Choosing Our Family

Imagine you are with the person you love. You are having a wonderful, blissfully peaceful Friday night after a hard week at work. You both just want to melt into each others’ arms for two or three hours and watch Netflix, and for a little while you do.

But then your love grunts uncomfortably. They grab their chest and complain of being light-headed. You are both getting to your middle years, and they’re carrying a few more pounds than either of you is comfortable with. You never did get around to joining the gym or trying that diet your GP suggested. Your own heart starts racing, but you manage not to panic and call 911. Your love, clutching their chest now, takes out their own phone to text their family to let them know which hospital you will be going to.

You put on your brave face for them, choking back tears on the ambulance ride as you hold their hand. They pat yours to let you know it will all be okay and you try not to cry and laugh at the same time at how ridiculous it is that they are comforting you at a time like this. The EMT mechanically goes about asking all the appropriate questions, taking your love’s blood pressure and a dozen other things, pushing you gently out of the way as he does so, and you mostly succeed at not taking it personally.

At the hospital your love has fallen unconscious and you find yourself answering a hundred questions: what did they have to eat, what allergies do they have, does heart disease run in the family and so many others that you do your best to answer. For half an hour you watch as they poke and prod and probe the most important person in your world and they look so helpless and you wish they could hear you when you tell them that it will all be OK.

Then the doctor puts her hand on your arm and tells you your love’s family is here. They guide you out of the little cubicle and you greet their father, mother, brothers and sister. They ask if your love is in pain and you cannot answer, and then their father speaks up. He tells you that the family wants you to know they respect your choice, but it has been hard for them, and it has caused divisions and fights and it would just be easier if you waited for word at home.

You cry and you want to fight and you argue a little. The mother asks you not to make a scene as the oldest brother talks to a security guard. You want to stay, you want to tell them they can’t make you leave, but the thing is they can. You are not married, you can’t be, because he is white and you are black. He dared to fall in love with a black woman and you remember, especially now, being so proud of this man who dared to stand up to his father when he brought you to his family’s home for the first time.

Now all you can do is go, rushing out the door angry and scared and hurt before the guard can escort you. You go home and wait for the nowhere near frequent enough calls from his sister, the only member of the family to stand up for the two of you. Two days later you get the call from her: he has passed. They let you come to the funeral, so long as you stand in back. Your whole world is coming down around you and though they love you, some of your own family cannot help but offer thinly veiled “we told you so”s.

Does that sound far-fetched to you? Well it shouldn’t. We are less than half a century removed from that being the case in some parts of our country. It is a horribly painful reality that gay couples in most states must now live through. The only option preventing this in some places is terribly expensive lawyers fees to draw up living wills, contracts and proxy arrangements. So when you say you support initiatives like North Carolina’s Amendment 1, you are supporting exactly the kind of cruelty described above.

If you oppose marriage equality, you support denying people the right to choose their own family. You cannot do so without exposing yourself as a horribly cruel human being. Does that sound harsh? I hope so because it is meant to be. It is significantly less harsh than being denied the right to see your love in the hospital, or them not getting shared custody of their child, or not being able to put you on their health insurance, or being granted the simple, humane pleasure of being able to take that person’s name as your own. So before you cry that I am being mean to you for calling you out for your bigotry, take a few minutes, or better yet, the next 24 hours if you live in North Carolina, and reflect on how much meaner a state with Amendment 1 would be.

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