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Sara Whitman Headshot

A Separate Fountain

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I am a suburban mom. My three boys go to elementary school. I started the day making three lunches, re-threading one shoelace, and loudly insisting my nine-year-old middle son wear a jacket, only to watch him take three steps out the door and then stuff the coat into his backpack. And in a few days, Massachusetts's legislators will take up, once again, the debate to ban gay marriage.

That would be my marriage.

More than 8,000 gays and lesbians married in the last three years in Massachusetts. Amazingly, not one plague of locusts has descended, nor a single drop of fiery rain fallen.

And yet, even with the absence of Armageddon, the debate rages. I've been legally married three years this November. But really, I've been married 16 years. I've been married long enough to almost be divorced. After three years, we still thought our little idiosyncrasies were cute. 16? You gotta be kidding.

Therese Murray, our new Senate president, who manages to mug for both sides, is calling for a vote. And then she promises to defeat the vote. And then she supports repealing the ban on people from other states coming here to marry. Then she says she's not going to twist any arms because she respects those who are against gay marriage. She's a liberal but, well, you know, not that kind of liberal.

Keep in mind, she did have our former Governor and now Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as a role model. Pro-gay rights and pro-abortion while running for governor of Massachusetts, Romney molded himself into a progressive, left leaning Republican. It was the only way Romney was ever going to get elected in this ostensibly blue state. I'm not sure if he's shedding his skin now or simply taking off the mask. Or worse - he couldn't care less about the issues, just wants to be president, something his father, George, could never do.

In the 13 years before being legally married, my wife and I wrote legal documents to avert any questions about what would happen if either of us died, which may or may not have stood up in court. Luckily, we're both still here.

We have three children. We pay taxes. We go to school meetings, Little League baseball games and pick up endless pairs of socks that seem to multiply in dusty corners of the house.

Unlike our straight counterparts, who I'm sure have socks lying around, too, we had to do second parent adoptions so our kids would have as much protection as possible. We had to buy one family health insurance policy and one individual, because we were not considered legally a family.

When we're all swooping out the door for a vacation, with everyone is assigned their bag, their seat number and marching orders about who is not to touch whom, I dare anyone to tell me we're not a family.

Until three years ago, though, we legally were not. We did not have access to the 1,000-plus benefits of marriage. We put together as much legal protection as possible only because we were fortunate enough to be able to afford to do so.

Recently, someone told me that civil unions were an equal institution but that marriage is about religion. His church - an institution by law that is to be separate from government - said gay marriage was wrong. It was an argument of separate but equal, made by an African-American man. I wondered if the colored-only water fountains ever felt equal. Still a water fountain, after all. Just a separate one, so the purity of the white fountain would not be sullied.

Just like the purity of his definition of marriage, in his church, would not be sullied.

He was asking me to drink from another fountain. If marriage had no legal relevance and was only a religious symbol, I could go with it. But it doesn't. It is woven into the legal system, government benefits, and tax codes. It is a civil right. The laws and understanding of it comes about from years and years of legal precedents. It can't be replicated in a meaningful way.

Civil unions, in other words, are still a separate fountain.

No religious institution has to embrace same sex marriages. The thought that my wife and I would have dragged our three kids into some Catholic Church and forced the priest to marry us is ridiculous.

Imagine the conversation! "Look kids, these people think we're going to hell forever! And they think you should be taken away from us for someone more fit to raise you! Now, let's have the most meaningful ceremony of our life right here."

I'd like to believe the debate is over. Gays and lesbians have been getting married for almost three years in this state. As a result, a lot of kids have the safety net of marriage protecting their families. The sky did not fall. Rather, families grew stronger, more secure.

Therese Murray announced a few weeks ago that the Constitutional Convention debate due on May 9th would be postponed. It's budget time, she said. Can you imagine? The legislators will be working on issues of health care, social services, education, and deficits. Putting money behind policy, addressing poverty, homelessness, and boosting economic development.

Then, early in June, the debate will begin again about gay marriage. Speeches will be made. Photo ops taken. There will be enough talk about God, religion and sin in a government building to make the founding fathers of this country roll in their graves.

I'll be picking up socks, taking my kids to school and waiting to see if my rights will be stripped away.

Waiting to see if I'll get a separate fountain.

Or no fountain at all.