After facing the challenge of coming out, of dealing with bullying and seeking acceptance from one’s family, friends and community, still more obstacles face those in the LGBTQ community. Rights granted the majority population are not always offered to those in the sexual minority.
For decades, there have been fights to have basic rights and protections, from the Stonewall riots to the Prop 8 and DOMA cases before the Supreme Court today — and even at the local level, Juneau residents patiently fight and wait while civil rights history happens — or doesn’t. But there’s more hope today than ever before that these rights will be granted.
“When women declared at Seneca Falls, men and women got together and said women should have the right to vote, and it took 60 years to get there, and only one of the women at that first Seneca Falls meeting lived to vote. My grandmother voted the first year that it was legal, so, you know, there’s a history of things slowly but surely getting better and I’m lucky to be part of this one,” Juneau resident Sara Boesser said.
The most widely discussed right being considered is marriage equality.
Rhode Island is set to be the next state to allow gay marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Prop 8 are being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1998, Alaskans voted on Proposition 2, to amend the state’s constitution to limit marriage.
Sara and others in the community had seen progress in acceptance in the community prior to that amendment, how did she feel with that step backward?
“That feel word... I don’t usually cry at interviews...” Sara said. “It was hard, it was discouraging, and it was so pointless because if you think of the civil rights movement, and I think of this as a civil right, I have three sisters and why do they have rights under the law that I don’t have — it doesn’t seem right.”
Maureen “Mo” Longworth and Lin Davis are married legally in some states, but not in Alaska.
“We did a non-legal ceremony in 1990,” Lin said. “My father was able to come from Ohio and Mo’s parents were able to come from Southern California.”
They have a framed photograph of that ceremony in their living room, there was shared laughter over the hairstyles featured. There is also a painting with their vows hanging in their home.
“We had witnesses sign it even though it was totally non-official, we had to make our own ceremony because you didn’t get a marriage. We still can’t get a marriage,” Mo said. “This is our marriage that we consider our marriage anniversary, which was in 1990. The nice thing about that is that our parents were still alive. You see right now, if we got married now, legally, we wouldn’t have parents to have. We’ve already missed that chance. But that’s the sad truth about people in our age group, their families have died before they’re allowed to get married.”
The couple married legally in San Francisco in 2008 when gay marriage was legalized. They also had a civil union in Vermont. But none of that matters legally because the couple make their home here in Juneau and it’s not recognized.
Marguerite Lauri Crawford and Kimberly Hubbard Crawford married last August. They held their ceremony in the courtyard of Dimond Courthouse, in front of the Capitol.
“I feel like I wasn’t willing to wait until they recognize it, because there’s no guarantee that they’ll ever come to their senses and this is when we wanted to get married, so regardless of what the law stated, we were going to,” Marguerite said.
“I refuse to be told who I can and cannot marry,” Kimberly said. “Countries think they have a right to tell a person who they can and cannot marry, and I wasn’t about to wait for it. I didn’t feel at the time, a year ago, that we were even close to getting there.”
One of the arguments used in opposing marriage equality is that the inclusion of homosexual couples in the institution of marriage will be damaging to the institution, but Mildred Boesser, Sara’s mother, disagrees.
“It’s a strange argument, and I hear it less and less now, I think, but, the argument that if homosexual people are allowed to marry it will somehow hurt marriages, well, tell me one way it might hurt my marriage,” Mildred said.
“I don’t understand. I mean, I do understand but I don’t understand how people can really say it’s not right to be in love with a certain person, because if you’ve ever been really in love and someone told you you couldn’t be and that was not right, of course you’d well up against it. I don’t understand why, maybe someone who’s never been in love doesn’t understand the basic attraction there is. My husband and I have been married 65 years and if someone had told me back then “This is illicit, you know, illegal or sinful and you cannot do this—”
Sara added, “Back then if you would have been different races, you would have been told that.”
Despite stereotypes, there are many examples of long-lasting homosexual relationships. Mo and Lin have been married — unofficially — since 1990, and Sara was in a relationship for three decades.
“I watched you living with your partner for something like 31 years,” Mildred said to her daughter, “And people telling me that relationships between homosexual people didn’t last, while everyone around me who was heterosexual was on their second or third marriage, it just was incongruous. You know, it was stupid.”
So, why is marriage so important?
Mo and Lin recently participated in the reading of “8” by Dustin Lance Black, a play about the legal battle opposing California’s Proposition 8, playing the parts of a lesbian couple suing the State of California — they related to their characters easily.
“If I could say we were married, what would I feel like?” Mo mused. “At the end of that play, or all during it really, I had this most uplifting feeling, and maybe that’s what acting is like, I don’t know because that’s the first time I’ve ever been in one, but I really felt like that whole audience was just holding me in tender hands and there was just total love and acceptance for me and Lin being Kris and Sandy on that stage. I said afterward to Lin, this is probably what it would feel like if we could get married for real, to just have that feeling of being held by your community in such kind regard as a couple.”
Sara felt similarly, “There’s the social appreciation and recognition of the commitment between the two people. There’s the support that comes with “Oh, you’re married,” that comes with some extra societal support, and support of a relationship is important to a couple.”
But there are many more tangible reasons marriage is so important for same-sex couples. Mildred added, “And all the laws, all the benefits that you get from being married, that you don’t get if you’re not.”
There are many ways to imitate the rights and privileges of a married couple, but there are some big differences.
“When you love someone and you make a life with that person, if you’re a same sex couple you can do lots of legal documents to try to take care of each other as best you can, like powers of attorney and wills,” Sara said, “But you can’t protect or take care of each other in the same way as you can if you’re married.”
Take healthcare and other benefits, for example. Mo and Lin may have been acting for the first time, but courtroom drama is not unfamiliar to the pair.
“We sued the State of Alaska back in ‘99, right after Proposition 2,” Mo said.
Lin elaborated, “After that big lopsided vote, ACLU put the word out statewide to gay couples who would like to be in a suit against the state of Alaska for domestic partner benefits so that at least the state workers and the Anchorage municipal workers could get benefits for their spouses, so I believe there were 12 of us couples that ended up doing it.”
The suit was filed in 1999, but it took nearly a decade for benefits to be granted.
“I think in 2005 ... it got appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. And I watched the video of that and I thought from the questions the justices were asking that we didn’t have a prayer of getting our benefits, but you know, it turned out, Mo called me at work in 2005 and said the Supreme Court ruled in our favor. I just broke down in tears at work and all my workmates came running in and we all did a big group hug because it was so incredible.”
At that point, Mo was going into business on her own and she wouldn’t have health insurance.
“We didn’t actually get them until January 2007, they had to change the forms, and then the Legislature balked and they called a vote in April to have everybody vote in the state — it was an advisory vote — should state workers who are in same sex domestic partnerships get benefits?”
The vote was actually in favor of not providing benefits, but by a narrow margin, and then-governor Sarah Palin signed the documents that provided Alaska’s state employees with domestic partner benefits.
It took several years and a lot of division within the community to get to that point, and in some notable ways, the domestic partner benefits program is not equal to marriage benefits.
For one thing, actually obtaining the benefits is much more challenging for a domestic partnership.
“But it’s not the same because to be a same-sex couple and get your domestic partner benefits you have to meet five criteria and married people only have to pay their $45 and be married, but you have to live together for a year before it starts, married people don’t ever have to live together, they could live in different countries and be married, you have to have joint property, joint checking accounts, be in their wills, have children together — that’s one of the ones that’s hard for everybody to do, especially if you get too old — things like that, it’s a long checklist that straight people don’t have to do at all, so it’s not equal,” Sara said.
There are enough snags in the process that Marguerite and Kimberly have stalled on the process.
“It just infuriates me so much, that I don’t want to go through the process, although we do feel it’s important to go through it and get as much supplemental information as we can to make up for what we can’t have, which is the one marriage license,” Marguerite said.
Both women work for the state so they have made the choice to keep separate health insurance plans, “We could be on each other’s plans, the state does recognize same-sex partners, but we would still be assessed imputed income through the federal government for that, and it seems like a really complicated process. And from what I hear, it will basically cost us money, so we’ve kept our individual plans.”
When it comes to medical worries, it doesn’t stop at insurance. Same-sex couples have to worry about legal issues with visiting one another in the hospital should one partner fall ill or be injured.
“Right, visitation is a big deal,” Sara said, “Will you be allowed to be at your partner’s side in the hospital? They allow immediate family. that would be a spouse, but same-sex partner — when I travel, I travel with my healthcare power of attorney, regular power of attorney, things like that, so my partner can come in, and I can go into her room. A man and a woman in an accident, they can just go to the hospital and say, “Yes I’m the spouse” even if it’s not true and it’s accepted and you’re in.”
And what happens when a same-sex partner dies?
“Whoever dies first, like I would hopefully be on Social Security at that time. After my dad died, my mom lived on that Social Security, but Lin can’t get mine,” Mo said.
A same-sex couple can arrange their will to say whatever they want, but like with health insurance, the value is taxed as income.
“One of the cases before DOMA, if I were to die before my partner, she will inherit my money, but she might have to pay taxes on it, whereas with a spouse, you don’t have to pay those inheritance taxes,” Sara said.
“Or, can you live together in a retirement home, for example? You and dad would automatically be put in the same room,” Sara said, looking toward her mother — the interview actually took place in a community room at Fireweed Place, where Mildred lives with her husband, Mark, “But a same-sex couple might have to fight and fail, and that’s not right.”
Mildred, with 65 years of marriage under her belt, is adamant that the inclusion of same sex marriage will not hurt or change the institution.
“They don’t want to do away with marriage, they want to add to it. What they’re really trying to do, they’re not trying to change the definition of marriage ... It just allows more people into the same thing.”
• Contact reporter Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.