My sister is getting married and I could not be more happy for her. Now, like me, she can understand the joys and the sorrows in marriage … What? Like she never could before?
My sister became engaged two days ago, right after Ref. 74 passed and was approved in Washington state. That is correct, my sister is gay, and until this moment in time she wasn’t allowed to get married to her partner of 17 years. So, she couldn’t have any idea what marriage really means, could she? I bring up this question simply I have heard phrases, before and after the election, which suggest my sister, and other gay individuals, couldn’t understand what “real” marriage was. But she does… for all intents and purposes, except for legal ones, because she’s been married for 17 years.
Since last Tuesday night, I have honestly tried to identify with how my sister and her partner feel. I’ve tried to place my feet into their shoes, and experience the joy they must be feeling at this moment in time. I can’t do it. I don’t think any straight individual, any individual who has always had the right get married, can. Can you imagine being denied such a basic right – especially here in the US where freedom and equality are the two qualities that are said to ring free and loud?
If you read my past blog, Death and Taxes over at blogspot, then you know I’ve written on the topic of marriage many times, and mostly because of what my sister has had to endure. One of the big complaints we’ve heard in the election, and in past elections, was that marriage should only be defined between a man and woman for, ostensibly, so called “spiritual” and “God ordained” reasons. However, this argument does not match the history of marriage – even within the church itself. Indeed, marriage was eventually solidified because of land and inheritance rights. Marriage as we understand it today was not common until the relative modern age, and concepts on what constitutes a marriage has changed greatly throughout human history and cultural practices. The point I wish to make is that until modernity, marriage was a practical issue: not a love or “spiritual” issue. People got married to protect property and other inheritance rights. That meant that the average person rarely got married, because he or she had nothing to protect.
Marriage is still practical issue, although it’s also an issue of love and companionship in our world today. It’s a practical issue because of the legal rights involved between married partners: everything from property rights, parenting rights, to tax rights, to the rights allotting individuals an ability to visit their loved ones in a hospital. As such, denying these rights to same-sex partners is simply a form of prejudice. We are denying equal rights, freedom to the pursuit of happiness – there is no cutting hairs here, it’s just the truth.
So I simply can’t imagine how my sister and her partner, and their child, feel today. How does it feel to be finally given a right that should’ve been there all along? It’s funny, my sister-in-law (soon to be – finally) and I have had this discussion in the past. She pointed out to me how impossible it is to really understand how somebody else is feeling – how to really walk in someone’s shoes. She even made me read the book Bright Lights, Big City to better understand her point of view. Since our discussion, I have entertained and given credence to her argument. Being an actress, however, I’ve always believed I could step in the shoes of others, at least to a degree. And if I can’t step in there all the way, I do feel it is my responsibility to try. That is where empathy is born – and we all need to practice this fleeting skill. However, here I am, a few days after the election, and I am still a bit wordless/ my imagination failing me.
But I can relate slightly, if ever so slightly. How, well because I have always been deeply saddened about the fact that my sister was not allowed to marry. I can relate because I have spent more than one night of my life morning the prejudice my sister has received throughout her lifetime, day in and day out. I can relate because I remember how hard it was for my sister to come out to me, how she feared her family might alienate her. We didn’t, yet she feared it because of the society we live in. So although I can’t 100% identify, I do know this: my sister understands what it means to be married
My sister probably knows what it means to be married better than most people, including myself. She has had to fight for the right. Her and her partner had to fight for the right to be parents as well. Can you imagine what this world would be like if all parents had to fight for that right? Rather than taking marriage or parenthood for granted, we would have a world where people truly considered the consequences of entering into these partnerships and responsibilities. There would be no disposable children. There would be no unwanted children – can you imagine that? The beauty of that?
So today I celebrate my sister’s ability to get married. I don’t think there are any words, or gifts, or anything I can really give her to show her how much I love her, and am so happy for her. But make no mistake about it, my sister and her partner have been married “spiritually.” Now, however, they get to receive the legal rights the rest of us have – it’s about fucking time.