Thoughts After an Emergency Room Visit

Wednesday evening, Tawn called me.  He had just left dinner with a friend and a severe rash had appeared on his torso, so he decided to head directly for the emergency room.  He asked me to meet him there.

In the end, the doctor was able to treat the rash and suspects it may be a previously unrecognized food allergy.  Tawn is fine.  But while I was sitting in the emergency room, I realized that we’ve got to get serious about completing powers of attorney for each other as well as our wills.  Had a hospital stay been necessary or decisions of medical care been required, our marriage would not be recognized and we could not make decisions on behalf of the other person.

One more of those little details, little insults almost, that remind me on a regular basis how far we have left to go to be treated equally.

At the end of January, the Iowa House passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.  Thankfully, the Iowa Senate is Democrat-controlled and is unlikely to pass the bill, but in the state where Tawn and I were married in August 2009, our legal right to marriage is under attack. 

Not a week later, the Iowa House started kicking around the idea of a bill that would open the door for businesses, organizations, and individuals to discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds. But this legislation would go far beyond gays and lesbians, opening the door for discrimination against any married couples, including interfaith and interracial couples!  Thankfully, enough furor was kicked up that the lead sponsor of the bill tabled it, citing concerns raised about the bill.

Forgive me if sometimes I seem a little defensive about my rights.

rollingstoneuganda Kato

At the same time, perspective is needed.  On January 26th, gay Ugandan human rights activist David Kato was brutally murdered.  Uganda is a country where the level of homophobia and hatred is extreme.  Homosexual acts are punishable with up to 14 years of imprisonment and members of the government have recently lobbied to have the punishment increased to the death penalty in some cases.  While the Ugandan supreme court has ruled that homosexuals have a right to privacy, that didn’t stop one major newspaper from publishing pictures of several people including Mr. Kato and saying they were gay, along with the headline “Hang them!” 

Keeping all this in mind helps give me more appreciation for what rights I do have, or at least for where I am in the world.  Being beaten to death for being gay is an unlikely outcome in my life. 

But don’t think for a minute I’m going to wave that around like some flag of victory.  I still expect equality.

Del Martin – Honoring the Life of an Amazing Pioneer

There are people in this world whose work and life have positively affected our own, often in ways we may not realize, about whom we may not know.  On Wednesday, we lost an amazing person, Del Martin, at age 87.

Del Martin Described as a “pioneering lesbian rights activist”, Martin married 83-year old Phyllis Lyon, her partner of fifty-five years, in a ceremony at San Francisco City Hall on June 16, 2008 – the the first day on which same-sex marriage was legal in the state of California.

Right: Del Martin (in purple) and Phyllis Lyon are married on June 16.  Photo “courtesy” AP.

The label, though, could cause many of us who are not lesbians to mistakenly think her pioneering work did not affect our lives.  Rest assured, though, her tireless work resulted in greater freedoms, protections, and equality for all citizens of the United States.

The California Supreme Court decision in May of this year, striking down a law that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, came about as a result of a lawsuit filed by Martin and Lyon and two dozen other couples.  Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said, “We would not have marriage equality in California if it weren’t for Del and Phyllis.  They fought and triumphed in many battles.”

Martin and Lyon were involved in founding a San Francisco social group for lesbians in 1955 called the Daughters of Bilitis.  It became the nation’s first lesbian advocacy organization and one of the earliest groups to address the rights of queer people.

In the 1970s, Martin became the first out lesbian to serve on the National Organization of Women’s board of directors, a move that was highly controversial as NOW was concerned that her presence would be seen as too radical at a time when homosexuality was still seen by many as a deviant practice.

In just a few short months, the rights and equality Del Martin worked so hard for, will one again be challenged as California voters face a yes or no decision on proposition eight: “Change the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.” 

As San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who officiated at Martin and Lyon’s wedding, said, “The greatest way we can honor the life work of Del Martin, is to continue to fight and never give up, until we have achieved equality for all.”

Thank you to Del Martin for a lifetime of service to humanity, and the deepest condolences to her partner of so many years, Phyllis Lyon.