The Same but Not Equal

I’m a big believer in asking questions.  Lots of them. Ask until you understand or until the person you’re talking to runs out of explanations, then ask some more. There’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a few years now. What’s the difference between marriages and civil unions and why is it important.  From the outside looking in, I just didn’t understand, not really.  Was it a name thing, like you say potato I say potahto? Was it an injustice, a matter of civil liberties? Was it black and white or shades of grey? Was there a right answer? I just didn’t know. And I didn’t ask enough questions.  I didn’t push for answers or ask the folks who would know, and I had opportunities to. I accepted that it was different, that it was less than, and that was a bad thing. But I didn’t really get it.

Sometimes you experience something and it strikes you to your core.  Maybe you read it, maybe you saw it, maybe you heard it, but all of a sudden there is a wealth of knowledge and emotion that wasn’t there before.  That’s how I felt this week when I read This.

I have a cousin who lives in Illinois.  She’s quite simply amazing, and when Illinois passed legislation allowing civil unions she and her equally awesome girlfriend joined thousands of other couples and got unionized (no, that’s not a real word). They’ve been a couple for longer than my husband and I, so as I was reading the article I couldn’t help compare, my relationship to hers.

For example, I’m married everywhere I go.  Alaska, Hawaii, Texas, Mount Rushmore and Disney World.  Always Married.  My cousin is legally committed only in the state of Illinois.  Only.  If she so much as crosses the border into Indiana, poof, she’s single.  Her legally recognized partner is now her girlfriend.  And those rights she has in Illinois, don’t apply in Indiana.  She has no legal claim, no legal responsibility, no legal anything with a woman she has committed to.

If my husband and I are (god forbid) in a car crash in Tennessee, I have rights. I can talk to the doctors, I can make decisions for him and about his health if he were unable to do so himself.  My cousin and her girlfriend might as well be college roommates for the legal rights they would have in such a situation.  I cannot imagine the pain and helplessness of such a situation.  I think of my husband. I think of the unthinkable, if something happened to him, and I was told I had no say, no rights, no voice. I don’t know how I wouldn’t live in fear of that every day.  I don’t know how that wouldn’t break me, the mere thought of it.

I hesitated before writing this.  I hardly ever talk politics, even with my closest friends and family, for several reasons---one of them being I believe people have the right to make choices, and just because someone makes a different choice doesn’t mean that they’re wrong and I’m right, it just means we made different choices.  Did I really want to get political on the Equals Record?  Then I realized two things: one, just because this has been made to be a political issue, does not mean that is all it is. And two---this is the Equals Record.  So maybe it’s a good place to talk about equality.

I believe my cousin is equal to me in every way but those she surpasses me.  I believe her heart and her brain are roughly equal to mine as are her abilities to reason, to make decisions, and to love.  She and I are both the same in that we love another.  But that is where the similarities end, at least for now. One of us is married, and one is not.  I don’t have the words to express how wrong that is. To express the injustice. To express the pain and the fight.  I just don’t have them. I hope someone else does.