Originally published on December 7, 2012, in the Seattle Gay News
To be honest, I never dreamed I would be fortunate enough to see the day when same-sex marriage became legal. But the people of this state voted. And, thanks be, I did get to see the day when equal rights prevailed through a vote of the people.
In the dark days before Referendum 74, here and elsewhere, there have been monumental injustices. Couples who loved one another were denied even the smallest legal crumbs. When a loved one was hospitalized, there was no inherent right to visit. At the death of a loved one, there was no right to inherit, no easy way to negotiate finances, no guaranteed protection for offspring. Basic rights that straight couples take for granted were either out of reach or difficult and expensive to arrange.
But that’s just the legal side of it. Marriage offers far more than a contract. It offers society’s social support. Marriage provides physical and psychological health benefits that ought to be available to all. The lack of ability to marry in the past has stigmatized Gay and Lesbian families as inferior and has cruelly relegated them to second-class status.
I guess that in this respect I can look at my own life, a generation that started out mired in discrimination of many kinds. When I studied in schools across the country – a ‘service brat,’ I attended 16 of them before college – I often faced discrimination as a young woman, sent off to ‘domestic science’ instead of science classes because, as they knew at the time, young women didn’t need chemistry and physics.
I faced discrimination in the South as a Northern-born child who didn’t have the right accent and didn’t answer to two first names. When I entered journalism school, I was advised that women would never be allowed in the newsroom. My adviser suggested I enroll in home economics or accounting so I could write for the so-called women’s page or work on the business side of a newspaper.
My prospects were largely judged by my ability to attract a mate who could ‘provide’ adequately. Thankfully, I found someone to love and marry and, once married, worked as an unpaid bookkeeper to help my young artist husband’s business succeed. We had two sons and a loving companionship before he was stricken with fast-spreading multiple sclerosis and almost overnight was unable to work.
Unlike my Gay friends, I was consulted when my late husband had to be hospitalized. I was consulted about whether he should be given extraordinary treatment in the event of a heart failure. And when he succumbed I was able to settle his estate easily. I shudder to imagine navigating those trying times without society’s recognition that, as my husband’s partner, I had an absolute right to be involved. These dark moments are when one needs support and understanding, not inquisition and judgment.
Although widowed, I was one of the fortunate ones. I had been able to marry. I had years of a loving partnership, the rewards of companionship and family. And, during my newspaper career, life had improved for women in the newsroom. But during those same years, many of my good friends at the paper were denied that same ability to marry because there was unbelievable discrimination against alternative lifestyles, much less same-sex unions.
The legal hurdles those friends faced in trying to maintain partnerships were heart-rending. Some were ostracized from their jobs. I remember their stories well. Sometimes I was able to tell those stories. I wrote about Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, a remarkable woman who was forced to resign her military commission because she was honest about her sexual orientation.
I remember other stories I didn’t tell, personal tales heard from newspaper colleagues who were treated as lesser citizens. One such co-worker, a long-time copy editor who tragically had contracted AIDS, languished in a nursing facility and finally succumbed – never allowed basic human rights, never told that he was, simply, just like all the rest of us. Never again.
It has been weeks since November’s election, but I still remain overwhelmed and overjoyed that voters approved Referendum 74. It makes me a little teary even now when I think about it. It was the right thing to do and it makes us all – straight, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender – more equal than we were before. It isn’t just an answer to the question about human rights, it is the answer.