by Joe Kort, MSW copyright
Originally Published in the Detroit Jewish News, September
in PDF format
I am a Gay
American too, just like New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey
who came out as one in July, 2004. And for two days I felt
like one after my partner and I were legally married in
Massachusetts on August 19, 2004. We were finally admitted
into the adult fraternity of the officially married, and for
two days, we were legal kin.
For two days, I didn’t have to worry
that should a medical emergency happen while on vacation,
that one of us would be shut out of the emergency room. Not
being his legal next of kin, you see, a hospital affords me
no rights with my partner—the man I want to take care of in
times of sickness. If I don’t, who will? His parents have
died, his sister lives out of state, and the rest of his
family has their own kith and kin to look after. I want
this responsibility. But without the legal rights that
marriage provides, I can’t do that.
Now that we have returned to Michigan,
we’re legally strangers once again. I want to place a human
face on our partnership.
Ironically, only four hours after our
nuptials in Massachusetts were made legal, we learned that
California had nullified the nearly 4,000 marriages it had
licensed during the summer. What a letdown! Of course, we
knew that the minute we returned to Michigan, our license
would be null and void in our home state too—but we didn’t
care. We wanted to go through the process regardless. We
wanted a chance to be like grownups just like our
heterosexual friends and get a legal license with our heads
held high and look into the eyes of those issuing our
license and be told that we belong.
On the Outside
As a Jewish American I know how much
people change once they get to know someone, whatever their
differences are from others. As an adult, I was suddenly a
minority outside the Jewish community in which I was raised,
surrounded by people who did not know much about Jewish
people. In fact, someone used the phrase, “Jew me down” in
front of me, not realizing that it was an insult.
As these individuals got to know me,
their opinions about Jews changed. They told me that their
view changed about Jews or they learned things they did not
know. I put a human face on someone Jewish.
Today, kids say, “That is so gay,” not even realizing
that it’s an insult to their gay friends or gay teachers. If
they do realize the insult, they rarely care anyway.
Before I came out as a gay American,
people became acquainted with me. Once I told them I was
gay, they told me if they knew that, they would never have
gotten to know me as their judgments about gays were
negative. They told me that they never knew someone who was
gay; and that they have learned a lot, and their negative
judgments about gays and lesbians either reduced or
What about the children? I don’t think
folks are thinking about the children involved in gay
relationships. Like it or not, they exist. I have friends
where if the birth parent dies, the other “parent” is not
legal kin; and the child can be taken away and placed into
foster care. Even if expensive legal documents drawn and in
place, the children still risk losing the other parent; the
only other parent they know.
In his book, Gay Marriage, John Rauch
points out that marriage puts laws in place that allow
spouses to make life-or-death decisions on each other’s
behalf in case of incapacity. So without legal rights toward
our partners and our children, taxpayer money will go to the
care of these people. Even though we want to be the one’s
involved and to legally take the responsibility, we are
forbidden by law.
Often until something affects you, you
don’t fully understand it. And once it affects you, there is
a whole paradigm shift. I think that if taxpaying Americans
realized that they’re paying for the care of the children
and partners of gays and lesbians, the very people who
legally would be the responsibility of, they would not be so
closed to letting gays and lesbians marry. The human face it
would put on that would be your own.