The comfort of a loved one

April 09, 2006|By JOHN MONAHAN

I was scared and tired and uncomfortable and frustrated.

I'm certainly not the first person to feel that way in a doctor's waiting room, but I had spent so much time in them over the last few months that it seemed almost unbearable. Fortunately, I had my wife with me.

She could hold my hand and comfort me. She was there in the examining room to ask the doctor questions I didn't think of or remind me of the date of my last MRI or blood test. I could rely on her to take notes and write down when my next appointment was. They were simple things, but they made everything bearable.

I began to appreciate all the more the luxury of having a loved one with me as I sat in the waiting room across from another couple.

I saw in the woman sitting across from me a reflection of my own anxiety, discomfort and fatigue. I also saw her gaining strength from her partner sitting next to her. I took great comfort from the support and affection they gave each other. I saw them holding hands and looking to each other in exactly the same way as my wife and I. It didn't seem to matter at all that they were both women.

Many states, including Maryland, are currently grappling with the right of same-sex couples to marry. Courts, politicians and citizens are weighing in on both sides of the debate. Voices are being raised about constitutional issues and historical precedent. Churches and religious organizations on both sides are looking for divine guidance and using it to justify their positions. For me, however, the issue is much more personal.

Looking at my wife, and at the couple holding hands across from us, I didn't feel that their partnership took anything away from my wife and me, that it somehow diminished our marriage. I couldn't imagine how anyone could deny a fellow human being the legal and emotional benefits of a loving marriage.

I can imagine how I would feel if my wife were not allowed in the examining room with me or if she were denied the benefits of my medical insurance. I can appreciate the outrage I would feel if I were incapacitated and she were prevented from making legal and medical decisions on my behalf. I can recoil in horror at the thought that my death would be the cause of her losing custody of our children.

I hate being sick. I'd never recommend it to anyone, but it does give me a new appreciation for how lucky I am to be married. The love that my wife and I share makes both of us better. As a couple, we are much more than the sum of our parts. We share those benefits with our children, our families, our friends and our society in countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Of course, marriage is not for everyone, and not all marriages are healthy. I realize that there are deep-seated religious beliefs about who may or may not be married. For instance, the Catholic Church prohibits divorced individuals from remarrying, and some Native American groups, such as traditional Navahos, restrict which clans may intermarry.

Each religion certainly is free to give or withhold the blessings of marriage to its members. But does that entitle any of us to restrict marriage for those in other churches, or no church at all?

By denying the right to a secular, legal marriage to those consenting couples who wish one, we are denying the many fundamental benefits of marriage, not only to individuals but to our society as a whole.

John Monahan teaches science at Patterson High School in Baltimore. His e-mail is

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