Monday, February 9, 2009
I'm already married, why should I care?
I traveled to Albany on Tuesday, Feb 3rd, to talk about marriage equality to my state senator, Sen. Cathy Young (Republican and Conservative Party). I didn't get to talk to her, we spoke to one of her aides, so I wonder how much good my visit did to advance marriage equality. I tried to explain to the aide (I wish I had gotten a business card from her, I can't remember her name!) how it is that an trans woman who married before transition and remains married to this day is interested in marriage equality fro the GLBT community. It's actually pretty simple.
My spouse and I married in 1987 after being together for 5 years. I began therapy with an eye towards gender transition in December of 2005. One of our primary concerns was how this would affect our legal standing as a married couple. We found out that, generally speaking, since the marriage was contracted legally at the time, nothing short of death or divorce could dissolve it. Big sigh of relief! Yet, as I moved towards realizing my true self we also realized that our relationship is now that of a same sex couple. A legal same sex marriage, so to speak. (I tell incredulous people that we found a "loophole.") The problem now is that we don't "look" like we could be married! What would happen if one of us should fall ill or be in an accident. What if one of us were arrested? How could we defend our relationship and our rights in a medical or legal setting?
My solution has been to carry a copy of our marriage certificate (with my old name on it, they wouldn't allow it to be changed) and a copy of my name change court order to establish that I am the person named on the certificate. The big problem for me now, though, is that to defend my marriage I, or my spouse, have to out ourselves as a transgendered couple, leaving us both open to the discrimination and prejudice that this label brings. Since I, as a trans woman, am specifically excluded from the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the doctors, nurses or other hospital staff could legally discriminate against me. Of course, that assumes the people whom I have to convince that we are really in a legal marriage, accept the validity of the copies I carry with me. They could stall by refusing to accept them without proof, all of which takes precious time during which one of us could be dying surrounded by strangers. Making same sex marriage legal makes it the norm, hopefully making my defense unnecessary.
Should the unthinkable happen and my spouse and I are separated for any reason it is within the realm of possibility (well, so is winning the lottery!) that I meet someone and that we may want to marry. That brings in all sorts of other problems. I could meet the same horrible fate that Christie Lee Littleton met when her marriage of 7 years was invalidated by a Texas court (http://christielee.net/main1.htm). Or I could fall under the same kind of judicial violence as J'Noel Gardiner did in Kansas http://dir.salon.com/story/mwt/feature/2002/03/22/kansas_ruling/print.html. Both of these cases would not have turned out as they did had equal marriage rights been the law of the land.
So it turns out that I should and DO care about marriage rights. Currently I have to out myself to defend my relationship leaving me open to legal, as well as illegal, discrimination. Some trans activists have pointed out that the fight for GLBT protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which I wholeheartedly support) or ENDA (which I have problems with, even the inclusive version) is much more important than the fight for marriage equality. I agree that they are yet I know I need to stand with the others in my community if I want them to stand for me. If we stand together there's no reason we can't have both issues resolved in our favor.