Friday, January 15, 2010

Why the Prop 8 challenge matters to LGBT Virginians

Wagon with poster
With the Perry vs. Schwarzenegger court challenge to California's Proposition 8 in full swing, I've been reflecting on what it means to LGBT's living under the repressive laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia and what the final result could mean for us here. A lot of Thursday's testimony revolved around the daily stresses caused by discrimination and how the impact is real, but hard to quantify.

I started thinking about all the little events that happen daily to LGBT people that add up over time to make life so much more difficult for us. I remember eight years ago when Paul and I bought our house. Paul found the place first and had already looked around. When it came time for me to see it, we toured the grounds with the owner, an older man, blue collar type who was selling it without a Realtor and, therefore, was not constrained by the Realtor Code of Ethics. In order to avoid potential "issues", Paul did all the talking. If I had questions, I passed them to Paul, who would then ask the owner.

When we had been in the house for a year or two and decided to do some remodeling, we had four contractors come by to look the place over. Each promised to get back to us within a few days with estimates. We never heard back from any of them and they never returned our repeated phone calls. Is this a case of contractors being unreliable or is it homophobia? How do do you tell the difference? When we have a plumber to the house now, it's when I'm at work or make myself scarce for a couple of hours.

Just yesterday, I had a discussion with two of my coworkers about the new taxes reflected on their pay stubs. The two women, one straight, one lesbian, had each added their respective partners to their health insurance and were being taxed on the premiums being deducted from their paychecks. Both of my friends, like most of us these days, are on a very tight budget and the slightest upset can send the family household into a tailspin. I've had Paul on my insurance for a few years now. My response was, "welcome to my world."

Married workers don't get taxed for adding their spouses to their coverage.

We can't legally use the words husband or wife, but the word "partner" is so vague and has the ring of a business arrangement to it. When  you've been living together for several years, the words "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" sound so high school. We're not dating, we're building a life together. Husband or wife are the only words that fit.

The worst, for me, is when someone I've known for years, who knows I'm in a committed 10-year relationship, refers to Paul as my friend. I usually tell them, "he's not my friend, he's my husband." They generally don't know how to react to that. I just smile to myself as I walk away.

Every new encounter, whether business or personal brings with it the decision of how out we want to be. Buying a new mattress, checking into a hotel, any trip to Home Depot or the grocery store, starting a new job, moving into a new neighborhood or filling out any form that asks about your marital status all present people we don't know -- and may never meet again -- a glimpse of our personal lives. Each of these situations has the potential to make us feel welcome and respected or to reinforce the notion that we don't fit it and are not as good as our heterosexual neighbors. Most of us are out and proud and take the honest approach or take it in stride and just brush it off, but sometimes you just resent the intrusion.

My relationship with my "partner" is none of their business, or at least it shouldn't be. That's the irony of our cause. In order for our personal, private lives to receive legal recognition and our God-given rights to be respected, we must make the private very public. In doing so, we never know what reaction we'll get from casual encounters with strangers. Will they be respectful? Will they be rude or ignore us when all we want is a little customer service? Will their religious beliefs cause them to turn ugly and judgmental? Will we be attacked on the street for holding each others' hand or appearing overly familiar with each other?

The challenge to Prop 8 will eventually end in the U.S. Supreme Court. Hopefully, the Obama administration will have an opportunity to shift the balance of the court in our favor with a new appointment before we have our day in the highest court in the land. If we win, doors open for all LGBT Americans. The Defense of Marriage Act and the Virginia Marriage Amendment and others like it around the country, will effectively become null and void. The legal change will be immediate, but the cultural change will take time.

If we lose, it's back to square one. It took two Supreme Court challenges, nearly 20 years apart, to get anti-sodomy laws ruled unconstitutional, yet homophobia not only still exists, but has reached a fevered pitch.

Over time we develop a thick skin and survival tactics that straight couples never have to. This mindset has become so much a part of who we are and how we interact with straight society, that we hardly think about it consciously any more. It makes us suspicious, less trusting and less connected to the larger community in which we live and it just plain sucks.

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1 comment:

  1. You have said it well here Steve. It's the conflict many of us have between NOT wanting to be just about our sexuality...but who we are as contributing individuals in our greater society...vs. our needing LGBT full equality. In order to obtain equality...we must be willing to have direct interaction,and sometimes confrontation with those who misunderstand us...or who are misled by fear and hate mongers from many pulpits and elected offices. Our "Leaders" often promote inequality and even hatred to the public ...whom often does not have the ambition to question what is fed to them.


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