As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I devote my professional life to helping married couples improve their relationships. I find this work deeply satisfying; you could say that it reflects my personal commitment to “family values.” How ironic, then, that my own primary relationship is denied recognition and the most basic protections of state and federal law. As a gay man, I’m a marriage therapist who can’t get married.
We hear talk these days about a so-called “definition” of marriage. I think I’m entitled to say something on this topic. My late partner, Jose, died of HIV complications in 1994 just before what would have been our 11th anniversary. I nursed him through his long, painful decline, and, in the final months, I was on duty literally 24 hours a day managing his endless rounds of IV medication, and responding to an ever-expanding list of physical and emotional needs. Suffice it to say that — far beyond my professional training — I learned a bit about the meaning of “for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, ’til death do us part.”
As a result, I feel no need for lectures on the “definition” or “defense” of marriage from philandering politicians, know-nothing talk show hosts, and hate-filled clerics. I think I have at least as much right to “define” marriage as they do. In fact — if you’ll pardon my bluntness — I’d say that if my relationship with Jose failed to pass someone else’s litmus test for “marriage,” that’s because their definition is vastly inferior to the reality of what we shared.
Turning to the present, my partner, Bob, is a native of South Korea. We met in 1998 and have lived together in Los Angeles this past year. Bob is here on a tourist visa, which expires soon, and we have been unable to find an economically viable way for him to remain in the U.S.
Of course, none of this would have posed a problem if we were an opposite-sex couple; a quick trip to City Hall for a marriage license would have solved our problems instantly. Bob would have received his green card by now and he’d be able to work and/or attend school (cheaply!) in California. I’d have put him on my health insurance and we’d file joint tax returns. We could have started a shared life together — a simple freedom that most other couples take for granted. But the law stands in our way.
So tell me, please, who has the “special rights” in this society, and by what right do they exclude others from sharing the freedoms they enjoy?
Individual and cultural differences aside, Bob and I are highly compatible and I find him to be one of the brightest, most sensitive and caring individuals I have ever met. Losing him would be a grievous personal injury — all the more painful because it would be inflicted by the very government whose professed purpose is the defense of every citizen’s freedom and welfare.
I call upon all fair-minded Americans to support the bill, which Representative Jerrold L. Nadler (D-NY) plans to submit to Congress early in 2000. [note: U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler announced the Permanent Partner Immigration Act on February 14, Valentine's Day.] This bill will grant equal immigration rights for partners of U.S. citizens who are in a same-sex, binational relationship. Since they are not allowed to legally marry, gay and lesbian Americans can’t petition the Immigration and Naturalization Service to permit their same-sex partners from outside the U.S. to live and work here — a privilege which opposite-sex couples are routinely granted. As a result, many same-sex couples are forced to split up.
While the Nadler bill is no replacement for full equality in marriage law, it would correct one of the most egregious injustices inflicted upon gay and lesbian citizens. Congressman Nadler got it right when he described the current policy of forced separation of binational same-sex couples as “cruelty.”
Cruelty, like hate, is not a family value. Take it from me: a marriage and family therapist who can’t marry … and, if the law has its way, may soon be torn from the loving embrace of his closest family member.
Article © 2000, Michael F. Stample, Ph.D., MFT
Los Angeles, California