April 23, 2009

April 23, 2009
The Importance of Marriage

Welcome to another blog entry and a peek into a day in my life. Today is Thursday and I hope you are having a great week so far.

I was up late last night because of my neuropathy and back so I ended up sleeping in until noon. Then it was time for my morning protein shake and then worked out abs and legs.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working on this website and catching up on the many emails and phone calls that come in every day. Now I am not complaining since it is always great to hear from everyone. Just some days it can be hard to keep up especially when I have clients, meetings or appointments. Since I started socially networking on sites like MySpace, Facebook and HIV social websites; the traffic on our website has increased 30 percent to over 1.5 million hits a year which is great.

But I would like to talk about something more serious after the recent death of a friend and blog reader.

Last month, one of my devoted readers, Peter Dubuque, died unexpectedly and way too young. He was 39. His husband, Steven Kleinedler, wrote to us to let us know. We can officially say "husband" because Peter and Steve lived in Massachusetts. Steve shared with us an amazing personal account of how Peter's death reaffirmed to him how important marriage is. Their marriage was accepted without question by those he dealt with after Peter died.

If you know anyone who questions whether marriage equality matters, send them this:

"On March 24, I came home after work and found my husband, Peter Dubuque, dead from an unexpected accident. We have been together almost fifteen years and, because we live in Massachusetts, married for four and a half years. In the aftermath of unexpected death, the surviving spouse faces a jumble of legal responsibilities, emotional reactions, and practical considerations. At 42, I never expected to have to plan a memorial service for the 39 year old love of my life. I am very fortunate to have a strong national and local network of love and support from friends and family. These past few weeks would have been impossible without them.

In 2004 in Massachusetts (as there had been previously in Vermont when it legislated civil unions), opponents of marriage equality predicted social disaster. The destruction of our social fabric never materialized, of course; each argument was merely an rhetorical arrow in a quiver of hateful obstructions. What was surprising, however, is how marriage equality in Massachusetts has quickly blended into the social landscape. Despite a few feeble and ineffectual protests from the extreme right, it has become a non-issue here.

Just how far marriage equality has become a regular component of society here has been made clear to me while interacting with people I did not know. What was once unheard of is now commonplace and, frankly, ordinary.

In 1994, I was arrested, handcuffed, and spent the night in jail for dancing with another man in suburban Chicago. (Not kissing, not even touching : just dancing.) But on March 24, 2009, the EMTs, police officers, and detectives on the accident scene were extremely professional, respectful, and courteous.

Shortly after Vermont legalized civil unions, debated raged whether newspapers across the country would accept or refuse to acknowledge such partnerships; now many more highly visible newspapers routinely do. The gracious funeral home operators treated me the same as they would any grieving spouse.

Referring to my husband as my husband does not raise eyebrows or result in scorn or sarcasm, whereas when referring to him as my partner ten years ago carried the risk of bad service, indifference, or outright hostility. Customer service representatives at places like banks respect the terminology, whereas once we might have sheepishly referred offhand to our partner. (It was perhaps only six or seven years ago when introducing Peter as my partner, sometimes people would assume I met business partner, even when the context would indicate otherwise.) Twelve years ago something as simple as explaining to utility companies that two people were not roommates but partners could be construed as being "in your face." Flash forward to the young associate at the Apple store who helped me with Peter's iPhone. Sexual orientation was irrelevant as he expressed sincere condolences for my loss.

Ten, even five years ago, people in my situation in Massachusetts would have faced prejudicial treatment in some of these interactions--in addition to having to deal with protracted legal issues because of being denied the right to be married--simply because marriage equality was an unknown, often feared, and that fear was exploited by our opponents for political gain. Coming of age in a time when AIDS felled so many so quickly, I was aware of far too many horrible, heart wrenching stories in which the surviving partner was completely shut out and cast aside by next of kin. Now, we are legally next of kin. For all the wonderful things that marriage equality does for the living, it maintains our dignity in death.

So, when the wonderful news from Iowa and Vermont broke, I felt happy. I know Peter would have been overjoyed, and knowing how happy it would have made him made me elated as well. I am so happy that soon in Iowa and Vermont, the idea of two women or two men joined in marriage will be an unremarkable event.

Iowa and Vermont are, however, only the third and fourth state of fifty. We must stop letting those who oppose marriage equality frame the debate. The objections they raise are smokescreens that mask not only their hypocrisy, but also sidetrack our focus. We will win when we focus on equality.

The legal right to have been married to Peter that was so important in our lifetime, has turned out to be equally important in death. I am thankful for the all of the couples, lawyers, advocates, and judges who have put so much energy into this struggle over the past many years, and to those who continue to do so until the goal of federally recognized marriage equality is met.

Legislatures in New York, Maine and New Hampshire are considering marriage equality legislation. If you live in any of those states, call and email your legislators. It matters.

That is especially true in New Hampshire TODAY. If you live in the Granite State or know anyone who does, State Senators need to hear from constituents NOW. (You can find Senator's numbers and emails here.) Do it for Peter. And as Steve says, "We will win when we focus on equality."

Now friends most of you know I have lost 2 partners and a few boyfriends to AIDS. So I personally know these issues all to well. I guess my point is life is hard enough finding happiness and someone to love. Is the gender of the person really that important? Isn't it enough to find true love which is difficult enough without restrictions?

Wishing you health, hope and happiness.

Big bear hug,

Daddy Dab