(Grammar and spelling will be corrected once I’ve had some sleep)
It is only 6:30am here; however I am unable to sleep because historical arguments begin at SCOTUS in just 30 minutes (10am EST). Today Prop 8, the California law reversing the CA Supreme Court decision allowing for marriage equality in a narrowly defined window. The proposition was defeated by manipulative and flat out lies to scare the public into voting ‘yes’. Lies including that children will be taught all about “gay sex” in their classroom and everything in between. Thereby overturning marriage equality (by the passage of Prop 8) only 18,000 couple were allowed to keep their marriage licenses. Two very important couples close to me are my sister, Marilyn and her wife Scarlet as well as Kelly (Lisa and my college friend – all the way back to 1986) and his husband Bill. All the other California couples who didn’t seize the opportunity narrow slit of history allowing for marriage equality effectively became second class citizens under the law.
Wednesday SCOTUS hears oral arguments about the constitutionality of DOMA (defense of marriage act) signed into Law by President Clinton in the mid1990’s. when Clinton signed DOMA, Lisa and had been ‘wed’ ( a formal holy union ceremony) for nearly 6 years. We had raised a foster teen from 14-18 yrs old beginning when we were only 23 & 24 yrs old ourselves. We were transitioning Michael our oldest son to live with us, he was 6 yrs old and severely mentally challenged. I will be honest, Lisa and I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to O!A at the time – now it’s all I can think about. In recent years, the Obama Administration stopped defending DOMA also finding it unconstitutional; however Boehner finds it his more and public servant calling to defend DOMA.
When Lisa was forced to die from an catastrophic brain aneurysm in February 2007, my reoccurring feeling of not being good enough slapped me in the face. For 8 hours, I begged and even tried to sneak my way through the code locked doors to be with Lisa. I think of how terrified Lisa felt in her final hours – restrained and unable to use the entire right side of her body. As they sedated her, drilled a hole in her head to relive the rising pressure in her brain, was she able to ever ask for the kids and me verbally or with ASL? I will never know. What I do know are my repeated attempts to reach the hospital operator no less than 15 times in 8 hours, according to my cell records. I did this in an attempt to bypass the lazy and apathetic admitting clerk who wanted nothing to do with my family. In the first 20 minutes of our family’s arrivals, I was told I was not the same as other families by Garnet Fredericks words “you are in an anti-gay city and state”. This was not some cautionary warning because even after Ryder Trauma received or family’s legal documents including advanced directives, living wills, medical power of attorney and wills – we were ignored and I watched or the other families at Ryder Trauma, at Jacksin ‘memorial (Miami) escorted behind those code locked doors to their loved ones.
Even today 6 years and county since Lisa’s death, I relive those eight hours in my waking thoughts and nightmares. Not a ‘poor is me’ but the pain for the pain our children endured at JMH that day and the fear I have that Lisa thought I abandoned her in her greatest time of need.
You would think out story ends there because waiting 8 hours to be with your wife, partner soulmate is cruel enough;however that was just the beginning . The children and I are still treated as “less than” for the ensuing 6 years by our government.
First, came Lisa’s Death certificate from Florida, which I can’t even request myself. It’s true I have to go through the Connecticut funeral home who provided the initial services for Lisa’s Funeral Mass in her hometown. That death certificate it self is also one big slap my face… it lists Lisa’s status is listed as “single” effectively erasing 18 years of commitment to each other and our children.
You might think its not a big deal but having jointly adopted our four children (from WA state foster care) with both of us listed as “mother” and “mother” it is a legal quagmire that I still battle every day. The children’s death benefit couldn’t start from SSA until I could get the death certificate.
Then an even more difficult piece, which I am reticent to delve because it pulls the veil back on strained family and friend relationships. Lisa and I planned it would be me that died first- I am the one with MS after all. I can count on more than 2 hands the number of people who shook my hand or hugged me at Lisa’s funeral and Memorial who said “anything you need- just ask”. The sad truth is the number of people I can still count on today, 6 years later, only fills up one hand. Don’t get me wrong those five people I cherish everyday and thank God they are there for the kids and me.
There was only a bit of debt we took on separately – credit cards or student loans only in Lisa’s name. It would stand to reason, if I signed now promissary notes, I shouldn’t be responsible for them. However, even after providing these companies like Radio Shack or Mary’s with Lisa’s death certificate – they said that I was responsibility for the debt also and so those have been charged off as bad debet even though I had nothing to do with them, negatively effect my credit report regardless.
Probably the worst of all is SSA. When I fell down 11 stairs, while working, in August 2007 and then had emergency back surgery several months later- it was apparent that my employer of nearly 20 years wouldn’t/couldn’t want to wait the time necessary to see if I could come back given this devastating injury coupled with my MS. So as I drew Workman’s comp and the children received Lisa SSA benefits from March 2007-2012) we were getting by. Then almost a year ago, SSA decided by some rule they are unable to give to me- the children should draw on my SSA disability instead of Lisa’s. wouldn’t seem like much of a big deal until they offset the SSDI benefits from my Workman’s. the end result – I lost over 55% of my gross income with only 30 days notice. Not easy with 3 teens and one in a 4 year university.
The kicker is that SSA says they haven’t dealt with a case such a mine with a deceased mother, disabled mother – with jointly adopted children (not second parent adoptions).
Now our family becomes a test case for all those coming after us – both with hospital visitation and now the SSA (and the other federal rights I’m not entitled to). If you still don’t understand the need to overturn DOMA, my hope is that you see it goes way beyond just a marriage license. 6 years after Lisa’s death I still have to go through the funeral home to get a certified copy of Lisa’s death cert, it took my 3 years to get copies of her medical records in Miami, whereas her parents received Lisa’s records in just 3 months (even though I’m the executor of Lisa’s estate) in just 3 months without her parents even requesting them. I have never received an apology from JMH, and now SSA arbitrarily decides that some rules require the children to draw on my SS# and that I may have an overpayment by almost 50K due to rule change.
Marriage Equality and finding DOMA unconstitutional means so much more to the millions of LGBT families than many of even know until thrown into a situation where it is obvious we are second class citizens, and at the federal level, we have no legal recourse.
Please wear the color red today and Wednesday to show your support of SCOTUS hearing these cases – a historical event I will have to follow from 3000 ,lies away, but I am there with all those I have met along my journey.