Same-sex couples deserve equality

Joellen Hiltbrand


As a practice, I do not respond to student editorials in the Experience, whether or not I agree with the opinions expressed. Freedom of speech is precious to me, as is the freedom to worship the God of one’s understanding.

However, I will not remain silent about what I consider to be a distorted discussion of laws addressing same-sex marriage. I have a definite stake in the outcome of the current Supreme Court cases: I am in a 14-year relationship with a woman I love very much, and with whom I have entered into a meaningful long-term relationship that includes the raising of two children. We have tried to obtain marriage equality not once but twice: we were married by the city and county of San Francisco on Feb. 13, 2004 (which was struck down by the state later that same year), and then we were married by the city of Oakland on July 14, 2008. Therefore, we are one of the roughly 18,000 LGBTQ couples whose marriage is legally recognized by the state of California.

I am not asking for anyone’s permission or approval of my relationship. I do not care what any member of any denomination of Christianity believes about the morality of my marriage. (Though I am curious, Mr. Chico – are you Episcopalian? Methodist? Catholic? Baptist? There are many denominations of Christianity, some of which are more enlightened about civil and legal equality than others). To compare my marriage, in any way, to rape and violence is ugly, offensive, and obviously inaccurate. My desire to marry and have the same legal recognition for my relationship as you might claim for your own is NOT the same as the “urge” to commit acts of violence. (And I urge you to really study the history of rape and sexual assault so you can move beyond your simplistic analysis of those crimes.)

The United States is a secular nation, a nation that from its inception has attempted to maintain a separation of church (ANY church) and state. I am proud of that principle, as it entitles people of different religious beliefs and practices equal rights under the law. It guarantees that those who govern us cannot claim, “God told me so” as a valid reason to pass laws upon the citizenry. As a tax-paying citizen of these United States, I am entitled to the same legal and civil rights as any other member of this country, regardless of my personal religious beliefs, or lack of the same.

Within your chosen church, same-sex marriage may be a question of morality. Your choice to remain within a denomination that holds that view is your personal choice. Within the legislative bodies of this state and nation, however, same-sex marriage is not, and should not be, a religious issue. It is an issue of the denial of civil and legal equality for thousands of people across the country, in terms of the legal, financial, and civil privileges afforded by the government to those who can claim that term.

Why is that important? Here are just a few of the many legal and financial benefits denied to LGBTQ people when our marriages are not validated by Federal law as marriages:

Social Security benefits: Surviving spouse and surviving parent benefits are denied to gay and lesbian Americans because they cannot marry. Therefore, a lesbian couple that contributes the same amount to Social Security over their lifetime as a married heterosexual couple would receive drastically unequal benefits.

Taxation: According to the HRC: “as of 1997 there were 179 tax provisions that took marital status into account.” That’s 179 different ways in which my family will either pay more in taxes, or receive fewer tax benefits due to the failure of the federal government to recognize my marriage. Some of the more onerous tax inequities involve the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Head of Household status provisions in federal tax law. Estate Tax is another large issue. In fact, it is the central issue of the case against DOMA. Taxation of retirement savings is another issue in which LGBTQ people face legal and financial inequity.

Health and medical care: The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act would not cover my family since the federal government does not legally recognize our marriage. In addition, federal employees who have domestic partners are not covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). The Federal government is this country’s largest employer, and that employer currently discriminates against a significant group of its employees. In addition, under federal law, employers can opt out of providing COBRA benefits to domestic partners.

Immigration law: American citizens in same-sex relationships cannot petition for their partners to legally immigrate. This is a large area of financial and legal inequity that causes untold stress for LGBTQ couples and their children and other family members.

Along with its noble principles, this country is founded on legal discrimination and horrific practices carried out in the belief that they were morally just. If your denomination has existed long enough in this country (more than the past 20 years or so), I suggest that you do some serious research. How did your denomination respond to the Civil Rights movement? To the Loving vs. Virginia case? If your denomination is old enough to have been around during the mid-1800s, what stand did it take on the emancipation of slaves? You may believe (and may be told) that your denomination’s stand on this issue is apolitical, but our country’s history is full of churches taking what we now consider to be heinous stands concerning civil rights issues. Read Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and consider that all those churches he wrote to had opposed the nonviolent demonstrations being held in the South to gain legal equality. Religion is not apolitical in this country, and never has been. Your faith does not give you a free pass to insist on legal discrimination.

The founding members of this nation ensured your freedom to worship as you wish. They also created a system in which discrimination can be legally ended. It has taken centuries for LGBTQ people to come to this point in history, and many people have suffered greatly so that this moment could happen. My marriage will gain the full legal recognition it deserves, and the full array of benefits that marriage ensures under the law. My children will no longer have to question whether or not our family will be invalidated again, by state or federal decree. This will happen. And hopefully, the time will also come when I will no longer have to explain why participation in a religious denomination (“Christian” or not) does not justify discrimination under the law.

Joellen Hiltbrand,
English Instructor (and proud wife and mother)