Marriage Equality: A View From Pittsburgh

Ten years ago this very month, I went to a planning session at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh to learn about a women’s discussion group. At that meeting, I struck up a conversation with another woman. We talked about our cats and the fact that we had both recently become home owners.

Fast forward to 2013. That woman (her name is Laura) and I have been together for 10 years with a blended cat family. We have an ongoing joke about what constitutes “our anniversary” – our first date? our first kiss? moving in together? the date we signed our domestic partner affidavit for the City of Pittsburgh?

What we don’t have is a wedding anniversary. Or even an engagement anniversary.

Laura and Sue April 2013
Laura and Sue April 2013

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued two rulings on marriage equality. In one, they overturned the section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied legally wed same sex couples federal recognition – in other words, access to over 1,000 benefits & duties that the federal government ties to marriage. In the second decision, they ruled on California’s Proposition 8 on procedural grounds – essentially, upholding a lower court ruling which overturned the ban on marriage equality. So same sex couples in California may now marry.

It is certainly a historic day for our nation and a joyous day for many couples. It demonstrates that we – LGBTQ people and families and our allies – are winning when it comes to creating a more equal society.

But as a resident of Pennsylvania who has been in a relationship for 10 years, what does it mean?

As of today, we have no statewide rights – no protection from discrimination in our jobs or housing. We also have no federal rights. We cannot marry in Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania will not recognize marriages performed elsewhere. The latest data shows that we are more vulnerable to poverty, that rental housing discrimination is real and another Supreme Court decision just gutted the Voting Rights Act which could have significant detrimental impact on LGBTQ persons of color as well as other ramifications around voter ID laws.

I am not a lawyer so let me be very clear – it is important that any LGBTQ residents of Pennsylvania contemplating marriage talk with an experienced family law attorney before taking that step. There are serious tax implications and legal implications that are probably going to get a lot more complicated due to the uneven legal landscape.

So – again – what does it mean?

It means that we are one step closer to equality and there’s a lot of enthusiasm that can be channeled into rolling up our sleeves to keep up the good fight. Changing your avatar on Facebook was a sweet gesture several months ago. Donating money or volunteering for an advocacy organization is a real show of solidarity and support now and in the coming months.

I appreciate the good wishes and hopefulness and the sincerity of people who say that they consider us married. But I also urge people to realize that our life is not a rom-com setup. A discussion about traveling to New York or DC to marry requires spending thousands of dollars to consult a lawyer and an accountant rather than a wedding planner and a florist. Access to federal benefits is very tempting but it also could take years for that to be sorted out and what in the meantime? We currently pay extra federal taxes on our  health insurance. Will that change for families like ours who can’t marry in their home state or will it create a third tier of family – married, unmarried and in-limbo? We also pay more for general insurance because we aren’t married? Will that change?

So today is bittersweet because I’m worried that those swept up in the hoopla might not be here when things settle down and the hard work continues.

I urge you to show your support for my family and other by making an effort to get involved. Simple suggestions

Educate yourself – make a point to read informed, reliable resources on LGBTQ news. Learn how things stand in your community. Huffington Post GayVoices is a good place to start (full disclosure – I am a contributor to that section.)

Advocate  – the biggest foe to LGBTQ folks lives in Butler County, Pennsylvania. His name is Dary Metcalfe and he’s a leader in the Republican led PA General Assembly. We need people living outside of the City of Pittsburgh to get very busy calling their own State Representatives and demanding equality for LGBTQ residents. EqualityPA is a good resource.

Volunteer – for over 30 years, the Gay & Lesbian Community Center (GLCC) has been serving Western PA. Get involved to help people now – join a group, support an event, sign up to answer the phone, donate supplies for the homeless LGBTQ youth they serve, be a friend to homebound LGBTQ elders, and more. Help organize a legal education event about the new marriage status quo. Register people to vote. Bake cookies. The list of things to do is endless.

It is a great day.

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