Although I was born in the 1960’s, I rarely have felt much connection to the zeitgeist of that decade. I imagine the feelings today can relate to some of those generated by the the advances in Civil Rights; celebrating a step in the right direction, but knowing that it’s nowhere near a complete victory.
I am, naturally, talking about two bills signed today. Senate Bill 2 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. About damn time, if you ask me. Of course, when an anti-discrimination law has to be passed, it means that discrimination is sufficiently saturated in the culture to make it a non-trivial task to eradicate. The passage of the law is indicative of a shift, but there will still be a time of struggle as those who oppose it will resist fulfilling the letter of the law. Still, this is a significant milestone. It says that our state government will not sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Which makes the second bill a bit ironic. House Bill 2007 creates a legal framework for “Domestic Partnerships” for same-sex couples, giving the same rights that the State of Oregon extends to married couples. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it acknowledges that same-sex couples have the same concerns, issues, and needs as mixed-gender couples do. It says that their partnerships should be legally recognized, like mixed-gender partnerships. It grants rights and protections that same-sex couples deserve. But on the other hand, and this is a big other hand, it does all these things while still keeping same-sex couples in a second-class-citizen category. Despite the good intentions of the first bill, HB2007 admits the government still discriminates based on sexual orientation.
At least Oregonians are trying. We’re saying to the rest of the country “Hey, part of our society is broken, and we’re trying to put a patch on our section of it.” Whether we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do, or out of shame for passing Measure 36, I don’t know. What I hope is that this is a stepping-stone, not a destination. Like the “Separate but Equal” transition phase for racial discrimination. I trust that one day, in the not too distant future, activists and lawyers will mount a campaign pointing out that our country’s ideals of freedom and equality are not truly represented in “Domestic Partnerships.” Just as “Separate but Equal” was not truly equal, the only thing equal to legal marriage is legal marriage. Perhaps after a few years of seeing that same-sex Domestic Partnerships don’t Destroy Civilization As We Know It, making that step won’t be such a huge leap.*
Fortuitously timed for this historic event, is the publication of “The Brides of March,” by Beren DeMotier. The book is her memoir of the year (plus a bit) of being legally married when Multnomah County issued licenses to same-sex couples. Unlike abstract essays about rights and equality written by pundits (like me), her story is about how these events impact real people; her, her partner of twenty years and their three children. If anything can shift the cultural paradigm, it’s stories like this, which show that same-sex couples aren’t mysterious agents provocateurs of some insidious agenda. They are merely ordinary people asking to have the same right, in a country that claims to value families, to create legally-recognized families of their own.
So if you only read only ONE memoir chronicling the events of a same-sex marriage in Multnomah county this year, make it this one!
(In the name of Disclosure, Beren is a long-time friend of mine, and I am mentioned in her book (I’m the college boyfriend who wasn’t a jerk).)
*I like to imagine that one day I’ll be approached by small children who say “Granduncle Evan, did people in the Olden Days really have sexual-orientation discrimination legislation sanctioned at the Federal level?” And I’ll say “Yes, Little Timmy**, I was alive in the days when the Federal Government explicitly allowed discrimination against citizens based on their sexual orientation. They even said that they didn’t want same-sex couples to get married, EVAR!” At that point, they should gasp in amazement, but in the Future, children won’t be able to maintain focus for more than two seconds, so they’ll have wandered off.
**That probably won’t be his name, but I’ll still call him that.