~~~ See end of post for important update! ~~~
Yesterday, I attended the Marriage Equality Town Hall Talk at Central Reform Congregation. Two of my closest friends went with me. My friends enjoyed the talk and found it informative and thought-provoking.
Over dinner afterward, we chatted about marriage equality. One of my friends told me that the talk was really good. She said she learned some things that she hadn't known before. She even said that if she were to attend a marriage equality rally, the sign she'd make would say something like, "I can get married; why can't they?" That was thrilling, because back in November, she hadn't seemed interested enough in the issue to want to attend a rally in protest of Proposition 8.
At the talk, we heard from some of the couples who traveled to Iowa on May 1st how life has or hasn't changed since they got legally married there.
Many said the day was bittersweet. It wasn't how they had imagined getting married. They had wanted a normal wedding with all of their family and friends present. Some had hesitated before deciding that boarding the bus was the right thing to do.
But most were surprised by how meaningful the day turned out to be. They didn't encounter any protesters, and the people of Iowa City were welcoming. The bus and the church in which they tied the knot were full of love and support that day.
And they returned home to some unexpected benefits of marriage. For one thing, getting married in Iowa entitled the couples to a legal name change for the $35 cost of the marriage license -- and the name changes cannot be contested in the state of Missouri. Other same-sex couples have spent thousands of dollars getting their names changed without a marriage license.
Ed Reggi spoke of how the businesses with which he holds accounts wanted to change his account status to "married." Because of their new married status, Ed and his husband Scott Emanuel were able to save hundreds of dollars a year on their car insurance. I now think that the newlywed couple ought to star in a GEICO commercial:
"The state of Missouri won't recognize our out-of-state marriage license. But there's good news!"
"We just saved a bunch of money on car insurance!"
During a question-and-answer session, I asked if it's true that it's a misdemeanor to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony in Missouri. Rabbi Susan Talve confirmed that it's a misdemeanor in this state "to solemnize a marriage without a marriage license." Religious leaders are representatives of the state when they conduct wedding ceremonies. The government grants them the right to officiate, to create a legal marriage along with the spiritual union. By default, all same-sex weddings in Missouri are performed without a marriage license. In 2004, Missourians passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Rabbi Talve has never actually been cited for officiating a same-sex wedding, and she has done so numerous times. "Let them try!" she quipped. But technically, she doesn't have the legal right to marry same-sex couples, even though her religion fully supports such couples' right to marry. She spoke of the sadness that accompanies her joy when conducting same-sex wedding ceremonies. She wants to be able to make the marriages legal, and she can't. This is the heart of why legalizing same-sex marriage is a matter of religious freedom.
Another person asked how a separate-but-equal right to civil unions for same-sex couples would be different than the right to civil marriage. Reggi summarized what he has heard from lawyer friends: The word "marriage" is written into law on so many different levels that creating an entirely new institution would pose no end of legal challenges. Even if civil unions were legally equivalent to civil marriages, problems might arise when, for example, couples with a civil union license crossed state lines.
This argument also applies to the idea of the government getting out of the marriage business: If civil marriages were replaced by civil unions, then opposite-sex couples wishing to form a civil union would most likely run into the same legal hassles. And all because certain people don't want to share the sacred word "marriage" with committed, loving same-sex couples whose unions are just as sacred as theirs.
One member of one of the couples compared the opposition to same-sex marriage with the opposition to interracial marriage by a previous generation. "It's the same discrimination all over again," she said. Her parents are an interracial couple.
Next up in the fight for marriage equality is the Prop 8 Day of Decision. The California Supreme Court has only until June 3rd to rule on the challenge to Proposition 8.
IMPORTANT UPDATE 5/22/09: Today the California Supreme Court announced that it will rule on Prop 8 this Tuesday, May 26, at 10 a.m. Pacific time (12 noon Central). Ed Reggi is planning a rally in St. Louis for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. Please add him as a friend on Facebook and be ready to protest or celebrate!
Cross-posted to The Quixotic Pragmatist