What is it like to grow up gay in a predominantly straight and homophobic world? Gay children struggle to envision a future that includes marriage, family, and children. Gay children who grow up in America face a serious dilemma; if they assert their sexual identity for all to see, they run the risk of public scorn, alienation from family, and civil rights discrimination. On the other hand, if they hide their sexual identity and pretend to be straight, they enjoy all the benefits that society has to offer straight people but are forced to live with a private pain that often leads to alcohol abuse, drug addiction, severe depression and in some cases suicide. Recently the topic of gay marriage has arisen as a civil rights issue and has generated a heated debate among gay activists, and religious fundamentalists primarily. Marilyn Maxwell, a former Hewlett High School English teacher, and the only openly gay person in school district 14, illustrates the complexity surrounding this issue through the difficulties she has experienced.
Like many gay adults living in a committed relationship in the United States, Dr. Maxwell and her partner are unsure as to how they should proceed regarding the issue of marriage. Dr. Maxwell and her partner have been in a committed relationship for 10 years and would like to celebrate their love for each other publicly in a formal ceremony that is acknowledged by the state of New York.
Unfortunately, many states are passing legislation in favor of gay marriage, and then cancelling that legislation. I asked Dr. Maxwell the “should 2 partners go through a same sex marriage in New York State if the voters of New York make it null in void?” She said, “New York State recently, by executive order of the Governor Pattison agreed to accept same sex couples who are legally married outside of New York State and who then returned to New York State to live.” When Dr. Maxwell and her partner heard about this development, they, like other gay couples in New York, considered traveling to those states where gay marriage is legal and then returning to New York to enjoy the benefits that straight couples have. According to Maxwell there was such an outcry against gay marriage in New York, that there is a threat that Governor Pattison’s executive order will be overturned by a public referendum in the next election.
Dr Maxwell has given a lot of thought to alternatives to gay marriage. She and her partner had a public commitment ceremony where they celebrated with 100 of their friends and family members. The ceremony was led by a minister from the Ethical Humanist Society and was conducted like a marriage. When the minister was writing out the certificate, Dr. Maxwell said that the minister deleted the word marriage and wrote “ceremony”. Dr. Maxwell and her Partner exchanged vows and rings and celebrated with their friends. However, they do not enjoy the same civil rights benefits as do straight couples. They like many gay couples, feel it is unfair that gay people must pay additional money to ensure survivor benefits for their partners. Also, when a husband or wife dies, the surviving spouse does not have to pay inheritance tax on all the goods and property left to him or her. Gay couples, on the other hand are faced with such enormous costs when a partner passes away. In addition, when a wife or husband is sick and hospitalized, the spouse is admitted into his or her room and is allowed to make medical decisions. For gay couples, each partner must pay an attorney to draw up a medical proxy that allows the partner to make such medical decisions. Gay couples at this point in time must suffer these civil rights violations because New York State and the rest of the country cannot decide on the legal status of civil unions for gay couples is unethical. Those who are opposed to gay marriage often argue that marriage is a religious ceremony that recognizes the union between a man and a woman. Dr. Maxwell, like many gay adults in New York, understands that the word marriage may be the obstacle preventing people from accepting gay unions. Her solution is “drop the word marriage and call it a civil union that entitles the couple to all the same rights and privileges given to straight couples.”
– Jared Albaum