MamaBlogger365 – Why Marriage Equality is Essential to Healthy Families by Mindy Stokes

The election cycle is gearing up and already I’m experiencing the inevitable: anti-homosexual rhetoric. Politicians are working on getting elected and one of their favorite galvanizing issues is marriage equality. The reason: this subject gets the party base out to vote. The result: LGBT communities are used as pawns — political footballs if you will. Let me explain why this is highly offensive and ultimately hurtful to me, a lesbian, my life partner, and our daughter, who happens to be five years old.

In the last three weeks, four different incidents, seemingly unrelated, have occurred in my life and the lives of those 3,000 miles away from me. What makes these situations/events mentionable is that they have a common theme: homophobia.

Let me begin with incident number one: My partner of twelve years and I were in a grocery store on the eve of our daughter’s fifth birthday doing some last minute shopping for her big upcoming bash. As we stood in the aisle discussing the Candy Land board game and doll paraphernalia, a woman we’d never met before, approached us and started a discussion about the recent earthquake in Virginia that damaged the Washington Monument. Her exact words were, “The U.S. had better repent for its sins. The father of our nation (she was referring to the monument) has cracked because the Presbyterian Church is allowing homosexuals to be ordained as clergy.” It would be easy to write this statement off as crazy (heard of Michele Bachmann and Pat Robertson?) and reason that most Americans comprehend that a fault line caused the earthquake. Unfortunately, this woman’s world view is located squarely under the umbrella of heterosexism and homophobia and the laws in place that justify such discrimination.

Incident number two: While visiting my family in California, I had the opportunity to spend time with my brother and his three children. My brother’s oldest girl is turning ten and it seems she’s quite interested in boys. My brother, trying to convince his daughter the opposite gender at this age is bad news, asked for my advice. I responded like I always do: as she gets older she may not want to date boys, but girls instead (statistics show 10% of the population identifies as gay).

At this, my brother blew up at me, called me an idiot twice, and then ordered me to stop pushing my agenda onto his family. Agenda? Let’s take an honest look at what I see in the public forum. Greeting cards line the aisles of stores — and on these cards are pictures and verses about men and women romantically involved. Heterosexuals make up most of the couples in movies and television shows, songs are written about straight folks, religions speak only of heterosexuality as God-inspired, history has rendered homosexuals invisible, and unless you are on Castro Street in San Francisco, chances are you’ve never witnessed gay/lesbian people holding hands, embracing, or for that matter kissing. Who has the agenda here?

Incident number three: Last week, I worked at a community information booth at our local farmer’s market. My goal was to educate shoppers on the necessity for marriage equality. At the market happened to be my 20-something paper guy. Since December of last year, this young man has hung out on my porch petting my dog and cats and chatting up my daughter whenever he delivers my paper. I, on occasion, have given him home-made almond roca and other treats. Though this practice of strangers coming onto one’s steps and hanging out would be odd in a big city, we live in a town of 10,000, so this is what is referred to as being neighborly.

As my paper guy approached the booth I asked him if he’d like to sign a pledge card stating that if a ballot measure came before Oregonians, he’d vote for social justice. He stood there and said, “I don’t believe in it.” I asked what he didn’t believe in. In a flip manner he responded as if he were referring to Santa or the Easter Bunny, “Gay marriage”. I then asked if he knew we were a gay family. He said that he did. I said, “You mean to tell me you’ve been sitting on my porch for close to a year, eating food I’ve made, talking to my daughter and petting our animals, while you’ve known that my partner and I are lesbians? And you’d vote against my full equality even though you’ve taken advantage of my radical hospitality?” He responded with a yes. It felt as if he’d kicked me in the gut. How is it that a person can accept gifts of kindness yet at the same time vote without consideration for their neighbor’s civil rights?

Incident number four: The New Hampshire Republican-led congress has introduced legislation banning same-sex marriages even though they’ve been legal since January 2010. One sponsor of the bill says marriage equality may cause problems in generations to come. This shallow argument was made during the Civil Rights Movement when Americans were asked if Black citizens should have all of the rights and responsibilities as Whites. Aren’t rights inherent in one’s birth? Where would racial equality be if it had been voted on by the public?

How are these four incidents related? They weave together a common thread in U.S. policy and popular stereotypes: homosexuals are dangerous. Homophobia is a giant umbrella with room for far-out paranoid conclusions such as God invokes natural disasters as the result of gays and lesbians, that gay folks have an agenda that includes recruiting children (it’s heterosexuals who’ve given birth to homosexuals), that my paper guy can find it permissible to take advantage of my hospitality, yet when it comes to equality, he doesn’t think I or my child for that matter, deserve full protection under the law, and that lawmakers in New Hampshire seek to obliterate rights of thousands of American citizens rendering them with inadequate representation by the congress they’ve elected even as they are taxed at higher rates than their heterosexually married counterparts.

Marriage equality is essential for our American democracy. There are 1,138 federal benefits and protections of marriage that civil unions and domestic partnerships don’t have. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, these include Social Security , survivor and spousal benefits; guaranteed spousal health care benefits; veteran’s benefits including indemnity compensation, pension benefits and medical care; guaranteed hospital visitations; ability to file joint income tax returns with the IRS, inheritance of a share of spouse’s estate; petition for spouse to immigrate to the US; ability to file jointly for bankruptcy protection, renewal and/or termination rights of copyrighted work of deceased partner.

As a U.S. citizen it’s crucial that I am granted all of the rights as my heterosexual neighbor — and it’s critical for the well-being of my daughter as well. As a mother, I want to send her to every dance, kung fu, guitar, and painting lesson she desires. I want to ensure she has a bright education. I want her to travel around this great land of ours and the world. I want her to have the healthiest foods. And to achieve these wants, I her mother, need access to all of the rights marriage affords. Those rights guarantee more money in our pockets and ultimately less bigotry on the streets. I call on the American people to demand Congress to focus on all families, and to not leave my child behind. Because ultimately, this is what we believe in as Americans. We understand our children are the future. All children. Not just those belonging to heterosexual parents.

Bio: Mindy Stokes is a feminist, lesbian, author, and mother. She teaches women’s studies at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Oregon. Mindy and her partner of 12 years live with their very sassy daughter, Soleil in the Pacific Northwest. Mindy’s blogs have appeared in HIPFiSHmonthly. You can read about her adventures at www.knockeduplesbian.blogspot.com or you can buy her memoir Momma Baby Mama: Story of a Knocked-Up Lesbian at www.mindystokes.com

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