Two women seeking equality in a state where some couples are more equal than others.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

MI Joy: But Everything is not all Roses Now

I'm checking in, beloved readers. I am still relieved that the Supreme Court ruled favorably. Yes, relieved. Because administratively, legally, financially, my life just got a lot easier.

But everything is not rosy. I know some of you probably hoped that I would consider this victory enough. Maybe that I would get back to more food posts. Trust me, I hope to.

We've got to talk, though. Because even though my home state now must recognize my marriage, I can still be fired or evicted for being gay in most of the state. I probably won't because I'm privileged and educated and White and middle class, and so I have had the luxury of choosing my employer. Not everyone is so privileged. 

My Trans friends have even less protection and assurance on those fronts, despite the fact that it was the T in LGBT that started Stonewall and kicked off this entire civil rights movement. LGBT youth are more likely than any other group to be homeless, and Trans youth even more than the LGB members. Trans people suffer amounts of violence I cannot even imagine as a Cis person. Never mind as a Cis, White, educated, middle class person. 

I know some recent events have brought the Trans community into the spotlight. A lot of people have a lot of opinions. I'm not really qualified to comment on the issues - I have not studied this community psychologically or medically, I don't identify this way. So I will not launch into policy recommendations. If a Trans friend is reading and sees a correction I need to make, I hope they will message me. 

For some reason, though, people read this. Maybe it's because I'm a unicorn or respectable or vulnerable or any number of other things. I think some people read this who don't necessarily know very much yet and are looking for a place to start. 

And so here is what I will say: I rejoice in this marriage equality victory, but it is so much smaller than we need. It will make my life easier, but I am blessed to be in a position where my life is not at stake. I do not face exceptionally heightened violence and never really have.

Whatever you think morally about the Trans community, whether you understand it or not, the fact is that they do face violence. Regularly. And that is not okay. No matter someone's religious convictions or discomfort level, harming someone bodily is not okay. We need change. We need to care. We need, as people and bystanders and citizens and voters, to say that these lives are worth the same as our own and that we will not stop with this small victory. 

Everything is not roses, but it can be better. It's up to us.

Friday, June 26, 2015

MI Love and MI Joy: Marriage Equality and I Don't Know How to Feel

I don't have to tell you the news - it's been around the world twice already.

But I will, because I can't stop smiling, like pretty much with a dopey-faced grin (and this from someone whose resting face is a smize).

The Supreme Court ruled that I am a person. That I have rights. That my marriage is legal. That my commitment means something. That the state I love, the one in which I grew up, the one in which I live now, will recognize my commitment.

For those of you wondering exactly what this means, I'm not completely sure yet how it will all shake out, but a few clarifications.

  • Rebecca and I already have a legal marriage certificate, so we don't have to get married again - we'll likely just need to present the California certificate to the Michigan Secretary of State.
  • Although I do not have to get married again, I will accept gifts of champagne, cake, luxury sheets and towels, cash, check, and chocolate covered strawberries.
  • My taxes, both state and federal, can now be filed as "married!" (For 2014, federal was married but state was single.)
  • In terms of changing other documentation with the state of Michigan, I will probably have to wait a few weeks while they retrain Secretary of State employees on the policies that now represent equality and inclusion to a much greater degree.
Beautiful readers, things are not perfect yet, but today, I want to bask in how much better they have become. I want to stand in the sunlight and cry happy tears. I want to rejoice that although I don't feel any differently, because in my heart I have been married to my beloved for more than three years, now the government sees me as I feel. I glow with radiance to think of the families who will be able to better protect their biological and adopted children because their marriages are equal.

Today, I choose to focus on love, joy and equality. And I will share with you a verse that is on my heart:

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control. ~ Galatians 5:22

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

MI Hate: Keeping the Government Out of Marriage

Dear Michigan Republican Legislators,

Last week, the same day news hit of a devastating terrorist act in Charleston in which a vicious racist took the lives of many faithful, I found out that you are again trying to undermine my family. Since you know that it is likely that the Supreme Court will rule that your state same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, or at a minimum that you must accept my out-of-state marriage certificate, you are looking for other ways to keep me from having equality.

You've looked to other states to get ideas. Currently, a favored one seems to be to set up a bunch of smaller laws, rather than one large ban, designed to make my life hard. You'd like to reduce my ability to adopt foster children (a move that hurts the foster children much more than it hurts me).

Another favorite, though, seems to be that "the definition of marriage should not be within the realm of the federal government.” Meaning, essentially, that from this point forward, religious institutions are free to define marriage however they like, a minister must perform wedding ceremonies, and marriage certificates should have nothing more than spiritual significance.

Sure. I can see that argument. But if marriage is purely religious, and the government has no right to define or regulate it, then let's burn all government-issued marriage certificates, including yours. Let's say that the government no longer recognizes any marriages at all, including yours. Let me tell you what would happen, since I lived for a year and a half with only a spiritual marriage covenant, and still live with limited legal recognition:

1. Your employer would no longer have standing to provide your spouse with health insurance.

If your spouse doesn't work, or works part-time someplace without insurance, he/she (probably she, given the number of stay-at-home moms in the conservative community) will be significantly more likely to have to purchase insurance on the exchanges, use Medicaid, or go without. You have no legal way to prove who this person is to you, so an employer offering health insurance is purely a goodwill gesture, not a requirement. You may have to change employers to find one that offers this goodwill, or if you are searching for a job, you may have to turn down positions to make sure that your partner will be covered.

2. Your tax situation will be incredibly difficult.

Taxes are already difficult, but let's imagine - you no longer get any deductions for being married. You'll have to determine who owns which assets, who pays which bills, and if you have children, who gets to deduct them if that deduction continues to persist. On top of income tax, estate taxes will be much higher because the government will not automatically assume your spouse should be entitled to your property.

3. You will have to fill out extra legal documents to make sure the right person makes your health and financial decisions if you're incapacitated.

You may have done this already, or you may not have. But even if you have, be prepared to have these documents filed and to carry them with you at all times, since just telling hospital staff someone is your spouse will no longer be sufficient to convince them that this person has standing to make medical decisions. If they'd prefer, and you don't have your documents, they can call a parent or sibling to make your decisions instead.

4. If your children are not biologically yours, get ready for a legal mess.

For couples with infertility or who want to adopt, or in a situation of divorce or a challenge of custody, your marriage certificate will no longer be sufficient to demonstrate that you have a legal right to be listed as a parent. Second parent adoption might be impossible - you may have to choose which spouse should be listed as the sole guardian of your child. If you can have second parent adoption, you will have to contact agencies to find out whether your spiritual marriage will help or hurt you.

Of course, there are lots of other issues. I think these four give you a pretty good idea what kind of convoluted trap you're setting not only for the LGBT community, but for yourselves. While I'm at it, let me mentioned that an ordained minister performed my spiritual marriage ceremony, and I know several others who would do the same for a legal one if I needed. So not only are you being petulantly childish, but your ploy is likely to be relatively ineffective.

How about we pass a roads bill instead?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

MI Love: Detroit (childhood edition)

I was blessed to have a mostly happy childhood - we lived in a safe middle class suburb, attended adequate schools, and were never truly short money for necessities. We had many family trips to the zoo, to my grandparents' property Up North, and to visit family in other states.

That said, I think one of my favorite childhood memories is the first time I remember visiting Detroit. My mother worked alternating weekends as a nurse, so my dad was responsible for us then and normally arranged his schedule so that we could be his first priority. One weekend, he absolutely had to go into the office to do work for a few hours on a Saturday. It's the only time I remember that happening. Since there would be no one else there, he took us with him, making sure to bring books and games. I couldn't tell you now how old I was exactly, but I must have been in elementary school.

We weren't terribly upset to have to go the office with him - it was so cool to us that he had access to the parking garage and so many access codes into the building (our dad must be so important!), and we probably would have spent half the morning curled up someplace reading anyway.

But he felt badly, I could tell, because he took us to some of his haunts later, downtown, where we had never been. We had deep dish pizza and then baklava in Greektown (maybe my first time having either), rode the People Mover (yes, pretty useless, but it was my first time on any kind of transit), and then visited Hart Plaza. There was nothing going on there that weekend - I think it was the middle of the winter and pretty desolate, actually - but my dad told us that things happened there, and I remember a sense of importance for that place.

Every time I go to Greektown or past Hart Plaza, I think of that quiet day and of the feeling a born and raised suburbanite had seeing a place where so much history had passed. Hart Plaza and the Riverwalk are much busier now - all of downtown is, in fact. I've had the fortune to come in and out Detroit enough to see foot traffic increase, buildings fill in, rental prices rise - not overnight, not magically, not perfectly. And I hope that many of the people coming in now can still sense the wonder of a place where much has happened, but where things were dormant for a little while and you had to really look to see the beauty. So many people stayed and never stopped seeing it. Some are moving back now. Some are moving from other places, drawn by what I saw that day and so many other aspects of the city.

And I guess that feeling - whatever it was - is the reason that the ruin porn has never overtaken me. Even before I had worked in the city, made friends in the city, I knew in my heart that the naysayers, the ones who insist that Detroit is dangerous, that no one should go there or live there, that it's done or doesn't deserve an art museum or a bailout or anything, they don't know, haven't seen, haven't felt what I have felt. I hope they will one day.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Confessions: I Changed My Birthday on Facebook

It's not that I mind getting older. In fact, for the most part, every year has been better than the last.

It's that my birthday is a reminder that another year has passed, and my home state still does not recognize my civil rights. I changed my registration today at the Secretary of State, and when I asked whether the fees to change my registration and license to my married name when SCOTUS rules that my rights have been violated for the last year and a half, I was told that I would have to pay the fees over again, just a few weeks after paying them. (Fees add up to about $100, which I could obviously use for many other, more worthwhile things.)

I thought about risking it and not doing my registration until the very end of the month. But I'm a law abiding citizen and that doesn't sit well with me. So I guess I can wait until SCOTUS finally gets around to doing its job and forces Michigan to recognize a marriage that Michigan has passed over for month after month.

So my birthday is a reminder that my marriage means less than the marriages of heterosexual couples. My life, my being, my rights mean less. Which means that, at least for a couple more weeks, my birth means less.

To what date did I change my birthday? To June 30, which is what I perceive to be the last possible day SCOTUS could finally do its job. If they rule against me, I suppose I can delete the date altogether, until the equivalent of Brown v. Board overturns what would be the modern equivalent of Plessy v. Ferguson.

If SCOTUS rules favorably, I think I will probably just change my voter ID so that my name is changed with the state, and then continue using my passport card for everything, including at my polling location. I'm not the one most inconvenienced by this - those who have to locate my birthday on a passport card and listen to the story of how my civil rights have been consistently violated are actually more inconvenienced. And at that point, the deluge of congratulations that I managed to get born and live another 28 years will feel less empty, I hope.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pray for Charleston: I thought my heart couldn't break any more

I found out about Charleston first thing when I woke this morning, via an AP Mobile push notification.

My day didn't go well. At first, I thought I was being my normal amount of scatterbrained self. Running a little late, dropping things here and there, struggling to stay organized - it happens, sometimes.

At some point, I realized that it wasn't just that.

I was mourning. I'm still mourning.

I'm mourning:

The loss of 9 beautiful lives in Charleston
The loss of hope and innocence of so many more
The fact that I live in a country where this kind of hate crime still happens
The hateful bigotry put forth by the Michigan House in regards to LGBT marriage and the marriages of atheists
The loss of what used to feel like a place of sanctuary, at a local place of worship
The fact that on a day I was hoping SCOTUS would finally grant my family equality, not only did it not, but I woke up to a reminder of how much inequality remains in our society

Maybe I'm not supposed to let the African American civil rights movement and the LGBT civil rights movement get intertwined. I may lose readers from insisting that they're connected, that forbidding interracial marriage was no worse than forbidding same sex marriage. (Or maybe it's straight privilege to ignore intersectionality, to try to say that some are free while others are in chains.)

I may lose readers for saying that many people, bigots, politicians, select members of the clergy, and myriad others, have set the stage for this violence by allowing the belief that some lives are worth more than others, that some beliefs are more important than others, that gun rights are more important than public safety, that Christian fundamentalism is more important than my spiritual marriage covenant. The RFRAs going around have given an air of credibility and validity to discriminatory beliefs like these.

I have tried to be reasonable, to see the other side, to find middle ground, to strike you all as moderate, as wholesome, as proper and respectable and rational. Some days, I may even have succeeded.

This is not one of these days.

I am angry.
I don't care if I anger you when I say that I wish I weren't from the United States today.
I don't care if I offend you when I say that I'm ashamed to be from Michigan today.

Your outrage can't hurt more than the damage this bigotry, against this AME community in Charleston but also against my LGBT community in Michigan, already has.

I know this is not a cogent post. What has happened today wasn't cogent. I am not cogent. I don't know how to make you hear me. I don't know how to show you my heart, torn into pieces though it is. I don't know how to share with you my pain, my discouragement, my sorrow. I don't know what to do to make this stop. I'm Committing in the Mitten, though I'm not sure exactly what I'm committing to yet.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

MI Gay Day: On My Marriage, or as some people call it My "Gay Marriage"

I've been married for more than three years now, if you count from our spiritual covenant wedding, not our civil one (then it's just about a year and a half). I'm starting to accept that Rebecca and I don't really count as newlyweds anymore. I'm starting to accept that in some ways, we committed young - after all, I have friends who are single, friends who just got married, and sadly, friends who are now divorced. It seems a lot of sitcom plots are centered around people older than we who are still looking for love.

A lot of people seem to think that the "gay lifestyle" is somehow glamorous, or hedonistic, or promiscuous, or that we use a lot of drugs, or  . . . I don't know. As most of you have seen from the MI gay day posts, our life isn't really that glamorous for the most part.

I think some other people may run the opposite way in terms of stereotypes, though. I think they think that our marriage is somehow perfect, that because we're of the same gender, we completely understand each other all the time and couldn't possibly fight or struggle to keep a commitment as big as marriage together. Our life isn't really that perfect for the most part, either.

Today is a pretty good example of the mundane nature of our relationship, so here's a fairly brief MI gay day rundown:

I woke up about 10 am, the perfect time for fabulous gay brunch (yes, we did popularize brunch, so I'm claiming that - you're welcome) and caught up on some e-mail while waiting for Rebecca to wake. She was sleeping on the couch, not because of marital trouble, but because she has some kind of bronchitis or viral pneumonia or something that causes her to have really loud gay hacking fits. The hacking fits are not gay, only her, and sleeping on the couch so I can sleep well is the kind of selfless, loving thing that no one normally gets accolades for. So props to her.

We make gay breakfast - gay eggs (although I doubt the chickens were gay), gay bacon (also doubtful on the pigs), and gay Southern greens (maybe gay, since the idea was stolen from Rose's Fine Food, which seems pretty rainbow to me). I get gay overwhelmed because our gay kitchen is covered with gay dirty dishes because we're both working a LOT right now and no one has time to clean it and there's nowhere to put anything and my gay brunch is getting cold, and as discussed, gay brunch is an important part of my culture. I rant about this problem. Rebecca tries to calm me. She eventually succeeds, and I get the food plated and sit down on our gay IKEA couch (Rebecca assembled this herself after finding it on Craigslist, which seems stereotypically lesbian enough) to eat my breakfast. I'm getting pretty good at poaching eggs.

We snuggle on the couch for a bit and flip through Zillow and some renovation ideas, which some people refer to as a lesbian activity. <<Insert moving van joke here.>> And then a gay friend calls to ask us to meet for gay late lunch. This friend really is gay. For sure. And she's a sweetheart I haven't seen in a while, so we meet up for lunch and board games. Yes, a board game (7 Wonders, if you were curious). Super glamorous. We had a lovely time.

Upon returning to our gay apartment, Rebecca was wiped, so I settled her on the couch and dealt with at least the worst of the dish situation and made her promise, hard core, cross her gay heart, to do laundry tomorrow while I'm at work. I heated up some leftovers for dinner and we watched Alex & Emma, which I suppose as a romantic comedy might have been a bigger point of contention in some straight marriages (there, see, I managed to assign a useful label to heterosexual marriages, "othering" them maybe a little - how you like me now?).

And then Rebecca was still exhausted, so I tucked her into bed, lotioned her face so she'd stop ashing (because I will NOT let her go to work ashing - it's not respectable), rubbed organic vapor rub on her chest, brought her cough syrup, and hit her back with cupped hands as though she were a kid with cystic fibrosis. And then I convinced our older cat Dorian to stay with her for a bit so I could write you all this post. Again, super glamorous. Super subversive. Lots of tearing at the fabric of traditional marriage going on today, folks.

But that's love, really. That's modern marriage. I don't regret committing young - it's meant that I get to share more of my life with my helpmate. I don't really feel the need for my life to always be glamorous, and my everyday tasks are rarely that subversive. Maybe that's why, even after three years, it feels weird when someone refers to "gay marriage," as though it's somehow different for us. Because in the end, I think it's all about choosing love.