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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Surviving Equality

Good evening, students, and welcome to the Surviving Equality seminar. This will take about two hours, but we’ll take a little break for coffee and donuts in about forty-five minutes. So thank you for joining me today in this lovely library conference room. First, I want to I tell you a little bit about myself. Why am I qualified to teach this seminar, you might be asking. Well, as one of the thirty-six thousand some-odd people who was married in California during the 137-day window when that benefit was offered to gays and lesbians, I profess I’m not an expert at it, but I can offer you a little insight. And because this is a free seminar, what have you got to lose?

You, there! You in the back! Other Bill! Would you please wait until the break for your donut? Go ahead and finish that one, but please wait for the rest of us. I had to pay for those myself.

So class, to start, let me explain that there are more choices than being either single or married today for gays and lesbians. In the majority of American states, if you’re gay you’re not allowed to marry someone of the same sex. You can only be single or straight, which in my opinion is pretty dreadful. I wouldn’t want to be either.

In four states, if you’re gay, you can get married or be single, no matter what your sexual orientation is. Still, in some states you can register as domestic partners.

If you’re gay in California, you’re not allowed to marry anyone of the same sex, unless you got married, as I did, in between June 17 and November 4, 2008. So you can be married, but can’t get married, or you can be single, or you can register as domestic partners.

See? Choices.

As you can see by the map here, these are the four states that offer same sex marriage, the states shaded in green. The rest of the country, the white states, do not offer or recognize same sex marriage. The yellow states recognize your same-sex marriage if you were married in a green state, or the brown state, California, between June 17 and November 4, 2008, but they neither issue marriage licenses to, nor legally allow the marriage of same sex couples. Thus, the yellow.

Now I would like to create a couple of scenarios that have to do with portability of benefits.
Let’s say you’re gay, live in chilly Boston with your two adopted tweenagers and same-sex partner of 20 years who legally married you a couple of years ago. You are all tired of the snow and lack of warmth that comes with being a Massachusetts resident. Not to mention those grating accents. Because of the economy, your employer does some consolidation of responsibilities, and you are given the option of accepting a promotion to the company’s swank South Beach office, or a lateral move to a dumpy, dark building located in an unsafe neighborhood in DC. Which do you choose? Raise your hand if you choose Miami Beach. ALL of you! Wow, it’s a good thing you showed up tonight, because you are all wrong.

People, this is a no brainer. You take the lateral move to the District and work in a neighborhood full of crackheads. That’s because DC recognizes same-sex marriages that originated in other states. Florida doesn’t. And if you wanted to adopt another child, you couldn’t in Florida, because it’s illegal.

Next scenario. You’ve lived in Florida for 10 years, but just for kicks, you took a vacation to San Francisco in September of 2008 and married your same-sex partner of sixteen years. Against your better judgment, you move to New York City to pursue your dream of becoming a mime. Your donut-sucking husband—That’s your sixth cruller I count, Other Bill!—agrees to pay for your health insurance policy offered by his employer, Krispy Kreme. They reject you, citing that because you lived in Florida for the last decade, and Florida has a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, and you therefore do not qualify. What do you have to show them in order to ensure your coverage? Is it A) an official copy of your marriage certificate dated between June 17 and November 4, or B) Your Lark?

No, Other Bill, showing them that is not the correct answer. Put that away and zip it shut. Yes, class, of course the correct answer is A). That was a give-away, because I felt bad that you got the first one wrong. You all answered correctly, mainly because you don’t understand what “Show Us Your Lark” means.

So you can see by those two scenarios, portability of your rights as a married couple can be difficult. Currently, if you want to be protected under state law, your options are to move from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, or, incredibly, Iowa, to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, or, incredibly, Iowa, or states like New York, which recognize same-sex marriages from these states, or Districts like the Of Columbia, which will also recognize your vows, but apparently only if you work in Anacostia or another bad neighborhood.

Now let’s talk for a minute about domestic partnership vs. same-sex marriage, and again I will use California as an example and health insurance as the issue, but there are hundreds of additional issues at stake here. If you register as domestic partners in California, your employer is required by law to offer you all the benefits that it offers its married heterosexual employees. In the white states, some counties and cities allow you to register as domestic partners, but they do not necessarily require employers to give you benefit equality. So why do they do it? The answer is simple: because they can collect revenue to do so. The only sure way to get benefits for your same-sex partner is to go to work for a company that offers that benefit. Don’t depend on government.

As a little aside here, when I worked for Coors (as in beer), they offered domestic partner benefits only for its gay and lesbian employees. If you were unmarried, cohabitating heterosexuals, you were not given those benefits. This created a small group of straight employees who really hated me. And apparently, Coors taught this little trick to California.

California can’t make up its mind. They flip-flop back and forth between making gay marriage legal and then reversing themselves. They recently announced a compromise that will appear on the 2010 ballot: Same sex marriages will be legal on even days, illegal on odd ones. On Feb. 29 of leap years, only same-sex marriages will be legal. California issued same-sex marriage licenses in 2004, but then all those marriages were annulled and the license fees were refunded. This time, in order to hang on to the 18,000-some-odd license fees, the bankrupt state of California decided not to annul, thereby creating a unique class of people who are hated by two opposing groups: straight people who think gay marriage is wrong, and jealous gay people who want to marry but can’t. Those people are referred to as the PGL’s (Privileged Gays and Lesbians).

When I visit California, I am a privileged gay man. But when I’m home in Florida, I’m just another gay man with a ring and an useless framed marriage certificate hanging on the wall. There, I have rights but everyone hates me. Here I have no rights, but only some people hate me. When I’m in DC this September to see my nephew get married, I can call him my nephew there, because my vows are recognized, but I work with crack whores. I can’t call him my nephew here, because I work with cops.

Or something like that. It's very confusing, and I’m trying to understand. It’s difficult for a man my age. Why don’t we take a fifteen minute break, have a little snack, and I’ll try to organize my thoughts a little better.

What do you mean, Other Bill, that there are no snacks left?

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