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Love and Marriage

‘If we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well’

Jen Hand and Michelle Ping look forward to the day when they can have a marriage recognized in Florida and the other 49 states.
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“When are you two going to get married?”

The question always comes up when we are at a wedding.

In 2012, a quiet year (we have a very large family), just two nieces married. So far in 2013, we have received three “save the dates“ for summer and fall weddings. The majority of our friends and siblings who are of marriage age have had their weddings. However, now it's time for the next generation’s ceremonies, those of our nieces and nephews, first cousins once removed, and younger friends from our social circles. As we sit at these weddings trying not to get dragged onto the dance floor for yet another Chicken Dance or Electric Slide, our sisters and sisters-in-law and nieces delight in telling us about the parties and showers they’ll throw our way when we finally do take the plunge. In my best estimation, we have attended, declined, and been in the actual wedding party of more than 50 weddings throughout our lives.

My girlfriend (she is not my “partner,” we do not own an accounting firm) and I have been together for nearly 20 years and have answered the marriage question in many, many ways, usually with the defense mechanism of sarcasm. “When the Jaguars win the Super Bowl,” we say. Or “When the moon is colonized.” It is not necessarily because we do not want to marry, though.

The best stock, sincere answer I can come up with these days is “When our marriage is considered legal and recognized nationally.” When I do answer this way, most of the innocent and less-informed react with shock and vague, stammered replies like, “You mean it’s not legal there?” and “Oh, well you can just get married in New York City; it will be a blast!”

Why would we get married in a state where it’s legal? Just to have a ceremony? To have our love publicly declared? For all the fabulous trappings a giant wedding would bring, like blenders and pilsner glasses and gravy boats? (A quick note to self: Vegans probably don’t need gravy boats; when the time comes, do not register for one.)

The futility of marrying in a place where it is legal, only to return here to Florida and have nothing change except for adding a new photo album to the Facebook page, is disheartening. Yeah, I’ll tell people, I’m married. But … If my wife is in an accident and I try to visit her in the hospital, the staff may (legally) not let me see her. And when she tries to add me as her wife to her health insurance plan, she won't be able to. At tax time? We would not be eligible to file jointly as a married couple and take the advantages of lower federal tax rates that heterosexual married couples can when the individual income of the partners differs significantly, as our income does.

Currently, in nine states and the District of Columbia, gay marriage is legal. However, most states do not recognize same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships or civil unions from other states. Also, the state laws do not extend those benefits of marriage on the federal level. Here in Florida, civil unions and same-sex marriage were constitutionally banned in 2008, with 62 percent of the vote. Recent polls have shown a significant swing in public opinion on the subject since 15 years ago, though, and at this time, it seems many Americans do now support full marriage rights for all.

Honestly, I was floored to hear President Barack Obama mention Stonewall (the touchstone moment in the modern gay rights movement) in the same breath as Seneca Falls and Selma in his second inaugural address. Just the alliteration was stunning! But when he added, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well,” I teared up.

Strides are definitely being made in the march toward equal rights and marriage rights. In last fall’s elections, three states became the first states to legalize same-sex marriage through popular vote. In March, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on California Proposition 8 and federal Defense of Marriage Act laws. But remember that last August, the Jacksonville City Council rejected the bill that would expand the city’s human rights ordinance to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. I guess we will not be marrying in Jacksonville any time soon (ever). Or be protected from discrimination. Great job, guys! Thankfully, we live in St. Augustine, which did recently pass an ordinance protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation when it comes to renting or buying a home. It’s kind of a one step forward, half-step back process.

With the ultimate Hallmark holiday looming, love will be on the minds of lots of folks here on the First Coast and nationwide. My mom and dad’s 44th anniversary is on Feb. 15. If I remember to, I will send them a card. As for the girlfriend and me, on Valentine’s Day we'll probably celebrate by sharing a good home-cooked meal and a nice walk on the beach. No elaborate plans will be made, but not because we boycott the holiday per se. It's more because we think that every day we should be sharing our love with each other in ways both subtle and not. For example, she knows it is my most-dreaded household task, so if I fold and put away the laundry, she knows I love her. And, in turn, when I get a quick “how are u” text from her during a busy day of giving her all to rehabbing orthopedic patients, I know she loves me.

Are we activists? Not hardly. We are simply two chicks in love, living our best lives imaginable. We are in fantastic shape, have wonderful and accepting families and friends, and buy locally grown vegetables when at all possible. We probably aren’t affecting your life in any way as you go about your daily business. And you know what? Your life doesn’t affect us, either. I don’t say that in a mean way. I'm just not sure how our getting married would pose a “threat to justice and peace,” as the pope said a few weeks ago. In fact, were my girlfriend and I to marry tonight, I’ll betcha tomorrow morning old Benedict will still come down the Vatican’s stairs to his poached egg and whole wheat toast with marmalade and his life would go on. Unaffected.

When will we get married? Maybe never. Maybe soon.

Hand lives in St. Augustine with her girlfriend of 19¾ years. She does a bit of writing. Visit her on twitter @Jen_Hand.

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