I’m writing this the morning of August 1, 2014. A year ago, I was sleeping in at this time, because I’d been up until about 4:00 a.m., witnessing and documenting the first legal same-sex marriages in Minnesota. Well, to be accurate, I had been witnessing the first new marriages, considering that a large number of couples who’d already gotten married in states where same-sex marriage was legal had their unions magically become recognized in Minnesota as the calendar went from July 31 to August 1, 2013. That’s something I’ll shake my head over until the day I die; the fact that a government automatically went from excluding a legal state of being married to including it in the blink of an eye on a somewhat arbitrary date in our history. What people fought so hard for—and against—became reality on paper, even if it had been this community’s reality since the beginning of time. Instant validity, instant legality.
The people whose marriages became recognized in that instant didn’t really do anything to merit the shift in status, unlike people who take tests to become legal citizens of the United States, people who drive a course to get a driver’s license, or people who file some paperwork and pay fees to incorporate a business or something of the sort. Sure, these couples had already paid fees and signed marriage certificates in some other state on some other day, but they didn’t do anything to make their marriages more legal as we went from July 31 to August 1 last year. It was a shift in opinion and law in this state that did it. An important shift, a necessary shift, but it smacks to think that the mere votes of very few legislators and the signature of a governor who were representing so many people in our state held over 500 rights in their hands. They could’ve kept them from the community, or given them as they did, with nothing actually causing the difference between deserving them and not.
Am I grateful that they chose love to be the law?
Absolutely. Of course. No doubt. Until the end of time.
Does it anger me that such a similar change is what’s keeping other couples in other states from having legal unions?
Absolutely. Of course. No doubt. Until same-sex marriage is legal for all citizens of the United States of America.
You know the Serenity Prayer? It’s the one that goes: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” For a community that has a high rate of chemical dependency (cue the familiarity with the Serenity Prayer as it’s what starts pretty much every meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous), it’s somewhat ironic. Looking at the shift from an illegal union to a legal marriage throws what we cannot change, changing what we can, and that wisdom to know the difference into a whole new light.
In the Senior Living Issue that came out just after the legalization of marriage took effect last year, we profiled couples that had been together for a long time but then could finally “take their relationships to the next level,” as if they hadn’t already been there. Pam Colby titled the feature, “I Never Thought I’d See the Day.” How poignant, how apropos. A whole community went from arguably accepting the things we could not change to claiming the courage to change the things we could…thanks to realizing that there was a difference. Considering the conversations we had during the VOTE NO campaign, when many people couldn’t even imagine keeping an amendment to ban same-sex marriage out of the state Constitution, the shift to believing marriage equality could become reality was necessary and had to be rather swift.
It flies in the face of reason, though, this shift in belief, because it’s all abstract. There’s nothing concrete about it. For example, even if I know the rules of the road, my eyesight is so bad that I’m blind without corrective lenses, so I cannot legally drive a vehicle. But, when I wear my glasses, significant change happens and I can see. I have altered myself to go from someone who cannot legally drive to someone who can, in a matter of moments, thanks to my (rather thick) glasses. But the people who shifted from not married to married in Minnesota that night? They didn’t do a dang thing, except believe that it could happen someday and go to a state where it had so that they could act on that belief. Then, they returned to Minnesota with no visible alteration to themselves except perhaps a wedding ring; no marital equivalent to glasses to make them legal, no license in the state of Minnesota, no fees paid to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Nothing changed but everything changed. Our community didn’t change, but the legislators did. A majority of a group of lawmakers had to see this community as valid and deserving of rights and status. But, guess what? We had to see it as being possible before they could. The visionaries who helped both the community to see the future with legal marriage as a reality as well as the legislators to vote it to be so assisted our sight. The visionaries were our metaphorical pair of glasses.
In this year’s Senior Living Issue, we cover topics from mental health for gay, lesbian, and bisexual veterans to HIV for older individuals to aging services for the community. Is anything of what we cover terribly specific to whether or not someone is married? Yes and no. If you’re looking for long-term care services or facilities for a same-sex couple (for your relationship of that of someone you love), yes, the legal status of the relationship would matter, as would the end of life legal arrangements, hospital stay circumstances, and estate laws. But, as with the flip of the date from July 31 to August 1, 2013, having a legally recognized marriage in the state of Minnesota should not affect how people in this community are treated, whether 18 or 80 years old.
But, as people approach 80 years old and become increasingly vulnerable as they require more care, they become more dependent again on a group of people who need to see this community as valid and deserving of rights and status. And, what seems to be crucial in the case of the aging rainbow community (as it was during the fight for marriage equality), is being out as a member of the community. Care providers, health practitioners, family members, and other advocates can only make sure the needs and wants of this community are considered when they’re known and out in the open. As with any coming out situation, there are risks; but there are also rights and rules that offer protection and consideration in this life journey. Use the resources in this issue and find out more about how to prepare yourself or your loved ones for the aging process.
So many folks in this community never thought they’d see the day when their unions would be recognized as legal marriages in the state of Minnesota; now is the time to make sure the same couples maintain that status for the rest of their lives together.
With you and with thanks,