The evolution of an ally
An excerpt from The Radical Housewife, chapter four, shared in honor of the 12th anniversary today of my civil marriage with a fella who is not, fortunately, named Mattias Schwarz:
….neither youth nor hormones last forever. Somewhere around our ten year college reunion, everyone’s attention shifted from desire to domesticity, so it seemed natural that marriage would dominate our discussion of gay rights in the 21st century.
Unlike the college come-outs and come-ons, Kelly and Gretchen came out by moving in next door. No one could misunderstand two women, a toddler boy, and a hyperactive mixed-breed terrier moving a truck full of furniture into a tidy Minneapolis bungalow—they were a family. For once, identifying as gay had nothing at all to do with sex. Hell, they were new parents, so we knew from experience that they weren’t doin’ it! Instead, the story of their lives together was a lesson for Matt and me on a topic far less arousing: good old-fashioned civil rights.
The battle for same-sex marriage first made Minnesota headlines in July 2002, when our friendly, toque-wearing northern neighbors on the Ontario Superior Court ruled that Canada’s current marriage laws were discriminatory. Gay marriage was legal right in our backyard. “We could get to Thunder Bay in eight hours!” I exulted.
Kelly and Gretchen glanced at each other warily. “I don’t think so,” Gretchen said.
“But I want to buy you a melon baller,” I said. “Or a Jell-O mold in the shape of a giant strawberry.”
Kelly crinkled her nose with distaste. “Is that the kind of stuff you two got?” I told her that Matt and I opposed the idea of a wedding registry on principle. I went further and explained that so much of the modern American wedding constituted re-enacting traditions put in place when women were considered property to be handed from man to man in a ritual financial exchange. When Kelly regained consciousness, I returned to the subject of her Canadian marriage.
“Go ahead and buy us a melon baller if you want to,” Gretchen said. “Just don’t make us drive to Thunder Bay for it.” Her stern face told us that the discussion was over.
I cursed myself for weeks for being such a fucking idiot. The Happy Hetero just told two sensible adults that all of their problems would be fixed after ten minutes in an Ontario courtroom! I thought they’d be freed from discrimination once they signed a provincial paper, produced in a country not their own, that would mean less than nothing to the border guards they would encounter on their return trip, guards who would still log them as two single persons: one an American citizen, one a Permanent Resident. Nothing would change.
Gretchen, unlike Kelly, was not born in the United States. When we first got to know one another, she was studying madly for her citizenship exams, a series of quizzes on Constitutional trivia that I might have passed if I were still a 17-year-old student in AP American Government, but would definitely flunk today. “A test she wouldn’t have to take if I’d been a man,” Kelly grumbled.
Kelly and Gretchen didn’t intend to offer me more than friendship, but they inadvertently gave me something nearly as valuable: an education in discrimination that this naïve straight woman sorely needed. For years, I thought that being an ally was about getting vogueing invites, ending the use of “gay” as a catch-all slur, and dropping my heterosexual assumptions. Through Gretchen and Kelly, I learned of the pervasive inequality that exists in state and federal law, the very legal system that Gretchen understood better than the average straight guy who was too busy scratching his balls to vote.
Kelly and I were both good American girls, born in the land of the free, rewarded with Social Security Cards and easily obtained passports. Had I fallen for a lederhosen-wearing Bavarian named Matthias Schwarz, instead of a professor’s brat born within a mile of UC-Berkeley, his road to citizenship would be assured. Kelly, on the other hand, had no such opportunity. She could not legally sponsor the citizenship of the foreign-born person she loved. “If we’re not legally married, as Kelly put it, “our relationship doesn’t exist.”