Monday, April 03, 2006

A 50th Anniversary

In a time when self-appointed conservative watchdogs are working feverishly to deny gay and lesbian human beings their civil rights including (for those that desire it) the right to have their relationships recognized by the state, it was magnificent and refreshing and thought-provoking to attend the 50th anniversary of good friends I know this weekend. About eighty people-gay, straight, married and single-were privileged to gather at the restaurant to congratulate Wally and Ralph who met in NYC all those years ago and eventually moved out to Bucks County.

(As a lawyer, I fall into the camp that it does not matter if a legal relationship between gays or lesbians is called 'marriage' or a 'civil union' or anything else. What matters is that all applicable federal and state laws that bestow benefits, privileges and impose obligations in heterosexual marriages are triggered in like manner when a gay or lesbian relationship is registered. This would be inordinately simple for the Congress to achieve with the words, "Marriage as currently defined and civil unions between people shall have the same force and effect throughout all the territories of the United States" signed into legislation.

That Wally and Ralph have been together as partners and formed a household for 50 years really caused me to ponder deeply that evening. My first thought was, "My God, my parents haven't been married 50 years yet." I pondered next about these two men having stuck by each other through this large slice of time; through fifty humid Pennsylvania summers, 50 spectacular falls, and 50 dry or bone-chilling Pennsylvania winters, through thousands of days of rain and sun and snow, through thousands of days of 'for better' and 'for worse', and throughout every minute of those thousands of days without a shred of legal recognition from the democratic instruments of state in the country that is their home.

I pondered how most heterosexual married couples probably don't give a thought--maybe don't even know--that over a thousand federal laws (1,138 to be more precise, as well as 100 state laws) are automatically activated or applicable as soon as they enter their signatures on the marriage register; over one thousand federal laws that operate to protect, support, and impose obligations on a couple who've chosen and are allowed to formalize their relationship in American society; over a thousand federal laws, American laws, that are denied a significant segment of the American population while, simultaneously, we wage war abroad in the hallowed names of democracy and justice.

As I sipped on my sweet, velvety Cabernet and watched the pair, both clad in smart tuxedos, flit between the tables laughing and accepting congratulations, my reflections were usurped by feelings of bitter anger. I thought about the people who work feverishly to deny honest, hardworking gays and lesbians who wish to commit the right to so do. I thought about them working feverishly to hoodwink their fellow Americans about the so-called degeneracy and sinfulness of gays and lesbians, how in the name of 'God' and 'Jesus' many of them wish to maintain the status quo and ensure the applicable federal laws continue to be discriminatory and inconsistently applied so that gay couples can't enjoy the tax benefits that married couples enjoy, that gay couples only inherit a deceased partner's property after the payment of unjust penalties and unnecessary legal expense, that they are excluded from their partners' sick beds in hospital and stripped of all standing with regard to decision-making unless they again resort to expensive legal measures. It is unconscionable that gays and lesbians, in middle and old-age, have had to resort to the instrument of adoption by one partner of the other in order to ensure they could have some semblance of even-handed treatment under the federal laws of these United States.

My eyes swept around the room to take in the forest of couples, many of them together thirty or forty years. Two chaps were actually in their fifty-fifth year with not a photograph of the day their relationship was formalized to bear witness. I thought if this is degeneracy and sinfulness, then America needs more of it.

As I watched, my anger dissipated as quickly as it surged because I knew that the feverishly working people will lose this war. Justice in this matter has taken root and is spreading throughout the world: it's rooted already in Canada, in Spain, in Sweden and other parts of Scandinavia, and even in stiff upper-lipped England. In time it will take root throughout most of the United States. It will, because Americans are essentially fair-minded and passionate about equality and will silence the fearmongers, bigots and bible-thumpers thundering among them.

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Susan said...

I'm very proud of my country (Canada) for the level of enlightenment displayed by most of our citizens. And, Damien, it's even better than you might imagine. I live in a household with two boorish, insensitive twenty-something hetero males and they have relaxed, casual friendships with both gays and heteros. If young men can be so accepting, it demonstrates that there's no undercurrent of distrust here.

I know that as a foreigner I have no right to comment on U.S. politics, but I'll take a chance since I suspect you might agree with me... The Republican party needs to be booted. "Party of Lincoln" indeed! Lincoln was capable of thought and speech. Enlightenment will arrive in the U.S., I'm sure, but not until the 'leaders' join us in the twenty-first century.

Damian McNicholl said...

I'm delighted to hear about the enlightened twenty-something men forming part of your household, Susan. And you are right to be very proud of Canada. It's interesting that my old law school in Cardiff had many Canadians studying there.

Don't believe for one moment you can't comment about what is wrong and immoral in the politics and culture of another society. The world is too small and interrelated nowadays for people to not comment about injustice in its many forms; Globalization means we have a voice and must speak about what goes on in other countries. Besides Canada is also part of NAFTA--that fact alone means the policies of any American administration will have a direct effect inside your borders. That's your nexus allowing you to comment if you feel a nexus is necessary.