Same-sex couples want equal marriage rights

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Gay and lesbian couples don't think they're asking for much when they seek the same public recognition any other heterosexual married couple has. Being married as a legal spouse provides some benefits that domestic partnerships do not, said Denise Eaker, executive director of Visions of Pride, a local gay and lesbian organization.

"Cut through the fluff and cut to the chase and it's an issue of benefits that somebody, anybody should have the right to have in a loving, committed relationship," she said.

Marriage is more than just saying vows, she said. "It's a commitment between two people that love each other."

The social standard for marriage throughout history has been a union of a man and woman, although gay couples have existed just as long. But changes have been occurring recently. Massachusetts started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in May. Vermont recognizes civil unions but refrains from calling them marriages. Communities in New York and California have allowed same-sex couples to get marriage licenses in defiance of current laws.

Being "allowed" to marry really isn't really the issue for her, said Bridgette Bennett, a lesbian living in Cape Girardeau. She would love to have a wedding, but what she truly wants are the same rights as heterosexual couples.

"I want my partner to be able to be included on my medical insurance. I want a discount on my car insurance. I want my partner to receive compensations when I die," Bennett said. "I want her to have visitation rights the same as a spouse when I'm in the hospital or when she calls to get information about my personal matters from companies."

The right to marry isn't just about being considered the same, but about being treated the same as heterosexual couples, Bennett said. "We are different, straights and gays, but different does not mean that one is inferior to the other. Both deserve the right to care for one another."

Kerrie Litner said not having the right to marry seems like the government is condemning her relationship. "It looks at me like I'm not a real person."

Litner's current relationship is too new for her to begin thinking about marriage, but the legality of the ceremony isn't essential for her. Gay couples have been marrying for years, she said. "It's coming. There's nothing you can do to stop couples from marrying."

But she would like the legitimacy that a marriage brings to a relationship. "I want to go someplace and call her my wife," she said.

Society has done a better job of adapting to new models for families than it has in considering new options for marital relationships, Eaker said.

"We put everything into a box and expect it to be in that box and be that way. But as we grow and change, our circle of family and friends change.

"The way we look at family and what a family is isn't always a husband and wife and kids and a cat and a dog and a car in the garage," Eaker said.

Older television shows, like "My Two Dads" or "Kate and Allie" from the late '80s, showed how families go beyond the nuclear model of two parents raising children. Even popular shows like "Friends" have helped create a new image of family.

Families help make people feel good about themselves, Eaker said.

So if families can change, then marriage should also. It doesn't matter if you're gay or straight, relationships are about learning to be patient and accepting, she said.

Eaker has been with her partner only three months but knows that if the option were available, they'd get married.

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