Marriage equality is progressing but LGBT still face struggles
A couple walks down the Pacific coast of Cape Kiwanda, Oregon, hours before their wedding ceremony. The ringer bearer, black-lab Porter, runs up and down the sandy hills, burning energy before his big performance. An unforgettable night it will be as the couple says, “I do.”
Grant Hein O’Connell and his husband, Kyle O’Connell married March 17, 2012 under an unusually clear sky amidst common cloudiness of Oregon. For Grant, it was important to have a traditional ceremony surrounded by friends and family, though by state law the couple are considered a domestic partnership.
“Our biggest fear of taking the plunge was of our family not attending,” says Grant. Grant’s husband, Kyle, has a lot of strength and support on his family side but Grant comes from a family of conservative Christians who do not support his lifestyle.
“They mean a great deal to me despite the fact that they believe I am living in sin. They have made great strides and are amazingly tolerant and even supportive at times of Kyle and I but the fact remains that they think what we are doing is wrong,” Grant said of his family.
Grant’s mother passed away when he was in high school and for him, having her side of the family attend the ceremony was symbolic of her representation and being there in spirit.
Grant rejoiced at the willingness of his Aunt Joni, his mother’s sister, to attend the wedding.
“If she would have chosen not to come, it would have crushed me and made the event feel somehow more hollow and less meaningful,” said Grant.
Grant and Kyle are not the first of their friends to get married but are the first to have a traditional ceremony and reception.
Two of their friends have married several times according to Grant. “They did it when it was legalized in California and they did it when Multnomah County (Portland) issued marriage licenses to gay couples temporarily. Unfortunately in both cases ballot measures overturned those actions so neither of their marriage licenses are valid any longer.”
For Grant and Kyle, the legality of their marriage is very important. The couple even considered holding their ceremony in a country where gay marriage is recognized such as Canada or Sweden.
“Ultimately two things stopped us. First, and most importantly, it would have been very difficult to get the family to these locations. But it also would have weighed greatly on us that we would be married in the eyes of that country but it would have not been acknowledged in the U.S.”
Though Grant and Kyle decided to make their relationship a domestic partnership, it won’t be enough for Grant until they have the equal marriage rights and status of straight couples.
“It is true that in the eyes of the State of Oregon, domestic partnership holds all the same rights and responsibilities as marriage but is simply different in name. It is akin to the separate but equal treatment that was given to African-Americans before the civil rights movement. I find it insulting.”
As of March 1, 2012, eight states have legalized gay marriage including Washington and New York. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage on May 17, 2004, and according to gaymarriage.procon.org, the state had the lowest divorce rate in the country in 2008, noticing a 21 percent decline between 2003 and 2008.
Many other states are making progress in the movement for marriage equality but with thirty states holding constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, the fight is far from over.
One of the most difficult challenges in the fight for gay marriage is the discontinuity of the laws. For example, a couple married legally in Massachusetts may be forced to move to another state for health or work, et cetera, but may lose their rights as a married couple if the new state doesn’t honor their marriage. Federal law plays into the negativity on gay marriages when their laws override state law.
“Gay marriage and civil union/domestic partnerships in the states that allow them are definitely progress in the right direction. However, the federal government still has laws stating that marriage is between a man and woman. As a result there are many penalties that gay couples face even if they are in a state that allows it,” said Grant.
Grant provided an example of what he has deemed “gay penalties.” If Grant were to insure Kyle on the provided work insurance, Grant would be forced to pay taxes on the additional insurance. So, if Grant were to make $38,000 per year and it cost $2,000 to insure Kyle, Grant would pay taxes as if he made $40,000 per year.
The Human Rights Campaign or HRC was founded in 1980 and advocates on behalf of LGBT Americans. According to their Web site, hrc.org, they are “the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans [and] represents a force of more than one million members and supporters nationwide.”
As best stated by hrc.org, “Comparing marriage to civil unions and domestic partnerships is a bit like comparing diamonds to rhinestones. One is, quite simply, the real deal, the other is not.”
The HRC is fighting for marriage equality in America but the group also fights for more acceptance of LGBT members in society.
In Grant’s opinion there have been two significant changes aiding the movement towards LGBT acceptance.
“First, the entertainment industry has done a fantastic job at including gay characters in books, film, and television. I think this has given many people exposure where they would not have otherwise.The other thing that has helped is the Internet,” Grant said.
“When I first came out in 1999, the Internet was just ramping up. Before then, the only way for a gay person to meet other gays was to go to gay bars. Many people don’t enjoy the bar environment and therefore just took years to meet others through serendipitous occasions. The Internet gave people an environment that allowed them to be themselves from the safety and security of their own home. This environment facilitated meeting others of like mind which in turn gave people more self confidence and awareness that there are others out there in the same situation.” Grant said.
And now Grant believes that confidence has translated to the physical world. The community is standing up for itself and with straight couples backing the movement, both groups are changing society to create uniform equality laws. There is an undeniable momentum and with awareness comes change.