When I came out in 1977, there was this really old lesbian couple, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons, who had been together forever. Or so it seemed then. More than thirty years later, I’m close to their “really old” age, and they are legally married in California after 55 years together.
Sometimes justice takes a while. Del is now 87 and Phyllis is 84. And yet the interviews say that they are happy, not bitter, that after 55 years together they will have the same rights as heterosexual couples can get in Vegas after knowing each other two hours. It’s that positive outlook and their love for each other that’s kept them going all this time.
I wept this morning when I logged onto the computer and saw their elderly forms being joined in holy matrimony. Images like that are what we’ll be promoting through UU information sources as well; happy couples together at last as legal entities. They remind me that it is love, indeed, at the heart of every longterm commitment.
People asked me after Massachusetts, and they’ll ask me again now I’m sure, if my partner and I are considering marriage. My answer is probably not. Kendrick and I met in 1979, and it was pretty much love at first sight. We basically ruined each other for anyone else and assume that this is it for life. We had a commitment ceremony in 1991 at Arlington Street Church in Boston, and since we live in Minnesota it would not tangibly change our lives to go back and do it again, this time legally.
Frankly, now that I’m ‘really old,’ my desire for marriage equality is not particularly about romance. It’s much more basic and economic. I want the federal benefits that California and Massachusetts can’t offer even their own residents, much less me! Kendrick has a chronic illness. Last year she had to quit work early in the year. She earned only $3700 all year and my work supported our family. Unfortunately $3700 is $200 more than the $3500 cap by which I could claim an ‘unrelated person’ as a dependent on my taxes, so I could not. Nor could I deduct about $11,000 of her medical bills. It was as if I had just stood on the corner and thrown that money at a passing stranger.
Likewise, she is ineligible for SSI, the social security benefits which she could get if she were single, because I am supporting her. Yet, should I die tomorrow, she would not receive a cent of my survivor benefits because we are legally single.
The news about California will be about weddings, and celebration, and fun. That’s as it should be. But as our country’s economy continues to fail, same gender couples will bear an extra burden. The survival of our long term relationships are no more about tuxedos and gowns and cakes than anyone else’s. I am acutely aware as I write this that I am a very privileged lesbian—I work for a place that could not be more supportive with both tangible and intangible measures, I have a graduate degree and white privilege—three things that mitigate against the economic suffering which others know from far more dire circumstances than I do. I am not meaning to whine here!
But my feelings are mixed. Even through my tears of happiness for them, I’m aware of the tangible tax, healthcare, and other benefits that Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and other same sex couples still cannot offer to each other, even if their marriage is now legal in California. The journey ahead is still long, and Kendrick and I may be in our eighties before we know full equality. May our love and positive outlook sustain us, as it has so many others.
And, Phyllis and Del, Mazel Tov!!!!!!!