Why Marriage Matters :: A Principal Marker of Civil Equality

by William Kapfer
Wednesday Dec 4, 2013

I'm fortunate enough to have two mentors who've helped me become the person I am today. These two men also happen to be a couple, together for over fifty years. When they met, they were both working in the same office in Manhattan, and in order to keep people off the scent, they traveled to work separately every morning. Of course, no one could be openly gay back in the 1950s-not only was it dangerous, but it was actually illegal to be partaking in what was then deemed "lewd and dissolute behavior."

A lot had changed by the time I met these men in the 1990s. When I was introduced to these guys, they were living together openly, splitting their time between New York and the Hamptons. While they didn't "advertise" their relationship, it was widely known they were a couple. They shared an apartment in the city, a house in the country, and went everywhere as a pair. They ran a successful business, were involved in professional groups, sponsored charities and held witty gatherings over fabulous dinners. And despite all this, the possibility that they could actually marry never even crossed their minds.

As mentors, they had taken on the great responsibility of teaching me and my partner all the essentials of gay life in New York: the clubs, cabarets and bistros; the joys of Stephen Sondheim, Elaine Stritch, and Bobby Short; the secrets of how to wear a suit properly, and of how to throw an enviable dinner party. These two were also the most dedicated and enjoyable couple you'd ever want to meet. Yet they never even considered how marriage might be important to them.

A lot has changed over the years. Now, in a few forward-thinking states-13 of them, as well as the District of - we can enjoy federal benefits as married same sex couples, including an impressive list of legal and economic privileges available to us, such as the vital ability to transfer assets without tax liability, and to inherit our spouses' Social Security payments. Thank you, Edie Windsor for contesting "The Defence of Marriage Act" (DOMA) - the national law that denied the 1,138 federal incidences of marriages to same sex couples.

And I've recently learned that the armed services are now extending benefits to married same sex couples as well, including time off for travel to states where they can legally marry, when just a few years ago, gays were barred from serving openly in our military. In 1993 the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) law was passed, flying in the face our fundamental right to equality, and prohibiting our men and women in uniform (some 66,000 of them, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA) from living authentic lives; fortunately, that deeply-flawed law was repealed in 2011.

At last, we're entering that New Frontier, in which the once-unthinkable possibility of true equality is becoming a reality. There's plenty left to do, but for those of us in states that recognize our relationships, justice has arrived. So now my beloved mentors, after all these years, are on the verge of tying the knot. They no longer need to worry that when one of them passes on, the other will be saddled with devastating taxes and a nightmare of red tape; they needn't dread the possibility that disapproving relatives can legally deprive a surviving partner of all that's left of a relationship built over decades - longer than most marriages, straight or gay. They no longer need to fear that a hospital will prevent them from visiting one another, because they are not related by blood or marriage - or fail to recognize their basic rights to make critical health-care decisions for the other because the two are not "relatives."

Finally, no bigot can argue that my mentors' relationship doesn't exist, that it isn't real, or that they haven't earned the right to call each other "husband." And no one can ever again relegate their love to second-class status. My crazy Uncle Sam saw to that.


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