The key to this project’s success is that it focuses on civility, on acknowledging and engaging anyone who is interested in the issue, regardless of their background, opinions or beliefs. It takes a profound and contemporary concern and wraps it in the timeless resonance of religious freedom.
In his call for a national conversation on same-gender marriage, Rev. Gaddy speaks to the 1,138 statutory provisions available to couples who have the right to marry, “legal provisions rightly expected by all married persons regardless of their respective sexual orientations, in a democracy committed to equality and justice.” In his footnotes he takes the conversation away from an “abstract debate regarding law” and speaks to real “flesh and blood human beings who are experiencing debilitating discrimination” by sharing a story about a lesbian couple who had been in a committed relationship for 23 years. That is my story and I would like to share it with you.
Several years ago I experienced a life-threatening medical emergency. The prognosis was not good. In fact, the mortality rate for the surgery I would undergo was quite high. We spent what could have been the last day of my life with lawyers in order to be sure that my life-partner could make medical decisions, end-of-life-decisions and burial decisions and to ensure that she would be my beneficiary. In all the things that mattered: who would be there with me, who would make decisions, who the surgeons would speak to, we were forced to draw up legal papers that assured us that it would be my life partner. If we were legally married, there would have been no question.
I would have preferred to spend that time in other ways. As much as I liked my attorney, she was not the person I wanted to spend that last day with.
I was fortunate. Not only in that I survived the surgery, but that I had the resources, connections and time to make sure that everything was in order. A dear friend of mine had died a few years earlier. It was sudden; she was rushed to the emergency room with an aneurysm. Her partner of sixteen years was barred from her bedside because she was not ‘family’ and so my friend died among strangers. The funeral home would not allow her partner to make any of the preparations and the cemetery refused to let her make any decisions. My friend’s ex-husband, from whom she had been divorced for many years, was brought in to make the final arrangements.
Every same-gender couple I know lives with the fear that who they are as a couple, as a family, will not be respected in their most vulnerable time, and that fear grows with every passing year. Yes, we put together our powers of attorney, our paperwork and our legal machinations. But at the end of the day, until we are allowed to marry and until that contract of marriage is recognized across this nation, our relationships and our families will continue to be viewed as somehow ‘less than’ and who we are will continue to be devalued.
This is not a political discourse, it is about how millions of Americans live their lives and the rights they have to do so as they choose. It is about whether or not the Constitution protects me and my family – an American family, like any other. It is about whether “with liberty and justice for all” truly means all Americans or whether there is some inherent limit to that term that excludes me.
The quiet conversations and public debates that have begun with this project must continue and must benefit from as many contributions of thought and opinion as possible. Please download a copy of Same-Gender Marriage and Religious Freedom or email your contact information to [email protected] to receive a hard copy in the mail. Engage your neighbors, friends, colleagues and family. And please, join the conversation today. A discussion about the future of America cannot be successful without the input of Americans like you and me.