All I want for Christmas is for the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and make federally recognized same-sex marriage the law of the land. I am a practical person, and specifically I am interested in federal benefits such as Social Security. My partner and I have been together for many years, 30 to be exact, and if something were to happen to her, I would like to be entitled to receive the higher of our benefits -- which would be hers. Goddess knows that I haven't spent all these years raising children or keeping house (not everyone is cut out to be a parent, and it's a good day when I remember to clean the cat box), and I am not pulling rank by mentioning the amount of years that my partner I have been together; however, I do feel entitled to my civil rights, and I would like to have them reflected when SCOTUS makes its decision this June.
Recently, when someone told me that the ex-wives of deceased men may be eligible to receive their ex's Social Security benefits, I was surprised by my own reaction, especially when I found out that the second wife also can collect his Social Security when he dies. "So they get to bequeath their Social Security benefits to two wives, and we can't do anything," I said. My friend explained that this is a good thing for women, given that husbands so often trade in the first wife for a younger model. I understand, and I certainly don't hold this against anyone receiving benefits, but still.
As I write in my memoir, Tea Leaves, I have long had mixed feelings about the institution of marriage. Barbara, my partner, and I have never seen the point in having a ceremony without the legal rights that accompany heterosexual marriage. As I write in Tea Leaves, "It could have been that we were put off by the experiences of friends who had commitment ceremonies only to be deeply disappointed by their families of origin who 'didn't approve' and refused to attend."
Gay and lesbian people have a history of staying silent about our own rights and biding our time. I remember being surprised when I saw an old black-and-white photo of dress-wearing lesbians marching around in a circle holding signs protesting for their rights. They were doing their best to fit into society in the 1950s (back then, what we now call the LGBT rights movement was known as the "homophile" movement), and no matter how conservative they were, in thought and in dress, they were our pioneers. About seven years ago I was having lunch with a closeted gay co-worker who said to me that he thought that gay marriage was going too far, because society wasn't ready to accept it. About five years later, when we had both moved on to new jobs and he had come out to one person at his workplace, he told me that he was in favor of gay marriage.
Sometimes change happens in small increments.
In 2008, when Proposition 8 was enacted, I became aware of a younger generation of LGBT activists. They were angry and impatient, outraged that they had had their rights taken away. And they had every right to their anger. I learned entitlement from them.
But I digress, Santa, and this brings me to the second part of my request. If the U.S. Supreme Court does not strike down DOMA, then I would like heterosexuals to lose the special rights that they have gained through marriage. This includes special rights like Social Security benefits, estate planning benefits, Medicare benefits, immigration and residency benefits and employment benefits, including in the areas of health insurance and family leave, just to name a few.
In offices where I have worked, I have sometimes "joked" that if gay and lesbian people don't have equal rights, then straight people should lose their rights. The comments I made didn't go unnoticed. One heterosexual colleague thought I was being very funny. But was I joking? What could be funny about people losing their rights?
Equality is a gift, and I'm waiting for mine.
You can learn more about Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here.
For more by Janet Mason, click here.