Gay couples hope holidays bring gift of marriage rights

December 01, 2006|By Julie R. Enszer

Like many Maryland families, we are preparing for the holidays. It began after my father-in-law flew home the Saturday after Thanksgiving: list-making, finding decorations from the upstairs storage closet, shopping, a trip to Behnke's in Beltsville.

We will eventually have a tree and a menorah in the house - I'm Jewish, my partner, Christian. We will mail more than a dozen packages to our family in Michigan and our friends around the country. We will cook together, making delicious foods, first for Hanukkah - latkes, blintzes, and soofganiot - and then a big Christmas dinner. I'm lobbying for brisket, but those negotiations are ongoing. We'll exchange gifts, take time off and generally enjoy the season.

Before all of that happens, however, we'll be looking to Annapolis on Monday, when the final oral arguments happen in the case of Deane and Polyak v. Conaway. We've got a lot at stake in the case: My partner and I are lesbians and therefore are unable to marry in Maryland.

Generally, around holidays, we don't think much about being lesbians or being unmarried, even though we've been partnered now for 10 years. Who wants to think about one's exclusion and discrimination around the holidays? Frankly, who has the time?

But one year, we had to think about it. For some unknown reason, I passed out at a restaurant in Michigan when we were dining with friends. I was rushed to the hospital; my partner wasn't allowed to stay with me. We have durable medical power of attorney documents signed, but they were at our home in University Park. (Lesson learned: Travel with them.) Luckily, there were no long-term negative consequences - I just had to spend five hours alone in an emergency room on Christmas Eve. It could have been worse. Of that, we're always aware.

The consequences of exclusion from marriage for the eight same-sex couples and one widower in Deane and Polyak are much more stark. Immigration, taxation, decision-making in medical crises, rights after death, child custody. Each circumstance is painful, each story heartbreaking. In Maryland, more than 1,000 rights and responsibilities are given to couples as a result of being married. Same-sex couples are excluded from these rights and responsibilities. It has a huge impact on the lives of the 17 people involved in the lawsuit. It has had a huge impact on my life.

When those 17 people stand before the Court of Appeals in Annapolis on Monday, they will stand for thousands of us in Maryland. According to the most recent U.S. census, there were more than 11,500 same-sex households in Maryland. Even a conservative estimate of the total number of gay and lesbian people in the state would be more than 150,000.

There are a lot of us with a lot at stake in Monday's hearing. You know that, however. You know gay and lesbian people - your neighbors, your friends, maybe your dog walker, your lawyer, your accountant, your friendly civil servant, the person who delivers your newspaper, the couple you see at the grocery store. We are a regular part of the state of Maryland - in every community, visible or invisible, there we are, working, living, paying taxes, contributing to the community in small and large ways.

On Monday, 17 of us with a few lawyers will ask the Court of Appeals to give us the same rights and responsibilities as our heterosexual married neighbors. My partner and I will look hopefully toward Annapolis and then wait for the judges' decision. Whatever the outcome, we'll continue with our lives: baking holiday cookies, lighting Shabbat candles. One holiday after another. One day after another, until our lives and our relationship are so utterly ordinary that they cannot be denied.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer living in University Park. Her e-mail is jrenszer@aol.com.

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