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Why Lesbian Marriage Is So Important

Since the California Supreme Court has approved gay marriage, there has been a firestorm of controversy. From the "Religious Right's" stance that "Marriage is between a man and a woman" to ten other states asking California to reverse their decision and wait until "The people can have their vote on this in November," it seems everyone has a point of view, and, once again, gay women and men are caught in the middle of a religious-themed political agenda.

What's funny about the "Marriage has always been between a man and a woman" statement is that during Medieval Europe, clergy regularly performed same-sex union ceremonies, which were almost identical to heterosexual weddings. The only difference was that the same-sex unions were considered for love, and most of the heterosexual unions were for the joining of two high-powered families.

The Roman soldiers Serge and Bacchus were joined in such a ceremony, and were later pronounced Christian military saints, as were the "paired" saints Perpetua and Felicitas. There's a whole book that concerns the acceptance and sanctification of homosexual relations written by John Boswell called "Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe."

The thing I've heard many times from prejudiced people is that gay people shouldn't have the same rights as straight people because "The gays choose THAT lifestyle," to which I simply reply: "The only choice I have about being a lesbian is whether I lie about it or not. People who are bisexual may have a choice and prefer to be with one sex over the other. People who are born lesbian or gay do not have a choice concerning their sexual orientations."

I guess some homophobes think that gay people just wake up one morning and say: "Gee, I think I will become a homo. I think I will be what at least 50% of the world's population fear and hate. I think I will become the scourge of society, be assumed to be a child molester, and have over 1,000 less rights than any other tax paying married citizens in the USA."

Why would anyone choose a life where there is so much hate and prejudice? There's no choice to it. We are what we are, and I knew I was lesbian since I was a little, tiny kid. I had a school-girl crush on my female gym teacher in the first grade, but growing up with the anti-gay citrus queen, Anita Bryant, raging in the news in Florida made me keep my mouth shut about my sexuality.

Over and over in my life I've seen that people who are in denial of who they are, whether that is being lesbian, gay, or bisexual, are usually the ones who are the most homophobic. They point one hateful finger at us, getting us fired from jobs, thrown out of our housing, beaten up and sometimes killed for being honest about who we are, while they have three of their own fingers pointing right back at themselves.

I've also found that people who accept their own sexual orientations usually don't care that I am a lesbian. Most of these people also support gay marriage, especially once they find out how many rights we don't have because of how we were born.

Devoted gay couples have the same responsibilities as people in straight marriages, including paying taxes. When the marriage issue comes up, many people do not understand that gay Americans, as a whole, pay an estimated forty billion dollars in Federal Income Taxes each and every year, and yet straight, married, couples receive more than 1,000 protections, rights, and benefits under state and federal laws that gay couples are denied.

For example:
* Hospital visitation. Married couples have the automatic right to visit each other in the hospital and make medical decisions. Gay couples can be denied the right to visit a sick or injured loved one in the hospital.

* Social Security benefits. Married straight people receive Social Security payments upon the death of a spouse. Despite paying payroll taxes, gay workers receive no Social Security survivor benefits--an average annual income loss of $5,528 for the remaining partner.

* Health insurance. Many public and private employers provide medical coverage to the spouses of their employees, but most employers do not provide coverage to the life partners of gay employees.

* Estate taxes. A married person automatically inherits all the property of his or her deceased spouse without paying estate taxes – a gay taxpayer is forced to pay estate taxes on property inherited from a deceased partner, and this tax is in the 50% range.

* Retirement savings. While a married person can roll a deceased spouse's 401(k) funds into an IRA without paying taxes, the government will take up to 70% of the amount in taxes and penalties from a lesbian senior.

* Family leave. Married workers are legally entitled to unpaid leave from their jobs to care for an ill spouse--gay and lesbian workers do not get family leave.

* Nursing homes. Married couples have a legal right to live together in nursing homes. Because they are not legal spouses, elderly gay or lesbian couples do not have the right to spend their last days living together in nursing homes.

* Home protection. Laws protect married seniors from being forced to sell their homes to pay high nursing-home bills; gay and lesbian seniors have no such protection.

* Pensions. After the death of a worker, most pension plans pay survivor benefits only to a legal spouse of the participant--so gay and lesbian workers get no pension support for their partners.
And these are just a few of the basic things that married people have that gay partners are denied. This is a Human Rights issue, and countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, and South Africa have already corrected this huge injustice towards their gay citizens.

Personally, I have known people who have lost their partners of over thirty years, and have no recourse when the deceased partner's family sells the house out from under the remaining partner. I have known people who had partners incapacitated in the hospital, but were not allowed to make decisions as to their care. In one case, the family that disowned the son years before, suddenly showed up and allowed him to remain in a coma, even though he had always requested that his long-time partner promise he would make sure to take him off life support if it was determined that he would not survive. I knew a woman who was maimed in car accident, and her partner of 15 years was not allowed to see her ever again because of parents who now control their wheelchair-bound daughter's life.

What I'd like to know is why straight mass murderers, rapists, and serial killers are permitted to be married while in prison, and yet law-abiding, tax paying, gay citizens in loving, stable, relationships, many who are raising children, are not afforded this same basic right? Just something to think about..."

Tracey Stevens and Cathy Wonder are the co-authors of
“How To Be A Happy Lesbian: A Coming Out Guide”
“Coming Out Advice for Lesbian and Bisexual Women"
“Relationship Advice for Lesbian and Bisexual Women"
“Lesbian Sex Tips: A Guide for Anyone Who Wants
To Bring Pleasure to the Woman She (Or He) Loves”

“Sex tips para lesbianas/ Sex tips for lesbians" (Spanish Edition)
“The Lesbian Big O: Over 100 Sensual Illustrations"

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The advice in this column is the opinion of the writers and is not intended as a
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