Op-Ed: Why is My Life Still Up for a Vote?

While many Americans are celebrating a groundbreaking first, the election of an African American president, I find my mood tempered by another history-making moment at the ballot box—the denial of marriage equality to gay and lesbian citizens in Arizona, Florida, and California.

It must be unprecedented for so many states to put the civil rights of other citizens on the ballot to be voted up or down like special sales taxes or zoning decisions. It must be nice to be in such a spot of special privilege in this country that you believe it’s fitting for you to have the power to say what another human being can do with their lives—how they can live it and who they can live it with.

As a lesbian, I wouldn’t know that place of privilege. I don’t get to vote on whether or not another group of people can arrange their lives as they see fit and expect the government to respect their wishes.

No, as a lesbian, all I know is the fear that if my partner dies unexpectedly, I will be nothing but a stranger to her under the eyes of the law. Even though we own property together, have wills and powers of attorney—all of those documents are tenuous safety nets at best. Where I live, in the deep red state of South Carolina, any greedy family member with who gets a whiff of money out of the deal can take my grieving butt to court and most likely have those legal papers nullified on the spot—taking my house, my car, and anything else my partner and I might have collected together during our relationship.

The people who have the privilege of voting to deny me the basic rights of drawing up a contract of relationship (commonly referred to as “marriage”) with the person I have chosen to spend my life with will never know this pain. Because of this contract they are allowed to enter, they are seen as the next of kin for their spouse—something a hospital or law enforcement official would deny me no matter how many other legal papers I have drawn up.

This contract allows them to make medical and financial decisions for their spouse, without an extra trip to an attorney; it allows them to inherit money without paying exorbitant taxes and allows them to collect Social Security benefits should their spouse die or become disabled; it allows for custody rights and adoption of children should the worst befall one partner (and yes, many gay and lesbian couples are having and raising children). It does so much more— the list is nearly endless—and the most amazing thing is: a church need never be involved in the process. With one simple form from the government a couple is given special legal protection that not everyone can gain—simply because those who take this institution for granted have barred the door.

What I think saddens me the most, however, is that the charge to discriminate against other human beings is being led by people who profess to follow a man who included everyone—especially the outcast. Religious groups, especially the Mormon Church, with its history of sanctifying the marriages of one man and many wives, bankrolled the fight to pass California’s amendment abomination. With their misguided and misinformed ideas of marriage, its ever-changing history, and who should be able to enjoy it, these religious leaders have dragged down the name of Jesus into the mud pit with them. Instead of hearing Jesus’ call to care for “the least of these,” they have made Jesus into a small-minded bigot and turned his name into a curse for gay and lesbian people instead of a blessing.

As a Christian, who happens to be a lesbian, the harm done to the community that I love is devastating. So many gay and lesbian people forsake God and end up filling their spiritual void with dangerous addictions. They’ve been told that God hates them and will never love them unless they “change” and “turn from their sin.” I certainly cannot blame them when they walk away from God and the church because of the actions of mean, ruthless, and graceless people who claim the title of Christian. But I mourn for the spiritual fulfillment, love, and community they forsake when they do.

I’m tired of my life being used as a political and spiritual football—debated and voted on like I’m some theoretical entity. I have a life—one that includes a relationship that is just as worthy as those who claim to be living God’s “gold standard” for relationships. If yet there is any shred of hope it will be that an Obama administration will choose two or three Supreme Court justices who will overturn these constitutional amendments in a Loving v. Virginia style challenge. Until then, it only changes through education, by coming out and living our lives out loud and proud—something I encourage all my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to do.

As Soulforce founder and author Mel White told Larry King many years ago, “Once people find out we’re just as boring as they are, we’ll win our rights.” I am fighting for the right to be just as boring, and just as legally protected, as a heterosexual—for better or for worse.