Let’s start this story, as a love story often begins, at a point of crisis.
You’re faced with a life-threatening illness, you sign into the hospital a cancer screening test. Not only are you scared for yourself, but you want every possible protection and support for your partner and your children.
Marital status? the person behind the desk asks.
You don’t bother recounting that 11 years ago you and your partner had a commitment ceremony in front of clergy and 100 friends and family in which you promised to live and love together for the rest of your life. Nor do you mention that you’ve brought two terrific, demanding kids into the world, you’ve worked and saved and bought a house, you’ve lived and loved and supported each other.
But you do say tell her that you’ve gone down to the state building and signed the forms that give you what Connecticut calls a ‘civil union.’
The hospital clerk looks down at the forms in front of her and informs you that ‘civil union’ isn’t one of the choices listed. You’re part of a same-sex couple, and so, she tells you, you’re single.
As with many romance narratives, let’s provide a little flashback, and let’s let Pam be a moderately omniscient narrator.
We’ll start in 1992, when Robin, my youngest sibling, fell in love with a slim, dark, well-spoken computer consultant — a Yale graduate from a large, close Jewish family very much like the one we grew up in.
But in this romance you already know what the conflict was. Robin fell in love with Barb — and these two women wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.
Not only that, but they wanted to have their commitment to each other recognized by their families, their friends, and their religion. They wanted to celebrate themselves and their love. They wanted to do what people do to formalize a major life transition. They wanted to party.
Word got around. I don’t know what transpired in Barb’s family but my near and dear burned up a lot of phone wires.
Who was going and who just felt it was too weird?
Well of course we love Robin, some voices said, and Barb’s great don’t get me wrong. But do they have to be so — blatant?
OK, some others replied, I’ll go, but I’m not bringing my kids. Well, how could I explain it to them? Might be traumatic.
For a while it looked like it was the Old Testament religious proscriptions that would keep my dad from going. Sadly, my mom resigned herself to going without him.
But Dad did go. Everybody went. Everybody ate and danced and hugged and kvelled. No trauma alerts — the kids were fine and remain so. Barb’s Yalie friends sang some kind of preppy glee club music; a klezmer band played a beloved traditional Yiddish folk song about a parent’s joy, and relief, at having married off a youngest daughter. My dad made a wry, touching little speech — I grabbed onto the person who was next to me at the moment (it was Barb’s mom) and we sobbed for joy in each other’s arms, about how love is stronger than fear or prejudice or habit.
And when a year later, my dad died suddenly, and we came together to bury him, we had the great comfort of remembering that moment, and that speech, and how we’d all been brought closer by expanding our sense of what love was — and of commitment, family, and marriage.
But that was just us, and not the state of Connecticut. Because it was only a commitment ceremony — with no legal standing whatever. Neither a ceremony nor the undeniable fact of their commitment nor a set of civil union papers makes Robin and Barb married in the eyes of the law. In the eyes of the hospital where Barb went for her cancer screening 11 years later, she was single.
Which is why, for Robin and Barb, for their beautiful children Maya and Joshua, and for everyone who wept and danced that day, and everyone who watched and waited and helped support them through Barb’s successful bout with breast cancer, the story isn’t over.
And which is why, with 7 other same-sex couples, Robin and Barb are part of a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut for the right to marry. And why I’m glad to have a place to tell the story, proud to tell it, and eager to write a happy ending to it.
But meanwhile, you can read more about Robin and Barb here and here — there’s also a great picture; Robin’s the little one on the right and here. And hear an extensive discussion of the lawsuit (including a few words from Robin and Barb) here.