Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's Different

After we booked our honeymoon tickets the other day, I tweeted something about needing to get a new passport. Someone tweeted back about the fact that she'd been married several years and hadn't bothered to get a new passport.

And my first thought was simply, "It's different."

She's married to a man, so even though they don't have the same last names in their passports (she did choose to take his name, but the same rules apply to the many women in hetero marriages who don't change their names when they get married), their marriage is likely to be recognized wherever they go. If they approach the immigration officer at the airport together and say they're married, that person is unlikely to declare that they're not a family and must go through immigration separately. And if some tragedy were to befall them, either in the U.S. or in another country, and one of them were to need medical attention, the hospital staff would likely take their word for it when they say they're married.

It's different.

In contrast, it's only in the past few months that the U.S. government declared that patients have the right to decide who has visitation rights, even if that person is a same-sex partner. That directive grew out of a Florida case in which a woman and her children were denied visitation rights to their wife/mother as she was dying, despite the partner having a health care power of attorney. And outside the U.S. the situation can be even scarier. We love traveling, and we're not about to abandon our desire to see the world just because we're a same-sex couple.

But it's different.

So not only will we both update our passports to contain our new shared last name, but we will travel with a certified copy of our marriage certificate. And we will travel with originals of our healthcare proxy and power of attorney documents. And I'm already working on scanning electronic copies of these documents, along with our wills, so that we could access them online anytime if needed. Yes, we have wills. We've been married 4 months, we have no substantial assets, and we don't have children yet, but we have wills. Our families are very supportive and would no doubt follow our wishes to the best of their abilities, but depending on where we are, our marriage has different levels of recognition. (The drive home from MA to NJ is always fun: now we're married, now we're not, now we're married, now we're sorta-married, now we're maybe civil-unioned?) I'm generally a pretty risk-averse person anyway, but on these matters, I'm taking as few risks as possible. So yes, we'll be spending that $220 to update our two passports as one more marker of the legitimacy of our relationship.

I don't mean to sound bitter; I don't begrudge the privileges of anyone who's in a hetero marriage. I just wish those privileges could be shared by all of us.

I wish it wasn't different.

So all of these thoughts were running through my head yesterday, when I got a bit of a reality check. I was about to leave work when my director asked if I knew of resources for someone claiming asylum. I didn't have much, but after hearing the story behind the question, I spent a good hour Googling my heart out for resources. Without giving out too much identifying information, she was asking on behalf of someone who had recently come out to his/her parents and been met with a very hostile reaction. This individual comes from a country where homosexuality is illegal and potentially punishable by death, and after successfully re-entering the U.S. following this traumatic coming out experience, this person is now trying to figure out how to apply for asylum in the U.S.

That's different. In a way that makes my passport concerns seem rather insignificant.

I did find several resources to pass on to that individual, but I'd also like to share one with all of you. Immigration Equality is an organization that is working to change immigration laws as they impact LGBT people and also help LGBT people who are struggling with the immigration system now. They do advocacy, they provide information, and they provide legal assistance for people who couldn't otherwise afford it. So I'd urge you to take a few minutes to at least read about their work, read the stories of people they've worked with, and get involved if you feel so inspired.

Help make it different.


  1. So frustrating...and angering. The world will see it one day, and I'm glad you are not letting it stop you. Know that my life is better because you are in it...and you have done and will do great things to make this world better because you were here.

  2. Thanks, Jen. I know we'll get there someday! And fortunately there are lots of good parents like you and Aaron who are teaching their kids about all kinds of love. (Gotta watch out for those Kardashian ads though--I hear they can be very confusing to the pre-school set. ;))

  3. What a good and thought-provoking post. I always think it is good for me to be reminded of the rights and conveniences I take for granted because I am a straight white person, so thanks for the reminder and the motivation to help things change.

  4. I agree. Though provoking. It makes me think about how there's always someone better off than you and always someone worse off than you. You just have to be where ever it is you are. I know you can't say much about the student and her situation, but were you about to find someone to assist her with seeking asylum?

  5. I know it's different for you, but I'm also in a weird situation with my last name. I have a hyphenated last name, and a husband with a different last name. I suspect we will travel with a certified copy of our marriage certificate as well, because well, it's weird to have three different last names between two married people, and I imagine there will be people who raise an eyebrow.

    I'm glad you have wills. All married couples should have wills, to be honest (although we don't, yet, but I need to get on that drafting.)