Welcome to Format Free Friday, when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life: Unsolicited Advice.
In September of this year, my wife Steph and I will celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary. Our civil ceremony was in Connecticut because we were married during the time when New York State would not allow same sex couples to marry but would instead recognize any legal marriage from another state. We’ve been legally married in the State of New York this entire time, albeit, without federal recognition or rights.
I want to help personalize what it’s been like for me to be legally married in a state without the US government recognizing my marriage. I’ll start with a concrete example, taxes, since that seems to be the most relatable issue regardless of which political party one belongs to. Because we were not recognized federally, Steph and I were required to file our taxes separately every year and we could not claim one-another as dependants on our taxes. If I were to take the time to calculate the dollar amount that filing our taxes separately over the last 4 years amounted to, I imagine it would be tens of thousands of dollars that we were taxed that we wouldn’t have been taxed if one of us had had a penis. We’d likely have a down payment for a home, which is of course the American dream, had the government not penalized us for being lesbians. They might as well call it what it is: The gay tax.
And that’s not the worst example of how DOMA affected us. My sister, who happens to also be my best friend, lives in Charlotte North Carolina with my nephews and niece. I have not visited her once since North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions and defining marriage between a man and a woman as the only valid "domestic legal union" in the state. I haven’t visited her because of my fear of what could happen to Steph if I were to wind up in a hospital in North Carolina. Let me walk you through this: My legal wife would have no marital next-of-kin rights to visit me in the hospital, nor would she have any state rights to make decisions about my care. Yes, of course we have a healthcare proxy agreement drawn up. But those are only as effective as the hospital administrator’s willingness to abide by it. In a state where discrimination is the law of the land, I hesitated to take any chances.
This week Steph’s dad, who is retired, moved to South Carolina. He is her closest family member and until DOMA was repealed, our plan was that we’d only see him when he visited us, for the same reasons I haven’t visited my sister. Even if there is no accident that renders one of us in a hospital, does it seem wise or safe for two women (one of whom looks like Steph) to visit a Southern state where voters amended their state’s constitution (6 years before North Carolina did) to preclude members of our community from getting married? If that’s what they felt entitled to express at the polls, what are they saying about us at the dinner table?
The issue of personal safety is a big one for me. I don’t want to be tolerated. I want to be accepted. And in a world where there is a federal law that discriminates against my right to marry, my sense of personal safety changes depending on the views of the people who I’m in close proximity to.
I know that this is Format Free Friday and I’m supposed to dispense unsolicited advice – I don’t really have any advice to give you regarding the DOMA repeal. I suppose I’m just grateful that today, for about 2 minutes, you took the time to see the world through my eyes, and perhaps having done so will deepen your compassion and your understanding of how monumental the DOMA repeal was to my family.