Gay Marriage and Opinion and Taking Issue

KENNEDY: Tears at a wedding that should have been

September 10, 2011

Sheila Suess KennedyI cry at weddings, and last week I had yet another opportunity to borrow a tissue.

I was invited to this particular ceremony by someone I have come to know through service on a not-for-profit board. He’s the sort of quiet, solid citizen others depend on, the guy down the street who works hard, who harbors zero political ambitions despite serving a couple of terms on his township’s school board, the guy whose neighbors know they can call on him in a pinch.

There wasn’t a large crowd at the church—the couple’s families (including my friend’s children by a prior marriage), folks from the neighborhood where they have lived for 12 years, others they’ve met through a variety of civic organizations. It was probably as racially diverse a group as I’ve seen in a church, perhaps because this particular couple is interracial. The crowd was not only black and white, however; among the people I knew, I saw Christians and Jews, Republicans and Democrats, gay and straight, young and old.

During the brief ceremony, there were readings from members of both families, including my friend’s children from the prior marriage. One of his daughters (the mother of his adored grandson) is deaf, so she signed her part, which was lovely and touching.

I didn’t really tear up, however, until the part where the couple left the altar to present each of their mothers with flowers and express their gratitude for the years of love and support. (Hey, what can I tell you—I’m a mom, too!)

Finally, after rings were exchanged and the ceremony concluded, the grooms invited everyone to join them at the reception.

Oh, yes—I forgot to mention that this wasn’t a legally binding marriage. It was a commitment ceremony. Although it was otherwise indistinguishable from other Christian wedding ceremonies I’ve attended, my friend and his life partner walked out of church still strangers in the eyes of the law. Although they have lived together for 12 years, although they publicly declared their intent to live together for the rest of their lives, although they have the love and support of their families, although they are law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, they won’t be filing joint tax returns.

Their relationship won’t entitle them to the 1,012 legal incidents of marriage that my husband and I automatically enjoy—“special rights” like Social Security survivor benefits, hospital visitation, automatic joint ownership of the home they’ve shared, an automatic right to inherit property they’ve jointly acquired, and on and on. For my friend and his partner, securing these rights requires copious and expensive legal documentation.

As if this denial of equal treatment isn’t galling enough, the Legislature is once again trying to rub salt in the wound of second-class citizenship by passing a constitutional amendment to confirm that status—and arguably prevent passage of any other legal recognition, including civil unions. If HJR 6 passes, it will send a strong signal that gay people are not welcome in Indiana.

One of the other people at the commitment ceremony was a woman I hadn’t seen since my days in city hall, during the Hudnut administration. She is a conservative Republican, and I was surprised to see her there. She explained that she had met our mutual friend through their joint service on a not-for-profit board.

Then she added something well worth pondering: “I consider myself a strong social conservative, but for the life of me, I can’t understand why same-sex marriage threatens my marriage or hurts anyone.”

I don’t understand that, either. That’s one reason I cry at weddings.•

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Kennedy is a professor of law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. Her column appears monthly. She blogs regularly at www.sheilakennedy.net. She can be reached at skennedy@ibj.com.

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