Today, as happens quite frequently in the South, I was confronted with another stark reality of the inequality that I face as a married gay man. Inequality, in this sense, to how my marriage is treated compared to a married heterosexual couple.
Now, as I live in Tennessee, I am not surprised when gay and lesbian people and their relationships are looked down upon, and even ridiculed.
I am not surprised when transgender people are made fun of, and called deranged and mentally ill (something which actually happened in class yesterday).
Interestingly, these individual expressions of bigotry and hatred I have been able to withstand, mainly because I have a supportive husband, and an inclusive and welcoming group of friends. I also realize that in order to change the minds and hearts of fellow Tennesseans, it is necessary that I conduct myself with dignity when confronted with these attitudes; In essence I must, borrowing from a biblical passage, “heap burning coals upon their head”.
Though I have learned to deal with discrimination by individuals in society, every time I am reminded of the institutional discrimination that LGBT Tennesseans and Americans face, I am discouraged.
Not discouraged in the way of “I want to stop fighting”, but instead discouraged because my neighbors, when passing anti-gay rights laws, have known not what they have done. In their zeal to “protect marriage” (whatever that means) they have restricted and caused untold harm to gay and lesbian couples.
A specific example of this harm occurred today, when I went to the Student Health Center on campus to inquire about health insurance.
As a student at the University of Memphis, I am allowed to participate in a health insurance program through the State University and Community College System of Tennessee . This program allows me to access rates for health insurance that I would normally not be able to access as a non-student.
As a married man, I would also like to add my husband to my health insurance, so that we would both be covered in case of an accident or medical emergency. But am I allowed to do this? Of course not; simply because of Tennessee’s anti-gay constitutional amendment restricting marriage rights to heterosexual couples. Because I am married to a man, I am not allowed to put my husband on my health insurance – because he does not meet Tennessee’s definition of “spouse”.
There are many other examples that we have faced living here in the South, whether it be not being allowed to live in married housing from the University, or being allowed to join the YMCA on a family plan. All of these things are directly the result of constitutional amendments and state policies which attempt to “protect marriage.”
It is easy for those who oppose granting us our rights to say that we can go to a lawyer and ensure that we have hospital visitation rights, wills, etc., but they are not the ones living under a government which won’t even allow me to do the little things; such as put my husband on my health insurance.
In the debate — which will be, and has been — taking place in that state, it MUST be emphasized that there are grave consequences for gay and lesbian couples if the amendment passes.
Not only do some N.C. cities, such as Chapel Hill, offer domestic partner benefits, but also many universities offer same-sex domestic partners/spouses the ability to be on their partners health insurance. All of these small victories for our community would be lost, as governmental organizations would not be able to support any other “definition” of marriage.
If the amendment passes in North Carolina, expect to see another Tennessee; a state where my family is not a “real family” and where I cannot even get health insurance for my husband.
I pray that the people of North Carolina will look to their western border, and see the inequality that spans from Knoxville to Memphis; an inequality that I hope they will want nothing to do with.