My Turn: A higher arc for America

My conservative Ohio Dad would be proud. He would join us in a round of tears and hugs for all the good history being made next week in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Six years ago I wrote a My Turn about Wilbur, my Dad. I described him as a lifelong Republican who donated faithfully to all the anti-gay fundraising groups. He kept their literature by our family kitchen table for easy reference. When I visited Ohio, my place at the table was next to the venom in that stack. I had come out to him several years earlier but it didn’t curtail the donations. Inviting him to my 1990 lesbian wedding however did the trick, as the April 2007 My Turn explained. From then on, he was a devoted supporter of our committed relationship.

Now years later, we are in our 60’s and 70’s, and everything about us two women being a family feels fragile. And it seems like my little family of 24 years should have the same protections and benefits as other committed couples. But our 1990 ceremony was not legal. In 2008, we flew to San Francisco and got legally married but we were only legal in California. Outlaws elsewhere. Then the anti-gay Prop 8 passed in California, and 18,000 of us legally married gay couples suddenly floated in an unknown sea. After miles of filings and judgments, we 18,000 were finally deemed still legal but only in California. Rafting alongside us now are other non-legal Juneau couples.

The Alaskans Together educational website states: “Alaska is one of 29 states with no laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation, medical care and otherwise.” ACLU Alaska adds: “The current status of LGBT couples is that they receive no recognition in Alaska law, except for what the courts have mandated (which to date is limited to certain employment benefits to the same-sex partners of public employees and the right to be considered for full reimbursement for certain property tax exemptions). The Alaska Constitutional marriage amendment precludes recognition of any same-sex marriage, even one conducted in another state or country. Alaska has no domestic partner registry or civil union status.”

Now I prepare my taxes. As a retired State employee who has not worked since July 2011, I have a 1099 from the State for $10,000 in 2012 wages. This is my “imputed” income upon which I pay yearly federal taxes for the benefit of receiving health insurance for my female partner. No one else but gay couples pay extra like this. Over the years, this is a lot of family income that could have paid for goods and services in Juneau.

On Mar 26 and 27 the Supreme Court will hear arguments about this discrimination and system of financial harm to same-gender couples in loving long term relationships. If my Dad were alive, he would be thrilled to see that a bipartisan majority of Americans now support gay marriage. And he would smile to hear about Ohio Senator Rob Portman’s soul-searching and announcing his full support for marriage equality. Plus my Dad would root for Republican Ted Olson and Democrat David Boise, teammates again, as they present their arguments for gay marriage to the Supreme Court.

And finally, my Dad would catch a flight to Juneau. He would come see the play. On Monday April 1, one night only at Centennial Hall, Perseverance Theatre will present the award winning “8” about the recent trial of 2 gay couples who sued California. My spouse and I were invited to read the part of the lesbian couple, and we will get to say the wise and tender last lines of the play. Because we both dissolve too easily into tears, we will need to practice not losing those lines.

Thankfully, “There is a palace that opens only to tears,” as a Sufi poet wrote. Lots of tears now, joy for this progress, bittersweet too as the LGBT community also says farewell to our dying elders and straight supporters who stood up brave and beautiful for gay civil rights in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, the beginning of a higher arc for America.

• Davis is a Juneau resident.

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