Friday, October 9, 2009

newspaper column

I got to write a guest column for my local weekly newspaper this week, the Mount Desert Islander, published in Bar Harbor. What follows is the edited version as it appears in this week's paper.

It's all about equality
By Dawn Fortune

Why marriage? Why full equality? That really answers itself, doesn’t it? Full equality.

That’s what it is about. Not partial equality, not kind-of equality, not separate but equal, not half-measures. I want the real deal. I want my full rights as a citizen. I want access to the full array of benefits and responsibilities that come with a civil marriage contract. I want what everyone wants – to be recognized and valued by my community.

I don’t want to have to produce reams of expensive legal paperwork to accompany my partner in the hospital emergency room. I don’t want to have to explain that when I say “partner” I am not talking about business or tennis. I don’t want to be a woman in my mid-40s referring to my “girlfriend” of the better part of decade as though I am no more emotionally developed than a teenager or as though I am referring to a chum with whom I get together every morning to drink coffee.

I want the dignity and security that comes with a marriage. I want to hold a ceremony that is legal and binding as well as beautiful and full of meaning. I want my spouse to be recognized by my doctor, insurance company, and my employer. I just want to be able to say, “Yes, I am married. My wife’s name is Laura.”

I want to be able to walk into my town office and get a marriage license. I don’t ask the Catholic Church of my childhood to approve or disapprove or do anything. The fact that I get the license at the town office makes the contract a function of the state, not a church. I don’t need a priest or rabbi or any other clergy-type person to authorize, bless or sanctify the contract for it to be real.

Yet somehow, lots of religious institutions and individuals seem pretty worked up over whether I should be able to get a civil contract.

The way L.D. 1020 was written was very clear. It eliminated discrimination in civil marriage while upholding and affirming the right of any person or religious entity to refuse to perform any marriage of which it did not approve.

So what is the problem? It seems very simple: if you don’t agree with same-sex couples getting married, don’t marry them. If your church does not agree with it, then nobody’s going to force that church to do something that violates its beliefs.

Those rules are already in place. Priests in the Roman Catholic Church don’t have to marry a Catholic and a Jew, they don’t have to marry divorced people, Protestants, pagans, Hindus or anyone, even if the law says those people can legally marry. Churches and individuals are exempt. Period.

The Legislature and the Governor recognized the fairness in the bill that was L.D. 1020, and that it allowed for those opposed to same-sex marriage to opt out, so they passed and signed it into law. Now some are trying to repeal the law and take away the right given to me by the legislative process.

That’s what this whole referendum hoopla is about: taking away the right of some couples to take out a civil marriage contract.

The Maine way of doing things is pretty “live and let live.” So long as you don’t interfere with anyone, go about your business. People want to live their lives a certain way? We pretty much let ‘em. Is anything they’re doing any of our business? Unless they’re doing harm, we pretty much stay clear.

Which is why the involvement of so many church groups in this campaign just baffles me. It seems so unlike the Maine I know. If anyone wants to point a finger at things that are really a threat to traditional marriage, they should look at domestic violence, poverty, lack of education and opportunity, and the 50% divorce rate.

What harm my desire to get married is doing to the institution of marriage is not clear.

The arguments we are hearing now against the idea of marriage equality have been recycled from the time when there were laws against inter-racial marriage. They are based in the same arguments used for centuries to uphold slavery and against women’s suffrage, the right of black people to vote and the integration of public schools.

The sky has not fallen in any of the places around the world and the United States where same-sex couples have been allowed civil marriage. Massachusetts is still there. So is Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and even Iowa. Canada, too. No falling sky. No dire indications of end times. No court systems swamped with lawsuits. Just people doing what people have been doing for centuries: choosing a mate, standing up before friends and society and declaring a lasting commitment to that person, and then going about the business of life. Going to work, raising kids, paying bills, going on vacation, all the normal stuff people do.

So what is the point of denying us equality? To reinforce some kind of idea that we are less than everyone else? To send a clear message that we are second-class citizens? To say directly to us “you don’t deserve what the rest of us have”? That is just mean, and profoundly unfair. And it does not sound like the Maine where I grew up and live today.

People have asked me why I don’t move to Massachusetts or New Hampshire or somewhere else that has marriage equality. Maine is my home. I grew up in Windsor. I went to high school at Erskine Academy in South China, and graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington. Maine is a part of me, and I am a part of Maine. I am active in my community and I have friends and relationships here. I just want the same thing my sisters have. I want the same thing my neighbors have. I want equality. I want the dignity, security and affirmation afforded to those who are married. I don’t think it is unreasonable.

On November 3, voters will be asked the following: “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?” Protect equality. Join me in voting NO on Question 1.

Laura and I are headed off for a weekend workshop with the Human Awareness Institute and will be back among the world sometime on Monday. Try to stay out of trouble over the weekend, hmm?


louise said...

I am sharing this with the crowd when you give me the nod; you KNOW that! ;)

Brilliantly done; have a great weekend!

Middle Aged Woman said...

Dawn, this is so eloquent! And kudos for reaching to the heart of lifelong Maine-dwellers (Mainers?). I really believe that may carry the day in this election. You Downeasters don't like to be told what you can and can't do!

I see why you were in journalism. You really should think about supplementing your construction work with some freelancing. I'm going to e-mail you some info.

Miss Trudy said...

Excellent post. Enjoy your weekend.

MRMacrum said...

Excellent. Just excellent.

Jackie said...

Very nice, D.

And Trouble loves me. know. Always seeking it. Tales when you return.

Blazer said...

Simply brilliant!!!!!!!