|Parkway United Church of Christ|
By Pastor Kathy Itzin
Last winter, out of the blue, my partner Carol said, "If I ever have a stroke, I don’t want any emergency measures performed. Nothing. Nothing at all." As many of you know, Carol is a hospice nurse and sometimes speaks in churches about Living Wills, Health Care Directives, etc. On one hand, the fact that she was addressing this didn’t surprise me at all. But on the other hand, I did feel shocked, because at 62, and with four young adults at home and a grandbaby on the way, I didn’t expect her to "give up the ghost" so easily.
I commented that many people have strokes, emerge with few or no disabilities, and still enjoy an excellent quality of life. Although I’m in favor of her making her health care decisions known, I didn’t think she should be so extreme about it all. She told me it was her business, and her decision, and that’s what she’d decided. Her mind was made up. End of the story.
Fast forward to May 9. The Minnesota House of Representatives voted to allow gay marriage in Minnesota. Carol and I, along with some family members, joined the Merz family for a celebratory dinner downtown. As we waited for our food, Carol asked Greg, an attorney, "When gay people are allowed to marry, will we have all the marital rights that heterosexual couples have now?" Greg replied, "Yes, legally it should be exactly the same." At that point, Annie, our oldest daughter, said to Carol, "Now you can get married, and you won't have to worry about what would happen if you had a stroke anymore!" It took me a moment to understand.
Changing the law in Minnesota is much more than simply changing a law. It is significantly changing lives.
Carol had been afraid that if she were to go to an assisted living facility, without being legally married, there would be nothing to protect our assets (such as our house and car) from being liquidated for payment. The privilege of exempt assets only applies to married spouses. She didn’t want any extraordinary measures taken because she was afraid she’d need to go to an assisted living or a rehabilitation facility and risk leaving the family and me without a home.
This is the type of thing that many gay couples worry about, and which will now be corrected. When Carol and I started our family, it was not an option for either of us to stay home with the children, because our health insurance wouldn’t cover the partner, and neither of us would be able to share the other's pensions or social security benefits when we'd retire.
Many years ago, Carol had surgery in which the surgeon made a mistake, but didn't correct it. He said he didn’t want to wake her up to ask about it. Before the surgery, Carol had told the surgeons that if anything were to happen, I had power of attorney to make medical decisions for her, and we had that document with us, but he ignored it. We suspect this wouldn't have happened if I had been her husband.
As our children grew, we continually ran into problems because, even though they were all adopted by both of us in Minnesota, the states where the children were born wouldn’t revise their birth certificates to list us both as their legal parents. We took a family trip to Mexico when the children were small, and all of their passports would only list one parent, so only that person would have the ability to make medical decisions if something were to happen. Our taxes would get audited every year because the federal government only recognized one parent for each child, even though all of them were legally adopted by both of us. I'm not even getting to the really important things, like not being able to get a family fishing license!
I don't intend for this to be a litany of complaints, but these are a few of the kinds of things that gay families live with all the time. Not to mention dealing with churches and schools, or having to check the box marked "single" at doctors' and dentists' offices when you’ve been married 27 years and have four children.
Changing the law in Minnesota is much more than simply changing a law. It is significantly changing lives. As a 53 year old, middle class white woman, I don’t have the experience of being treated as a second class citizen regarding race and age. I know many women just a generation older than I have had to deal with inequity regarding pay and job openings. Many people still struggle with age or racial discrimination, or prejudice regarding disabilities. We still have a long way to go before everyone is regarded with dignity and given the human rights that all people deserve. But by changing marital laws to include gay people, Minnesota has made a giant leap forward in improving the quality of life for many families.