There's an old maxim that says if you use the word "but" in a sentence, everything that came before it was a lie. As in, "We think you're amazing, but you're just not right for this position" or "I think you're gorgeous, but you're just not my type." As a director of a university writing program, I usually find such observations about language fun.
But these kinds of linguistic debates have become a lot less fun since I married Jeffrey, the love of my life for nearly a decade, in Brooklyn. Since Jeffrey and I are both men, we find ourselves legally married in the state of New York, but unmarried in the United States of America. So I'm no longer amused by how decisively the word "but" reveals a lie -- or the very real consequences for married-but-unmarried people like me.
If our current election cycle has taught as anything, it's that lies and half-truths need to be called out. Just a few days ago, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York did just that, striking down the federal law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The plaintiff, New Yorker Edith Windsor, had married her partner of about 40 years, Thea Spyer, in 2007 in Canada. When Ms. Spyer died in 2009, Ms. Windsor inherited her property, facing a federal tax bill of $363,053 that she would not have had to pay if the marriage had been recognized by our country.
Of course, this case is just another step in what will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which by the end of the year is expected to hear arguments about Proposition 8 in California, as well as the Defense of Marriage Act that is central to the New York case, but one can only speculate which case they will hear and how they will rule. It's entirely possible that this November we will vote for a president who will appoint justices that have the final say about marriages like Edith Windsor's and mine.
So I'm nervous. Being hit by so heavily by an inheritance tax that we could lose our home is only one of the injustices same-sex married couples like ours face.
We receive no federal survivor benefits regardless of our service to our country (just ask American astronaut Sally Ride's surviving partner of 27 years).
Unlike heterosexual marriages, our marriages cannot prevent a foreign-born spouse from being deported. And since only six states allow for marriage between two people of the same sex, even American-born couples cannot move to most other states without losing their marital status.
Even in the few states in which we may file jointly on our state tax returns, we must file as "single" on our federal returns. Since we are required to use the numbers from our federal return to complete the state return, we actually have to complete a "hypothetical" federal return just to figure out our state taxes.
Indeed, every time a form asks us whether we are married or single, we need to choose one of the above and add an asterisk noting that our marriage is recognized by the state, but not by the country.
Jeffrey and I knew all this before we got married, but we proceeded anyway because we love each other and because Jeffrey's mother is turning 75 this November and we wanted her to be there for our special day. And so we willingly stepped into the bureaucratic funhouse mirror. In fact, by stepping into it, we hope to expose it. We envision ourselves as paperwork activists.
But we look forward to the day we do not have to be. Without the ifs, ands, and buts he once brought to this issue, President Obama supports my right to marry. His opponent has vowed to fight my right to marry, and, as his personal tax return revealed, has even donated money to repeal same-sex marriage in California.
Some friends tell me that they support gay marriage, but will vote for the other guy anyway because the economy is more important. Others claim to be socially liberal, but fiscally conservative. (See what the "but" reveals?)
When I hear this, I wonder: Even if you could be certain that a particular candidate would be better for the economy, would you still vote for him if he threatened to put an end to your marriage, prevent you from receiving survivor benefits, and risk your losing your home?
If you think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry, then here's what I would like to say: I appreciate your sentiment, but it's your actual vote that will likely decide if my marriage is safe and real.