I met my late life partner of over 20 years, Margaret Ardussi, in Fairfield, Iowa, in June 1984 when I came to stay in the house full of lesbians where she was renting a room. I was there to attend a World Peace Assembly of yogic flyers at Maharishi International University, now known as Maharishi University of Management.
I courted Margaret from afar when I came home and a few months later Margaret came to live with me and be my life partner in Silver Spring, Maryland. Most of the time she was alive, my life was about how to care for her, due to her multiple sclerosis, which included needing the assurance that the durable medical power-of-attorney she gave me would be respected, and that meant we could only live in the two counties out of Maryland’s 23 counties, plus Baltimore, that included “sexual orientation” as a class protected from discrimination in housing, jobs and access to public accommodations.
Then, in 2001, Gov. Parris Glendening managed to get “sexual orientation” included as a protected class under Maryland law. That meant we could be sure anywhere in the state of our ability to rent or buy a home, use public accommodations (e.g., stores, restaurants) and that I could get employment. Glendening did this to honor his gay brother after he had died of AIDS. Until we had something close to equal protection under state law, I didn’t dare move us back to the town where I grew up and my parents still lived.
Straight people do not think like this because mostly they can live anywhere they want. Heck, illegal immigrants can live anywhere they want in the U.S. AND they all have more rights than I do.
Well, on Friday, April 3, it became safe for me to move to Iowa.
That’s because Iowa’s state Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision, 7-0, that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is a violation of the equal protection clause of the state’s constitution. In about three weeks, lesbian and couple couples, including couples from out-of-state, can legally marry in Iowa.
The New York Times has the story, commentary and a pdf of the decision here. The story notes that the hurdles to change Iowa’s state constitution to ban gay marriage are very high and the soonest they all could be cleared — IF they were cleared — is 2012.
Now, I love Iowa. Iowa — specifically, Fairfield, Iowa — is my number one dream vacation spot in all the world. That’s because it has the highest concentration of yogic flyers practicing their flying technique together in North America — in the range of 1700 to 2000. (I have been a yogic flyer since 1978.) In addition, I love it that Fairfield is in Jefferson County, Iowa, which has the largest number of Sthapathya-vedically-designed and constructed homes in North America.
In addition, Iowa has one of the best facilities in the U.S. for receiving care in the revived form of the traditional medical system of India, known as Maharishi Ayur-veda.
Also, in Fairfield, Iowa, I can buy Jyotish gems on the spot — and from several jewelers, not just one. (Now you’re supposed to say, what the?)
Also, my impression over the decades from afar is that the lesbian community at the University of Iowa in Iowa City is pretty lively. Oh, and I checked a year or so ago, and learned I would be able to find excellent bassoon teachers in Iowa, too.
Another thing about Iowa — I have the intuition that the illegal immigrant victim community and the Black Liberation Theology churches that got Proposition 8 passed to re-ban gay marriage in California are just not as numerous or bold about their vendettas in Iowa as they are in California.
I also noticed during the 2008 presidential campaign — to my sorrow, at the time, since I coveted every state for McCain/Palin — how extremely blue Iowa was, and that this was by no means the first time it had worn that color to the Electoral College gala in a presidential election.
The point that I’m making is that Iowa is not the hick fly-over state that may be the stereotype in your mind, or that West and East Coast elitists are trying to purvey.
So I do not share the concerns that some conservative gay bloggers raise that this UNANIMOUS decision by the Iowa state Supreme Court will result in a backlash.
However, I must add that I think that national gay and lesbian rights groups would be very wise if they averted that danger before it can arise by saturating the state for the next four years with town meetings and ice cream socials, barbecues and picnics, all featuring lesbian and gay couples answering questions about their lives and mingling so that straight people can get to know them. It makes us real. I’ve done talks like that since 1972 or ’73. And so I know that becoming real changes everything.
Also, there’s one thing I have faith in about conservatives, which is that the majority of them find it very difficult to do evil by crushing likable, respectable people who are trying to build lives together — at least to their faces. Furthermore, conservatives are the very best people to talk to about wanting to be married, because they get marriage and the benefits it provides not just to the couple but also to society. Liberals — not so much.
Regarding gay and lesbian conservative commentary about gay marriage — to be honest, the credential I want to see first and foremost before I’m really interested in the commentator’s opinion is having, or having had, a long gay marriage. Because a long marriage develops you and teaches you things. It protects and nourishes you. It makes you safer and a better person. And it cultures in each spouse the passion and the skills to look out for another person. What equal protection in marriage means for lesbians and gays is that we would have the full panoply of legal rights — the tools to do all these things –that are afforded to opposite-sex couples. If you haven’t ever been married — don’t know how to be married — then there’s just no way for you to grasp in your gut how urgent and comprehensive and pure life-or-death right now that gay marriage is.
About some of the objections: right now the word “marriage” is used for both civil and religious marriages. To say gays and lesbians have to use a different word for our unions to respect “marriage” as a religiously-defined word — well, two things: one, there’s no way the wording for us ever will connote equality, so that is not acceptable; and two, y’all already ceded that brand to the public domain since you haven’t insisted on a different term depending on whether the ceremony was performed by a justice of the peace or a minister. Also, I notice the pretty much anyone can obtain the credential that allows them to perform marriages from the Internet in minutes in exchange for a small fee. Why doesn’t THAT require a different word?
I don’t want to hurt straight people who really are very bewildered by the concept of same-sex marriages and who want to reserve the word “marriage” for themselves. But by the same token, I don’t want to get hurt, either, and whether it is rational or not, the thought of having to use any other term than marriage for lesbians and gays feels degrading and second-class. It hurts more than I can describe. And it would be an impossible task to get state legislatures always to ensure the two types of marriages always provided the same rights and responsibilities.
Regarding “slippery slope” objections, I think they are unfounded and are used as deliberate scare tactics. You know, the “well if gays can marry, then next you’ll be able to marry a goat or a child or many spouses.” Oh, wait — isn’t there at least one religion that advocates child marriages — and has rules about sex with goats — and advocates polygamy? I’ve forgotten its name just now — darn, that’s frustrating because it’s right on the tip of my tongue. But that does mean that apparently this concern has been pre-empted and religiously approved for hundreds of years and therefore ought to be irrelevent.
Speaking of religion, there’s the objection that marriage has been defined as one man and one woman for thousands of years. Wow. Do religious people think no one else reads the Bible? Because it looks to me like polygamy was pretty much the rule in the Old Testament, rather than the exception.
In fact, my suggestion to people who want to conduct political activism to define marriage is to stop persecuting lesbians and gays and pour all your attention toward the Muslim and African immigrants who enjoy legal polygamy in their native countries and want to have it here, too. Polygamy has been around since WAY before gay marriage was an issue. We’ve just been more convenient whipping boys and scapegoats than the polygamists.
Well, here’s the deal — we want two-person marriages just like yours except ours are same-sex. We’re on your side, so draft us for the team!
In contrast, polygamists seem to have enough to point to, without falsely framing gay marriage as a wedge, when they say that their religion and culture are THE ancient form of marriage. So, if you want to get ahead of that, draft us, starting now.
Another scare tactic used against gay marriage is to ignore the constitutional separation of church and state and assert that legalizing gay marriage would force religions that do not accept gay marriage to perform them. No, it would not: we have a constitutional separation of church and state SO THAT the government may not dictate to churches in that way.
Besides polygamy, the other major threat to marriage is not gay marriage — it is the U.S. healthcare system. Really. That’s because the percentage of the population that can afford long-term nursing home care if one or both spouses require it is very small. For most people, their only recourse is Medicaid, which requires spending down assets to $2500 — a figure that hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since 1974 — and which provides few exemptions for what the community spouse (i.e., the one that isn’t in the nursing home) is allowed to keep.
So I am totally NOT kidding married couples who have a decent amount of assets — if Obama doesn’t get all your money and property — that it would be a REALLY good idea to go over your tax and estate situation with a tax attorney around age 60 to see if you would be better off divorcing and resorting to the jury-rigged assortment of legal contracts that lesbians and gays have to use now to protect their unions in most states.
Regarding my own marriage, Margaret — the love of my life, the most beautiful woman in the world to me — became paralyzed from the chest down due to her multiple sclerosis in April 1992 and died of complications of multiple sclerosis on Dec.7, 2004, under hospice care in our home with me at her side. I am a widow. I live with my father, who is almost 93, and take care of him while I am re-launching my career as a writer. I have a list of things to accomplish before even considering re-marrying. But the thought that I could live in Iowa and one day be legally married to the same-sex spouse who would be the love of the rest of my life — it makes my heart sing.
So I can’t resist ending with this: