Columns 2008

Their love should be recognized

A very dear friend of mine recently got some bad news. She’s ill. Very ill. The kind of ill that involves hospitals in the lower 48, chemotherapy and a lot of fervent prayers.

My friend is an amazing woman who generates deep love and affection in anyone who takes the time to know her. She and her partner raised two beautiful young ladies, the kind of young people who give hope for the future.

Her partner would like to stay with her during the next month while she’s in a hospital so far away.  That’s not too surprising considering that they have lived and loved together for almost twenty years.  It wasn’t always easy, and there were times when I found myself wondering if the struggle was worth it. But the love they shared seemed to be worth the prejudice they often faced in a small community in which alternative lifestyles were something to be viewed with suspicion.  Ultimately, they won over most who simply could not deny the evidence of the good their lives produced.

And now my friend’s partner faces the reality of what a vote a few years ago by the people of this state means to her on a very personal level. Because we, as a people, have forbidden my friend and her partner the right to marry, she is not considered family. And because she is not considered family, she is not entitled to family medical leave from her job. She’ll use up as much annual leave as she has. But there will come a point where a choice will have to be made between going back to work to keep her job or staying by the side of the person most dear to her in this life while that person undergoes some pretty harsh and debilitating treatments.  I find that so unfair that words fail me when I try to express the level of outrage I feel.

I routinely work with heterosexual couples that shouldn’t ever be allowed to breed or marry. They are drunken, abusive wastes of air and resources and make it clear that they have little desire or ability to ever become contributing members of society. I look at these people, who can walk into a court building and walk out with a marriage license based strictly on an accident of birth and wonder how, in any sane world, they are recognized as a legitimate couple with the ability to make life and death medical decisions for each other but my friends aren’t. A man can beat his wife beyond recognition and still be the person who gets to make the decision on the kind of care she can receive or when the plug can be pulled. He would be eligible for family medical leave even if he never set foot in the hospital his beating landed her in. But my friends, who have never been anything but kind and loving to each other, their multiple pets and just about anyone else who happened into their lives, are denied that automatic right, which would come with marriage. Because they are gay.

That is wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.  My friend’s partner should not have to choose between a job and her life partner.  My friend should not have to face nights alone in a hospital with an IV dripping poison into her blood to try to kill the cancer without the comfort of the woman she loves.  How barbaric a country are we when we force those choices on a person?

My friends will get through this because they are surrounded by people returning to them just a fraction of the love they give so freely to us all these years.  There is enough annual leave to keep them together through the first round of treatment. But if we don’t win this medical battle on the first go round, if there is a second or third, how will they manage to stay together to comfort each other during some of life’s darkest moments? 

Is this really what Alaskans wanted to do when they voted to define marriage as only between a man and a woman? Did they really foresee the long-term consequences of their vote? Could they have even imagined the pain and heartbreak they would be creating in people’s lives? 

My friends gave love without regard to a person’s race, color, creed or sexual orientation. I think we owe them at least that much back in return.