Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Year Ago Today We Married: Continuing to Give Witness

On this day a year ago, Steve and I married in my home state of Arkansas — our home state, after we returned here in 1997 when we were providing care for my mother in the final years of her life. Readers who have followed this blog for some time now will know of our marriage last May. My point in remembering it today is not so much to announce it (in retrospect, as an anniversary, I mean), as to continue giving witness about what it means for many gay people in the U.S. to live our ordinary, everyday lives in parts of the country determined to complexify those lives.

Recently, as the U.S. Supreme Court prepared to hear the case about same-sex marriage, Chris Morley pointed out to me that the British paper The Guardian was gathering photos of the marriages of same-sex couples in the U.S., for one of its "Guardian Witness" columns. Chris encouraged me to submit photos of Steve's and my marriage last year — to continue giving witness — and I did so (albeit reluctantly, since I don't like facing photos of myself). The photo at the head of the posting is one of several I sent in to The Guardian. The whole set of photos I submitted is here, in case you're interested. 

As the caption for the photo above notes, it shows our friend Judge (and Reverend) Wendell Griffen solemnizing our marriage at our county courthouse on 12 May 2014 (the photo was taken by Marcus Rachard, who was there documenting the day and taking photos of the marriages of several of his friends).

Giving witness: here's some of what has happened in our lives, in our state, since we married last year. As you may know, within days after Judge Chris Piazza knocked down the state ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional and some counties began permitting same-sex couples to marry (most refused to do so), the state university system, which happens to be Steve's employer, announced that same-sex spouses of system employees who had just been allowed to marry would be permitted to claim healthcare benefits.

And then the state Supremes slapped a stay on the marriages, and the offer of healthcare benefits to same-sex spouses of employees of the state university system was yanked away. In November, the state Supremes heard oral arguments in a case about the ban on same-sex marriage in the case, and they are thought to have reached a decision about the matter — but have not handed down that decision. The Arkansas Supreme Court remains silent about the issue, leaving all of us who married a year ago in a legal limbo.

It's widely believed that the state Supremes want to throw this hot potato into the hands of the U.S. Supremes and let them deal with it, thus letting the state Supremes (they have their careers to think about, after all) off the hook. An uncourageous decision, in the extreme, one that brings disrepute to the entire judicial system in the state . . . . 

In a parallel judicial action last November, a U.S. district judge, Kristine Baker, upheld Judge Piazza's ruling that the ban on same-sex marriage in Arkansas is unconstitutional, but then stayed her judgment — and that stay remains in effect. As readers of this blog will also know, meanwhile, in last fall's election cycle, the state's voters elected a crop of Republican legislators, many of them with hard-right religious and political leanings, and a Republican governor, and the state's current Republican leadership has done everything possible to make life miserable for LGBT citizens of the state.

One of the first acts of the new GOP legislature in its last session was to pass a law prohibiting any municipality in the state from enacting ordinances that protect LGBT citizens from discrimination. In reaction to that legislative action, the governing bodies of several cities in the state, including our hometown of Little Rock, have now passed ordinances (rather mild and limited ones, but still . . .) protecting LGBT rights. One of these, in the mountain resort town of Eureka Springs, is now being challenged, and is being voted on today, as I write this posting. A similar action in the state's university city, Fayetteville, last fall resulted in local voters knocking down an ordinance passed by the city government to protect LGBT citizens from discrimination.

The Duggar family helped lead the movement to vote down the Fayetteville ordinance, and plastered the community with robocalls spreading disinformation about transgender people as pedophiles, in order to gin up fear as the city's voters went to the polls. They had strong support in many churches for their disinformation and fear-mongering campaign.

Readers will also know that, at the same time that Indiana gained national attention with its "religious freedom" bill attacking the rights of LGBT citizens, the Arkansas legislature passed a similar bill, which Governor Asa Hutchinson then refused to sign. The bill was sent back to the legislature for a "fix" and enacted.

From where Steve and I stand, all of this is pretty much like watching a ping-pong game in which we happen to be the ping-pong balls. One day, our marriage is legally recognized. The next day, it's no longer there, in the eyes of the state's legal system.

One day, we have rights. The next day, those rights are gone.

We count today. But not tomorrow.

I turned 65 this year, and trying to figure out how to sign up for Medicare when I have legally married in a state that does not recognize the legality of my marriage while the federal government does so has been nightmarish. Since my husband's employer does not grant me spousal benefits, though those had been offered for a few days after the door to same-sex marriage opened here last year, I cannot consider the option of my spouse's insurance coverage as I have made my Medicare choices — though it's possible that the option to claim spousal benefits will be there all over again in a month, if the national Supremes knock down bans on same-sex marriage nationwide.

But can a person then shift the Medicare choices he or she has just made a few months ago, based on the best options available at that time? There have been these complex questions to consider as we make our way through the legal limbo, and then questions about how to file tax returns at the state and federal level, when the state does not recognize our marriage but the federal government does recognize it.`

Having this done to us by people claiming to be acting on behalf of the Deity and his incarnate Son Jesus Christ: it's more than a little chagrining, as you might imagine. We had hoped, I suppose, for a time in our lives when we would not be treated as objects in this way — by people of faith and unscrupulous political leaders determined to benefit politically from playing to the prejudices and fears of said people of faith. 

We had hoped for a time when we might enjoy, with some peace and freedom, the benefits of being legally married, after 44 years together in which that option was not possible for us — not in this state, at least. 

That time is not yet here. It's possible that the U.S. Supremes will assure that it arrives for LGBT citizens across the land with whatever judgment they hand down next month.

But, then again, it's also possible that, in their infinite wisdom, they'll choose to permit LGBT people to continue to be used as human ping-pong balls in malicious political and religious games.

Whatever their verdict, we intend to keep on living as best we can, faithful to our belief that love matters more than anything else in the world, and that no one can take love from the hearts and souls of those determined to continue loving, to continue being who God has made them to be, no matter what laws the tormenters pass or what racks they set up to break the bodies and spirits of those they wish to torment.

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