This Valentine's Day, marriage-minded gay couples are wisely being urged to give one another something that lasts far longer than roses and chocolates: a trip to the local courthouse to apply for a marriage license.
Our relationships deserve nothing less than the full range of legal protections that our married friends and relatives can take for granted.
The Rev. Troy Perry is calling on gay couples to celebrate their love, commitment and belief in equal rights Feb. 14 by joining him in asking for a marriage license.
Perry, who in 1968 founded the gay-friendly Protestant denomination known as the Metropolitan Community Church, isn't under any illusion that he and his partner of 18 years, Phillip DeBlieck, will actually get a license from a Los Angeles clerk. But he wants the healthy dose of self-respect that comes from asking for equality. And he wants a unique opportunity to educate heterosexuals who believe in marriage.
'I know Phillip and I will be told no,' says Perry, whose 300-church network blesses about 6,000 same-sex couples a year. 'But it's important for heterosexual couples to see us in line and know we want to marry just like they do. I'm gregarious, and I'll be telling them all about our relationship and love for one another.'
Perry has prepared an action kit for gay couples: He encourages them to take friends along for moral support and urges them to line up local media coverage to spotlight the fact that gay couples still are denied the right to marry the person we love. (See www.mccchurch.org .)
'It might be rough. Yes, people might stare at you.' Perry says. 'But it's an issue of self-esteem to say: 'Yes, I am going (to the courthouse)! Yes, I am getting in line! Yes, I am going to ask for a license because it is the right thing to do!''
Perry plans to publicly stand up for his relationship by getting turned down for a marriage license every year around Valentine's Day until the laws are changed to reflect the reality of enduring gay love and commitment. Likewise, Feb. 12 is observed every year as National Freedom to Marry Day. (For details on events nationwide see www.lambdalegal.org .)
If you're tempted to write off Perry's idea as a publicity stunt, something best left to full-time activists, let me assure you—based on personal experience—that summoning the strength to stand in a government office with your partner and actually ask a stranger to treat you no differently from a heterosexual couple is unsettling, even life-changing.
It's easy to casually tell friends, 'We'd get married if we could.' It's far more difficult—and important—to force yourself to come face to face with the discrimination that still makes marriage impossible for gay American couples.
In 1996, my partner Joyce and I celebrated our 10th anniversary by getting turned down for a marriage license. We felt proud. I'd expected that. What I hadn't expected was to feel so fearful. I gained a new appreciation for gay path-breakers and for women who'd cast ballots when that wasn't lawful, for the African-Americans who'd sat down at 'whites-only' lunch counters.
Perry's call to action couldn't come at a more promising time. In 1993, Hawaii's top court shook the world by seriously considering legally uniting two words rarely heard together before then: 'gay' and 'marriage.'
Now, 10 years later, the Netherlands and Belgium embrace gay marriage. And this summer, Massachusetts' top court could deliver the breakthrough for American gay couples that skittish Hawaiian voters ultimately thwarted.
'We're in another Hawaii moment right now,' stresses Evan Wolfson of the Freedom to Marry Collaborative, a group working to legalize civil marriage for same-sex couples.
Just a decade ago, gay marriage seemed almost unimaginable. Now the question is when, not if.
We're blessed to live in a country with a history of correcting injustices once it sees them. This Valentine's Day is a perfect time for gay couples to make this injustice more visible.
COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.