Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Same Sex Moment of Truth: 1

The back story on David Wilson, one of the Goodridge plaintiffs, illustrates the big and small issues for same-sex couples. I was not aware of his shocking enlightenment until last Friday at a symposium on same-sex marriage in New England.

Some of the legal aspects and predictions appear here. A future post will cover the exasperating personal tale of Cassandra Ormiston, caught in a Catch 22 in Rhode Island, which recognized her Massachusetts SSM, but refused to also do so for the purposes of dissolving it.

Wilson's particulars before his husband includes it all — sexual preference, race, antiquated medical policies, and plain stupid, punitive laws.

Better Images: By the bye, you can see good shots of him and his husband, Rob Compton, on the Courting Equality site. The site falls in the current copyright frenzy class, not making small shots available and absolutely forbidding any use of anything. I still recommend the book, but they really should make low-rez pix available both as fair use for the cause and to promote the product. Being afraid that somewhere someone may get something for free is not a good attitude in the Internet age. Note though that Wilson's full story is not in the book, which is really about Goodridge and beyond.

As a result of his experience with his first partner, Wilson learned to be legally armed in ways straight couples have never had to be. Compton has recurrent kidney stones, requiring ER visits and hospital procedures and stays. They routinely carried living wills and notarized documents to permit each other to participate in medical and similar decisions. Married, their proof is likewise at hand.

This was a hard-earned lesson for Wilson. He was raised to excel by a driven and driving mom. She wanted him as a black man to be well educated and to fit it, which "by my mother's rules and therefore mine meant a cautious, very predictable, risk adverse and straight life." That was fine until he was 37, married for 15 years and with three children, when he needed to come to terms with his homosexuality.

The separation and divorce, he says, went well for all. He began a 13 year relationship with a male partner. They bought a house together. So far, so good and Wilson had no concrete evidence of the legal gaps for SS couples.

From that day forward, the absolute need for legal protections for same-sex couples was burned in my soul.

"Tragically, that bubble burst one cold November day," he told the symposium. He returned home to find that his partner had suffered a massive heart attack while raking leaves at home.

"When the EMTs arrived in response to urgent calls from neighbors, they immediately jumped to the conclusion there must have been an altercation. I must have been breaking and entering our home...It never crossed their mind that two men owned this home, were in a long relationship and that I had just returned home from work to find my partner lying across a pile of leaves, and that maybe I might need some comfort."

He said they arrested him. I'm unsure whether that was a figurative restraining, a citizen's arrest or cops appeared. Regardless, he was not allowed to go in the ambulance and only followed it after the neighbor who called the EMTs explained to everyone's satisfaction.

In this dreadful situation which a partner in a straight relationship or full marriage would never have experienced, Wilson had a flash. "It was at that moment that I realized I had no legal relationship to the man I loved, to make decisions for my partner in this crisis situation. I had no legal rights."

Next up was the literal-minded bureaucracy at the ER. "When we arrived, the hospital staff made it very clear that I would be given no information." Eventually, their minister arrived and they contacted his partner's family in Vermont. Only with their oral approval did the partner of 13 years hear that he had arrived dead hours before.

Wilson states his conclusion — and a catalyst for being a plaintiff in Goodridge — as, "From that day forward, the absolute need for legal protections for same-sex couples was burned in my soul."

We can't know how many hundreds or possibly thousands of homosexual couples have been subject to cruel or illogical treatment in such situations. The I'm-only-doing-my-job and I'm-only-following-procedures people may be acting out of homophobia, incompetence, malice, indifference or ignorance. The effects are the same. Without the protections of marriage, people who suddenly have power, such as in an ER, can cause great emotional damage while treating same-sex couples differently and as inferior.

You might suppose that law enforcement and medical types alike would be humane if not empathetic. While you can't force that, providing the legal protections and privileges of marriage can do the trick.

Wilson learned the hard way several times over a long period. It turned this quiet fellow into the right kind of angry, the kind that changes what's wrong and unfair.

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Leland Traiman said...

Federal Civil Unions=Marriage Equality; State Same-sex Marriage Does Not.
There is a myth that marriage has more rights than civil unions. That myth is born from the fact that civil unions have only been passed by states which have no power to grant the 1138 federal benefits of marriage. However, a federal civil union policy would. Senators Clinton & Obama support a federal civil unions policy. 48 million votes cast in 29 states, 32 million against same sex marriage, we lost 2 to 1. According to Jennifer SookneMizell of Marriage Equality USA, “Actually, we get more benefits in California in certain areas with domestic partnerships than the same gendered marrieds(sic) in Massachusetts get.” 45 states have laws or constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. The choice is clear, federal civil unions are achievable, federal same-sex marriage is not. Federal Civil Unions=Marriage Equality

laurel said...

Leland, neither Obama nor Clinton have ever mentioned "federal civil unions policy", let alone support for it. they only mention that they support civil unions for gays, and that this is a *states rights* issue. that is, they say they respect the right of each state to make it's won marriage laws. there has been zero mention by them of the feds creating civil unions. If you think otherwise, you need to provide a citation for their supposed endorsement. Otherwise, you're just confusing the issue with a little prevarication.

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