One year ago I described the 2012 election as the turning point in the struggle for marriage equality, as three states won or protected the freedom to marry at the ballot box and another fought back a constitutional ban. But if 2012 marked a watershed, 2013 was the deluge over that divide, with a record number of states recognizing equal marriage, and more than half of those doing so legislatively. In one year, the number of marriage equality states effectively doubled. Sixteen states, the District of Columbia, and several Native American tribal councils – representing over 38% of the population – now recognize the freedom to marry (with decisions in Utah and Oklahoma, representing an additional 2%, currently stayed pending appeal).
The transition from 2013 to 2014 also marks a decade of equality, as the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court equal marriage decision went into effect in May 2004. 2004 also saw the celebration and tragic voiding of four thousand marriages in San Francisco, in some ways teeing off the long painful fight for marriage equality in California that resulted in In re Marriage Cases, Prop 8, Hollingsworth v. Perry, and, finally, the restoration of the freedom to marry. As critical as 2004 was in the movement, though, it’s important to remember that the struggle for legal recognition of our relationships began more than three decades earlier.
There are potential drawbacks to both the seemingly rapid rate of success we’ve seen recently, and the long hard work needed to make such successes possible. A sense that the tide is unstoppable risks making us complacent, while the long hard work necessary risks burning us out, especially once our own state has won equality.
For many of us, for example, the sense of euphoria we felt in 2013 as marriage equality was restored to California largely erased the pain of the five years while the Prop 8 case made its way through the courts, or at least seemed to offer a chance to try to catch our breath.
Still, over half of us live in states with statutes or constitutional amendments explicitly denying marriage to same-sex couples. And those of us who may legally marry at home shouldn’t have to fear becoming legal strangers to our spouses as we cross state borders. The work goes on, as long as even one of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers still is denied the freedom to marry the person they love.
Though Marriage Equality USA has its roots and largest membership bases in states where marriage equality is now law, the organization is proud to be a strong and active player in the fight to win the freedom to marry for all Americans. Thanks to our NEAT (National Equality Action Team) coalition, MEUSA has played a key role in winning marriage equality in states like Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. This year we’ll be supporting efforts in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Oregon, among others. Please help us help them win the same freedom and happiness we now have.
By MEUSA Social Media Manager Thom Watson
When Jeff and I married this past September, we expected that we would recognize a difference in our lives and in our relationship after tying the knot.
There are tangible differences, of course, as with our health insurance coverage and taxation. The differences most often have been subtler, but they clearly exist. Marriage matters.
Even in silly little ways we notice it. We delight in referring to each other as “husband,” and it feels more truly descriptive and honest to do so now. And, though we’d been living together a decade before our marriage, and had a registered domestic partnership for nearly half that time, we recently began only half-jokingly commemorating “our firsts,” though they were firsts only in a qualified sense: our first Thanksgiving “as a married couple,” our first Christmas “as husbands,” our first New Year “as legal spouses.”
What I don’t think we fully expected, though, was just how much our marriage meant to other people, and how it would change the way even our friends and families relate to and about us. Those changes run the gamut from trivial to significant. A great many of our friends, for example, have congratulated us on our first Christmas as a married couple.
More subtly, friends and family members who treated us with respect before we were married, who saw us as a committed couple even without a license, nevertheless seem to see and speak of us differently now. Our mothers provide perhaps the most poignant examples. Early in December, Jeff introduced me at a party to an old friend of his mother’s as his husband. Jeff’s mom jumped right in and said, “Yes, I now have two sons.” Our Christmas card from her reflected the same sentiment, as she had used a pen to change the card’s pre-printed “My Son” to read “My Sons.” Similarly, my mother addressed Jeff’s Christmas card this year to “My Son-in-Law.”
Friends and family who rarely, if ever, intruded into the particulars of our relationship now ask when or if we’re planning to have kids; yep, just like opposite-sex couples, that’s now the expectation for what follows marriage. My mother told my nephew’s new fiancées that they have Jeff as an example of how to survive marrying into my loud, overwhelming, overly protective family, and how to deal with one’s in-laws.
Marriages matter, not just for spouses, but for their families and indeed for the larger society in which they live and move. When we marry, our families, friends, and neighbors more clearly understand – and, what’s most troubling to our opponents, increasingly respect and embrace – that families, communities, and societies benefit, and are strengthened, when marriage makes possible the time-honored and express relationship not just with your daughter and son-in-law, but with your son and son-in-law, too.
Mothers-in-law may be fodder for comedians, but understanding that Jeff’s mom is my honest-to-goodness mother-in-law – and that she believes it, too – is about as serious as it gets.
By MEUSA Social Media Director Thom Watson
Last weekend, our community lost one of our most powerful advocates and a truly wonderful person: Marvin Burrows.
Marvin came out 62 years ago – in 1951 – at age 15. A couple years later he met Bill, whom he would marry at San Francisco City Hall on February 13, 2004, 51 years later. In his own words from testimony to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee: “I met the love of my life, William Duane Swenor, in 1953. He was 15 and I was 17. My father found out and told me to leave home if I continued to see Bill. After my dad kicked me out I had no place to go, and I was still in high school. I stayed with my grandmother until Bill could ask his mother if I could move in with them. She gave her permission, I moved in, and from that time on we lived as a committed couple.” After 51 years together, Marvin described his wedding to Bill as “the best time in our lives…”
But the courts declared Marvin and Bill’s marriage and the marriages of over 4,000 other same-sex couples who married in San Francisco in 2004 “null and void.” And as Marvin and Bill began to fight back with thousands of others, Bill died suddenly. Because their marriage had been declared to be illegal, Marvin was denied the legal rights and dignity that every American should have. The indignity began almost immediately after Bill passed away. “When Bill passed I called the cremation service that had taken care of my mother…However, they told me that I did not have the right to dispose of (Bill’s) body…(because they) considered us to be only ‘roommates,’ basically legal ‘strangers.’”
That was only the beginning. Soon thereafter, the Social Security Administration denied Marvin spousal survivor benefits and Bill’s labor union denied Marvin survivor pension benefits because the law would not recognize their marriage, even after 52 years together. Marvin was forced to move from the home that he and Bill had shared for over three decades. In Marvin’s words, “I lost my lifelong partner, my home, our animals, income, my health insurance, and even my bed and furniture all in one fell swoop.”
Marvin fought back in every way and with everyone he possibly could.
Over the years, Bill and Marvin had built strong personal relationships with many of Bill’s fellow local union members – all of whom identified as straight – and the union members had deep respect for Bill. They and many others stood up with Marvin, and after a 3-year struggle, the national union finally relented and awarded Bill’s pension to Marvin, saying it was “the right thing to do for a fellow member.” The victory was a public policy breakthrough for same-sex couples everywhere.
Marvin was a wonderful friend, and an inspiring activist with organizations including Marriage Equality USA, Lavender Seniors, GLOBE, Meals on Wheels, and California Senior Leaders at UC Berkeley, just to name a few. His legacy inspires us all to continue to stand up together and never give up.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney and MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy John Lewis
This article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, December 18, 2013: http://sfbaytimes.com/marvin-burrows-love-warrior/
As we commemorate the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk, our recent trip to Japan to speak about marriage equality made clear how Harvey’s call to come out is just as important as ever.
Significantly fewer LGBT Japanese have come out than their American counterparts, and LGBT Japanese are a much less visible part of society and the media than in the U.S. The Japanese people we met gave us insight into how coming out in Japan is similar to, and different from, America.
One Japanese activist told us that he came out to his parents in high school after his first date with a boy, because he did not want to keep a secret within himself and wanted his parents to know him as he really was. His parents were very accepting. But another activist described how 20 years ago, his father and brother beat him when he came out and threw him out of the house. He found his way to the office of a Tokyo LGBT activist organization that let him sleep on their floor until he could get on his feet. He has now worked for that organization for over 10 years and is a leading advocate for people with HIV/AIDS in Japan.
We met a bisexual student who wants to design LGBT manga cartoons to support the movement, but was afraid to come out to her father. We encouraged her to come out if it was safe, so that she could lead a life that was true to who she was and contribute her creativity and talent to help others.
Coming out appears to be particularly difficult for many Japanese LGBT people because of the importance of social conformity in Japan. Many college students told us that they had known perhaps only one openly LGBT person in their entire lives. We were the first openly LGBT people some had ever met. Activists told us that the pressure for conformity can lead to greater internalized homophobia, and that coming out can lead to significant social isolation and loneliness.
However, our speaking about Harvey Milk’s call to come out – both for one’s personal well being and for the benefit of the movement – seemed to resonate everywhere we went. Activists believed that more Japanese LGBT people coming out was critical to advancing legal, social, and political change, including marriage equality.
After hearing our marriage and coming-out stories, one student decided it was time for him to come out, too — but not as LGBT (he was straight) but as a Japanese person of Korean ethnicity, a group that faces significant discrimination. When he came out as Korean-Japanese and told his personal story of exclusion and discrimination, he received enormous support from his classmates. In so doing, we hope he made his own life better and, at the same time, took an important step to help the movement for human dignity and equality for all – an act with which we believe Harvey would have been very pleased.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney and MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy John Lewis
This article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, November 28, 2013: http://sfbaytimes.com/coming-out-for-marriage-equality-in-japan/