the tears start to flow. Were they tears of sadness or frustration? Well, they were sort of a mix of joy, of frustration and of sadness. I had started thinking about the experience being in the vet’s office yesterday. It really was a little thing that most people take for granted but we know we cannot always take such things for granted. The people in the office were so kind (as they always are) but it just struck me how they treated us exactly the same way they would have treated any other married couple. There was no derision, no sideways glances, no “Oh, you must be sisters” comments. It was just a normal and natural interaction between the vet’s staff and a couple whose dog was ill. How odd that a simple common courtesy could start the tears flowing.
On one hand, the tears were tears of joy – that we can be recognized and treated with the same respect that other married couples, or even unmarried couples, can take for granted every day.
But there was also a sadness in those tears, knowing that we haven’t always been able to expect such respectful treatment and that, in fact, we still can’t expect it everywhere. If we have to go to PA for the eye surgery, our marriage will not be recognized there. I’ll simply be a friend with no legal rights rather than the spouse that I am. Yes, there is a sadness from the twenty years of not being able to expect to be treated with a simple common courtesy, twenty years of being told and being treated as though we were somehow less worthy of such dignity. And there is a sadness that still, while we have been blessed to be granted this respect, this dignity, these rights around our home in NJ, we know that elsewhere, there are those who are granted more legal rights to ignore and deny our legal married status, to take away our rights and treat us with disdain.
Have you ever been acutely aware of when you and your spouse were treated with respect as spouses or even simply as a couple deserving of respect? Is it the kind of thing that presses into your consciousness every day? It seems a little thing, to be treated with the same respect as any other couple, married or unmarried. It may be a little thing, but it’s a little thing that can mean so much to those for whom it has long been denied.
Yes, it’s always the little things – the little things that can make an ordinary day feel like it’s spiraling out of control, and the little things that can make the difference between feeling like an outcast and feeling accepted as a fully equal human being.
It’s always the little things, whether it is the straw that broke the camel’s back or a simple word that can empower the disenfranchised. What little thing might you do today? Will your words, your actions, even your presence break a camel’s back or will you empower someone who has been disenfranchised?