When your child, your own flesh and blood, is the one who is “the other,” it causes a special sort of pain and rage in your heart.
I’m still trying to process all of my emotions from Friday’s Supreme Court decision. As a resident of Michigan, one of the states that had a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, I still feel stunned. Something so wonderful happened, I just can’t imagine the scope of it.
I’ve written previously about my daughter, and how tough it is in this heteronormative society to parent a gay teen in a healthy way. I can love and give all the positive messages I can at home, but every day when my daughter goes to school or work, or interacts with the community in any way, she receives outright messages, meta-messages, and subtle messages that she is a second-class citizen in the United States.
One of these messages was that her chosen relationship won’t be as real or true as a heterosexual relationship. I have many other gay family members and friends, but when your child, your own flesh and blood, your much-wanted and much-loved offspring is the one who is “the other,” it causes a special sort of pain and rage in your heart. You end up saying a lot of platitudes. “Things will change.” “Things are changing.” “There are a lot of people who care.” But Friday, we celebrated something concrete. Something that wasn’t a platitude. By a single vote, five individual people ended the hateful constitutional ban in the state where my family resides.
My daughter had a friend over (who also identifies as queer) and we were all on social media enjoying all the rainbows and memes. We turned on Fox News for a few minutes just to watch their heads explode, and at one point in the afternoon my 19-year-old daughter said, “I’m just so happy!”
I was, too. I still am.
I worried that after college my daughter would move hours away to a state that was more friendly to her future life and happiness. I can’t believe what a relief it is to know that if my daughter wants to live in Michigan, she can. I won’t be separated from her future family because of some weird patch-work recognition of marriage in this country.
I know we have a long way to go. I know the statistics about GLBTQ suicides and homelessness. I know my daughter can still be fired from her job for the mere fact that she is gay. I know about gender oppression and how at-risk our transgender youth are. I realize the money and hours the GLBTQ community and their allies put into this moment in history. I know it required sacrifices. So many sacrifices. I know there are many other priorities that GLBTQ and their allies need to work on now. But I also know this Supreme Court decision is one of the doorways to a better United States.
This will concretely help the daily lives of so many Americans—in terms of healthcare, life insurance, taxes, family care, inheritance, family businesses, asset transfer, and even little things like visas for travel and renting a car (several rental car companies don’t charge you more if the additional driver is your spouse—just one of the many small perks of being “really” married.).
Many times gay people with money were able to set up the labyrinth of paperwork needed to make sure they had power of attorney and/or health care decisions for their partner in case of ill-health. Gay people with money were able to set-up wills and trusts and make arrangements for their children. But there are also many poor gay people in the United States who did not have the resources to make those arrangements. Now many of these things will just be the defaults that come with legal marriage.
Just imagine what message this will send to the next generation of GLBTQ kids. They will grow up seeing those who want to be married able to live their lives with their marriage recognized in all 50 states. Rather than feeling inferior, or like a second-class citizen, they will see both heterosexual and same-sex marriages, and see a statement from the legal system of our country: that love is legitimate in more than one form.
Telaina Eriksen is an essayist, poet, and an assistant professor in creative writing for the Department of English at Michigan State University. She runs a film review blog Catch Up Films with fellow Role Reboot contributor Chelsea Cristene. Eriksen lives in East Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, her teenage son, her teenage daughter (who comes home occasionally to get groceries and do laundry), a Sheltie, a pit bull, and a cynical former barn cat.