Friday, March 18, 2011

Young Love, Marriage and Tipping Points

Our younger grandson has been accepted to several colleges in different parts of the county – two in East Coast cities, one in the Midwest, yet another in California – and now must decide which he will attend. His girlfriend attends college in one of the Eastern cities, but I have no idea how that will influence his decision. And this isn’t about my grandson, who is quite capable of choosing a college without his grandma’s input.

Rather, I was reminded of another young couple, who were profiled in the Washington Post sometime back in the Nineties, to the best of my recollection. She was valedictorian of TC Williams High School in Alexandria; he was salutatorian and they were very much committed to their relationship. But they had also been admitted to their first choice colleges – one to Stanford, the other to a top-ranked Ivy League college on the East Coast. The article took up some two pages of newsprint, with lengthy interviews with these high school sweethearts about the choice they would have to make, and was illustrated with a number of photos of them.

But it wasn’t their dilemma between young love and the best college for each that struck me. It was this: The Post didn’t say a word about their race or ethnicity, but the photos were of a racially mixed couple. She was white, he African-American.

And I realized, as I stared at the photos, that here in Virginia -- the state that in 1958 arrested a similarly mixed couple for the “crime” of marrying, and fought for its law for nearly ten years, till the US Supreme Court struck down laws banning interracial marriages in 1967 -- a tipping point had been reached. It was possible for an interracial couple to be accepted by family, friends and classmates, and even celebrated in a major American newspaper. Yes!!!

Saddened as I was by the failure of our neighboring state of Maryland to pass same-sex marriage this year, I was heartened to see in today’s online news that opinion polls show that, for the first time, a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage. Let’s hope that this tipping point in public attitudes spreads to every state, including my still backward state of Virginia.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Let My Daughter Marry - I Want to Go to Her Wedding

I was disappointed this morning to read of the delay, in the Maryland House of Delegates, of passage of the bill legalizing same-sex marriage. 

By chance, this is the date that my daughter and her partner of nearly ten years celebrate as their anniversary. Like other GLBT couples, they have picked a date meaningful to them, because they do not -- and cannot -- have a wedding day to celebrate. 

Seven or eight years ago, I wrote the plea below. (It was posted at that time on the DC PFLAG website, and also appears in a textbook on writing.) The front lines of this struggle for equality have shifted from state to state since I wrote it. And thankfully, we now have a president who is working toward ending discrimination rather than more firmly establishing it.  But my opinion and feelings have remained the same, and I want to share them once again.


I want to go to my daughter's wedding.

My younger daughter is 37. I thought she'd never be ready to marry, but, finally, she's found her soulmate.
The two of them share a cozy rambler, filled with family photos and gourmet cookbooks. Together they grow vegetables, create salads and casseroles, walk the dog. Together they've decided they are tired of just living together. They're ready to "tie the knot."

This daughter dislikes formality. It's unlikely she'll be married in a satin gown; a simple suit is more her style. But her dress isn't important. What is important, she says, is "a personal, beautiful celebration of our love."

I want to go to that celebration. So does my husband, our older daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. We all want to go to her wedding.

But we can't – because the warm and caring person she chose to share her life with is also a woman.

I don't understand. They live together. They love each other. Why can't they get married?

Opponents of same-sex marriage say it's because marriage is for procreation. Yet my father and stepmother married when they were too old to have children. Why could they marry, while my gay nephew and his partner – parents of an adopted baby boy – can't?

Foes say they're protecting marriage. I don't see how my daughter, Jill, and her partner, Pam, threaten anyone's marriage. Would their married neighbors head for divorce court if Jill and Pam had a wedding photo on their dresser?

Marriage is a sacrament, the religious right argues. But same-sex couples just want the right to have a legal, civil ceremony. Churches, mosques and synagogues could still refuse to marry anyone but one man and one woman.

Still, many liberal churches and Jewish congregations do wed same-sex couples. Jill and Pam could be married by the rabbi of our humanist Jewish congregation. But Jill and Pam want legal recognition. They want the assurance that if one of them ends up in intensive care, the other won't be turned away when she visits. My nephew and his partner need those protections too, especially now that they have little Sean. What if something happens to one of them, and his other father has no legal connection to his son?

I tell Jill she and Pam can get married legally this summer, in Massachusetts. But, she says, besides family, they want "our friends around us too." And their friends are in the university town in Oregon where they live. I can't argue with that. Our older daughter and son-in-law also chose to marry where their friends were.

Jill emails that she and Pam applied for a marriage license at their county courthouse, but were turned away. I think of the Sixties. A college friend was afraid to visit our Virginia home because she is black and her husband was white. She had good reason. Only a few years earlier the state of Virginia had thrown mixed-race couples in jail for the crime of marrying across the color line.

On TV I see hundreds of couples, like my daughter and her partner, standing in the rain waiting to marry in San Francisco. I know even some gay rights advocates are telling them this isn't the right time.

I remember that same advice was given to the four black college students who staged the first lunch counter sit-in in 1960. There were more urgent issues, voting rights for one. Eating places did serve blacks at a rear window. What difference did it make where you ate?

What difference? Ask the man who's told he's not good enough to sit with the rest of the customers. Ask the woman who's told she's not good enough to marry.

Jill calls with news. Portland, Oregon, two hours from her home, is issuing licenses to same-sex couples. She and Pam wonder if they should take off from work and rush to Portland. Or maybe, she continues, they should go back to their own county courthouse. If the county attorney in Multnomah County says discrimination is against Oregon law, why should discrimination be legal in their own, neighboring county?

I wish her good luck. There's a new civil rights movement starting, and she and Pam are on the front lines. Then I shudder, remembering elected officials standing in school house doors to keep black children out, and police greeting civil rights marchers with fire hoses. Today it's the President of the United States, trying to amend the Constitution to deny my daughter equal rights.

I'm proud of Jill and Pam for being part of this new movement. But I wish it wasn't necessary. I wish they could just set a wedding date. Because all I want is to go to my daughter's wedding.