Saturday, November 15, 2008

Let them eat cake? I'm sick o' cake!

I’m tired of cake and ice cream in private people’s homes. I want a real sandwich and salad at the lunch counter.*

In every state in the United States, I can be invited to some people’s homes (churches, synagogues, mosques)for dessert (a loving, wonderful commitment ceremony where my family and friends and my God honor my relationship). But in most states, even in private homes (churches), actual healthy non-dessert foods (rights) are not available to me.

Nowhere in the U.S. can I sit down at the lunch counter and order everything on the menu. Even in Massachusetts and Connecticut, I can eat only from certain pages of the menu. I can order a soup or salad (which are on the state rights page, like my life partner’s right to be with me in the hospital while I die) but not a sandwich or anything to drink (those items are on the federal rights page, like the right to protect my partner with my social security insurance after I die … into which I pay the same as the people who are allowed to order that protection off the menu).

In Vermont (which has “civil unions”) the court has decided to allow me to order my soup or salad at the back door of the restaurant but not to sit at the lunch counter (have an actual marriage).

In Washington (which has “domestic partnership”) the legislature has decided to allow me to order the tomato and cucumber, but not the whole salad (only certain state marital rights) as long as I do it from the deli’s back door and not at the lunch counter.

And, like the Soviet Union of my childhood, the government tells me where I can and cannot live. Because even if I pay a private caterer (lawyer) a lot of money for Caesar’s salads for my family, if we drive across state lines to a picnic table (new job, inherited home) the state trooper can confiscate our salad (that is to say, our wills and durable powers of attorney may be invalid if the majority in that state has made it illegal to recognize marriage-like rights). Let me reiterate: other people could get a whole meal for their families at the lunch counter for $60 (the cost of a marriage license) and it’s edible no matter where in the whole world they travel. Barbara and I can pay hundreds of dollars (the cost of a lawyer drawing up papers) and it only gets us the tomato, cucumber, an olive and a couple of croutons (certain state marriage rights) and then if we vacation in Oregon or move to Idaho or she goes into the Army, we lose even those salad makings.

Yesterday on TV, Tammy Lynn Michaels, Melissa Ethridge’s wife, told Oprah Winfrey that she doesn’t care if she gets the word “marriage” if she just has equal rights.

I agree with Tammy that being allowed to feed my family anything on the menu (state and federal) no matter where I live in the country, without having to pay private caterers – which many people just can’t afford -- would be a huge step forward. A huge step.

But honestly, if I still have to order it at the back door (a package of rights by some name other than “marriage”) instead of at the lunch counter, where dignity and equality reside, I will always feel hurt and angry.

Now some readers fear that private parties in their homes (churches) will be forced to feed my family if the law ever allows me to marry. Rest assured, if you are fearful of that, that I don’t want to be invited to your private party at your home. Nobody wants to tell you who you may or may not invite to your home. I just want to be able to feed my family at the public deli (the courthouse).

Barbara and I already had a party on our 20th anniversary, with two pastors and 175 friends and family. Our parents stood up with us. We had the cake and ice cream of their incredible love and support. Now I want to be able to serve my beloved some real food for once in our lives … a burger and some fries, a salad and some dignity.

* There are limits to my analogy. I know full well that the four young men who sat-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, NC in 1960 knew that others like them had been lynched for less. Barbara and I honor their bravery and would never pretend that we are as brave. But they taught us what it means to stand up for your dignity and we thank them for it. They could have been served at the back door of that Woolworths. They chose dignity over food.