I met Bruce a few years ago after he contacted me about my novel The Telling. We chatted, exchanged viewpoints, I read his work and he read mine. We grew to be friends. And now, due to a recent change in the laws of his state, he and his partner can finally be legally wed.
Today, on his wedding day, Bruce has agreed to tell us what it’s been like living without the protection a marriage license offers, and what marriage equality means for him and his family.
Our situation is probably different than most. I was married before with three children when I met my husband almost twenty years ago. I was separated from my ex-wife and ready to start my life anew with a whole entourage of suitcases... Along the way it has been a struggle both financially and legally that a straight couple wouldn't have had to go through. Since we (my new partner and I) weren't married we feared that if anything should happen to me, my ex would be entitled to my estate, not my partner.
I couldn't have life insurance that made him the beneficiary. Our state had passed civil unions as their compensation for marriage, but in a world where the word "marriage" means everything, civil union mean nothing and was a poor consolation prize. When I was laid off from my company, until I found a new job I went without health insurance, because while I could have been added free from my partner’s policy, the government, both state and federal, required me to pay them as they considered this imputed income. So I went without and prayed...
Then there were doctors and hospitals who wouldn't talk to me when my partner went in for open heart surgery even though we had powers of attorney, both financial and medical, for each other. We’d been together nine years. They would rather talk to his 84 year old mother who was scared at losing her son. She finally told them to talk to me because I had the right, not her. They would only take her word, despite the swarm of legal papers which, by the way, we have stashed all over the house and cars. Just in case. We have to carry them with us at all times to make sure that we don't go through that again.
We decided to adopt a baby. That was the only time we didn't reach a hurdle. We were treated as equals with other married couples. Maybe that was because the state was overloaded with unwanted children. But the hurdles re-appeared when we tried to enroll our son in school when he started 1st grade (we had him in preschool and kindergarten in a private school). Even though we had birth certificates, adoption papers, all the legal papers that no straight couple needed to have, we were treated as criminals. All the papers were questioned in detail until I threatened to have our lawyer take the school board to court for discrimination.
Then there is the financial end. We could have joint accounts for both banking and CCs but we had to keep separate records for tax purposes since now, even though we owned a house together, both the state and federal government treated us as individuals. Whereas a husband and wife could declare "X" amount of deductions, we had to make sure we had documented proof because “we were bound to be audited,” our accountant told us. Then there is the Patriot Act which came about as a result of 911. Again, armed with all kinds of paperwork, we could not do any kind of banking for the other, which a normal husband and wife could do. Because we weren't married. The civil union law which came into effect helped a little but not much. While I could still go on his health insurance, I was taxed at a much different rate than had we not, but I still had to pay for imputed income on our tax returns.
Now with the marriage laws into play, we do not have to carry around "ALL" the paperwork, just the marriage license. But that didn't come about without some of its own hassles. Our town is very Republican, so to get back at this new law which they came out and said they were against in public meetings, they sent the only registrar on vacation for a week. They couldn't stop marriage equality but they could delay it. Oh, and we have a marriage certificate that says husband and husband (with the second husband typed in and the word WIFE "XXXXXX" out). That looks real official. They are hoping one day to have gender non-specific licenses, but until then this will have to do. So with our marriage license that looks like it was created in an Easy Bake Oven and a stack of paperwork that we will have to have at the ready just in case we 1) have to go to the bank, 2) get in an accident, 3) go to the doctor, 4) apply for Social Security, 5) buy any property, 6) end up in the hospital, 7) have to make any decisions for either of us, not to mention our son, that any straight couple does not have to carry around with them. The woman just says, “He is my husband” or he says “She is my wife”, no proof needed. They don't even have to have the same last name, and things are just accepted.
Having known Bruce a few years now, and hearing of his family’s struggles, I can only say that I hope they finally get the equal treatment they deserve, and “New Jersey, what took you so long?” I also would like a few words with the folks who planned that inconvenient “vacation.”
Congratulations on your marriage, Bruce. I wish you and your family all the happiness in the world.