We're Just Like You

It's Time For Maryland To Recognize Same-sex Marriages From Other Jurisdictions

August 07, 2009|By Patricia Montley and Sally Wall

This summer we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. Wood - sturdy and beautiful. Natural. We gave each other lovely jewelry boxes crafted by an artisan whose work we had long admired. A meaningful but private celebration - just like our wedding had to be.

You see, we were married in Canada. Not because we were rebellious young people who eloped because our parents disapproved (though they did). But because our own country would not legally recognize our relationship, which had by then already lasted 25 years.

The Canadian wedding took place on a magnificent June day at the Shakespeare Garden in Stratford, Ontario. The natives were wonderfully hospitable and accepting - from the chef who sent special wedding treats to our table, to the elderly women across the aisle in the swan boat on the Avon River who, when they heard the reason for our fancy dresses and corsages, jumped up to congratulate us.

At the end of the ceremony, in proud, formal tones, the officiant reminded us as we signed the register: "Your relationship is now a part of history."

Then we came home to the state of Maryland, where both of us were born and educated, have worked and paid taxes, but where our relationship is not part of history. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot: It was, you might say, not satisfactory.

We have worked hard at contributing to our community. Between us, we have 60 years of teaching experience, much of it in colleges and universities in Maryland. We have published scholarly and creative works and won distinguished teacher awards at our respective institutions.

One of us has served on political campaigns for candidates she is committed to; the other serves as a poll judge for every election. We support the arts with memberships and subscriptions to Baltimore's theaters, museums and symphony.

As new grandmothers, we happily provide child care for toddlers in our family. Just as important, we have provided elder care for ill and dying relatives and friends.

We try to live honorably, to explore the spiritual values of our own and other religious traditions, to create meaning in our lives by contributing to the well-being of others. At First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, where we are members, one of us serves as secretary of the board and chair of the music committee, while the other coordinates the ushers and serves in the nursery. We both occasionally lead worship services, organize social gatherings and cook for Our Daily Bread.

We like to garden and bake and dance and laugh. We take in mail for neighbors on vacation and send birthday cards to their kids.

You see, we're like you.

And like you, we want our marriage - our commitment of 30 years - to be honored in our home state. So long as marriage is permitted to some and denied to others, we to whom it is denied are second-class citizens, separated from the fully accepted, less than equal.

There are other, more practical protections of marriage too, for example:

* Eligibility for health benefits (without taxation) through a spouse's employer;

* Ability to inherit jointly owned property without incurring tax penalties;

* Ability to take leave to care for a sick spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act;

* Right to file joint income taxes;

* Entitlement to inherit Social Security and disability benefits upon the death of a spouse;

* Right to inherit a spouse's pension;

* Access to "family" memberships;

* Community property ownership protections.

If Maryland honors the legal marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions, it won't deliver all of these benefits. But it will help with many of them and provide further momentum for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996, which denies legally married same-sex couples more than 1,000 federal protections.

Heterosexual convicted murderers have the right to marry. Heterosexual people who have racked up a dozen divorces have the right to marry. Heterosexual couples who have known each other for only a few days have the right to marry. Heterosexual movie stars doing it for publicity have the right to marry.

But we don't. Though a case might easily be made that the marriages of these others pose a threat to the sanctity of the institution, they are nevertheless legal.

We hope with all our hearts that Attorney General Doug Gansler and Gov. Martin O'Malley will offer us a belated wedding present of security, peace and governmental protection by finding the legal grounds to honor our Canadian marriage.

Patricia Montley (pat_mon tley@msn.com) and Sally Wall ( snwall4@msn.com) live in Lutherville.

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