We only ask for the rights because we've already accepted the responsibilities.

This morning I read Chris Geidner’s great article on how we beat back our opposition’s propaganda to sweep five marriage equality battles in the last election. This bit leapt out at me:

Commitment trumps rights, a point made in prior research by Freedom to Marry as well: “Leading with commitment will show the middle that gay people want to join the institution of marriage, not change it.”

We talk a lot about marriage rights, but every one of us in a committed relationship has a commitment story to tell — to lead with, in fact. Use the comments below to craft the one that belongs to you.

I told mine once before when Maggie Gallagher demonstrated her blithe ignorance of what commitment means by saying same-sex partners don’t need employer health benefits: “when both adults are working (as in egalitarian relationships), both partners tend to sustain their own health insurance.” Here it is:

In 2011, my partner Will fractured his wrist. He was back in school as a full-time student, with a full-time job that didn’t offer benefits. I hadn’t realized that schools don’t offer the same health care that I got a couple decades ago, so I hadn’t put him on my employer’s insurance. He ended up with a temporary cast, along with an appointment a couple weeks later and a warning they might have to rebreak his wrist before setting it properly.

We sorted it out, but I was angry for long afterward, and really I was furious with myself. Will didn’t think so, but I had failed him, and as we recounted the ordeal to his parents I could barely look them in the eye. Will is my responsibility, and I am his. His medical bills are my medical bills. If our circumstance changed, and I needed help, Will would quit school and take on three jobs if my health required it. So God help me, when it was over I didn’t fucking say to him, “Sorry, babe, but in an egalitarian relationship both partners sustain their own health insurance.”  No, I got him on my plan because that’s the way relationships work.

Will is my responsibility, and I am his. That’s the short version of the story. Actually that ought to be the first and last line every time I tell it.

People don’t marry just to take care of their kids. They marry to be responsible for each other: Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour / For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

It astonishes me how many of our religious opponents are so quick to forget their own Bible when they claim marriage is all about the kids. Marriage does come with legal rights, but the rights we care most about the ones that help us live up to our responsibilities: the right to be in that hospital room, to provide medical care, to make decisions when your partner cannot, to ensure he can support himself if you are taken, to give your employer an honest reason when you take a personal day for his sake, to live in the same room, the same home, the same country without fearing discrimination or separation.

Because of federal tax penalties, putting Will on my insurance amounts to a $3500 annual pay cut compared to what my married colleagues give up. I can see why someone might think I’m merely greedy when I point that out, concerned for nothing but what I can get from marriage equality. But those rights and benefits for married couples — available with kids or without — were put in place for a reason: to help spouses care for each other. And in a rare show of unanimity the entire political spectrum considers this very long tradition a very good thing. Which brings me to my single-sentence argument for marriage equality, the one I’ll come back to again and again.

We only ask for the rights because we’ve already accepted the responsibilities.

I’ve given you my story. Now tell me yours.

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19 comments to We only ask for the rights because we’ve already accepted the responsibilities.

  • 1
    Spunky says:

    This is one of my favorite articles.

  • 2
    Mrs. Chili says:

    Rob, I’m neck deep in a paper about DOMA (want to be one of my readers?  I could sure use some thoughtful feedback), and I keep coming back to this point again and again and again. 
    It’s about RESPONSIBILITY.  The institution of marriage isn’t important to the State because of children; that arugment just doesn’t hold water when we look at the fact that procreation is not a requirement for opposite-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses.  The reason we wed is to take care of each other; to take on that responsibility for one another that fosters a strong, healthy foundation for society.  That IS of compelling interest to the State, and it should be fostered equally across the board.
    We’re getting there, but it’s not moving fast enough for my liking.

  • 3
    OldBaldGuy says:

    We’ve been together for 26 years, legally married in Massachusetts 8 years ago.  I can’t possibly express how grateful I am for his presence and support in my life or enumerate every loving deed he has done on my behalf.  The dozens of middle of the night runs to the ER when my asthma was out of control in my 30s and he drove me there.  The 4 miles he walked on an unlit midnight highway after his car died because he was on his way to help me change a stubborn tire after an orchestra rehearsal so I could get home.  The money he has spent funding a cell phone (for YEARS) on our family plan for my mentally ill sister who has been so poisoned by my parents’ fundamentalism that she refuses to speak my husband’s name – all the while knowing full well who has been paying for her safety net.  The family funerals we have both attended on each side as we’ve offered up support for each other and in-laws.  The thoroughness with which he attends to household matters because I’m ADD enough to miss important stuff.  
    Neither one of us is a high-wage earner.  He’s in retail, I teach public school.  Together we’ve been able to buy our own modest home.  My employer provides better health insurance coverage, so as soon as we were married  we put him on my plan.  His employer has been paring back benefits at an ever-increasing and alarming rate.  They no longer pay into his pension plan so I am his retirement security.  I haven’t calculated the additional cost I bear for having him on my health insurance, but I do know that thanks to DOMA it is more than my heterosexual peers.
    Thanks to our marriage I’m better able to provide for him, but until DOMA goes I’m unable to access IRS and other government programs that protect our assets in the event of personal tragedy.  My Dad died a year ago next week.  Thanks to civil marriage my elderly Mom still has her home, insurance, health care, a pension, and was not bankrupted by Dad’s nursing home expenses as he reached the end of his life.  
    We do not have those protections.  The best I can do with some of my assets (those affected by federal regulations) is provide him with lump-sum benefits that will not come close to keeping him from being destitute and homeless should something catastrophic happen to me.

  • 4
    michael says:

    My partner lost his job during the recession.  Good republican employer cut a full dept. by firing all of the employees.  State would not even grant them an opportunity to challenge for unemployment.  He was off work for a full 18 months before he found a part time job, taking 2 years to go full time.  We cut back and prayed he did not get sick because of lack of insurance (he was in his early forties, me mid 50’s).  We made it, and I never once thought otherwise: in richer and poorer etc.  During that time my mother lived with us for about a  year.  He was a great help to her, never once flinched when she needed something. I expect someday we will care for his mother since we have the most room. Why would’nt we.
    I can not imagine what my life would be like without him.  I love coming home at the end of the day to our home.  Our home is a place of safety in a troubled world.  In our 10th year ( I was a monk until i was 47, so I got a late start) we are best friends.  We have a custom of sitting outside in the evening when the weather is nice.  Our neighbors comment how much laughter they hear from us.  I hope we can someday marry, but Indiana is WAY behind anything progressive.

  • 5
    Rick says:

    Charlie and I have been together 15-1/2 years; married almost 4 years ago in CT. However, we live in FL so it means absolutely nothing. We’ve done all the legal stuff, but that doesn’t cover everything, as you know. Our wills provide everything to each other, then to the nieces and nephews on both sides.
    Charlie went back to school 12 years ago. When it came time for his internship (unpaid), I was able to put him on my insurance because I work for a large aerospace contractor who offers domestic partner benefits. He works in public education, so he wouldn’t be able to do the same for me.
    Each of my parents have been to the emergency room, admitted to the hospital and spent time in a nursing/rehab facility several times in the past couple of years. Charlie provides them more assistance and caring than my three siblings.
    Mom’s dementia is getting bad. She doesn’t always know who her grandchildren are, but she still recognizes Charlie and asks about him if he’s not there.
    We’ve taken complete responsibility for each other, but we don’t have the rights that go along with it. It’s about time we did!

  • 6
    robtish says:

    Thanks for these wonderful, difficult stories. Yeah, those people who think gay marriage is just about sex: they’ve made no effort to know us at all. 

  • 7
    Donavan says:

    In 2010, I started a new job with the State and met with the HR benefits coordinator. My partner does have his own health insurance, but I was interested in adding him to my dental and vision plans. The coordinator looked uncomfortable and said “we don’t offer same-sex benefits.” I think they heard the sound of my jaw hitting the table in the next office. “Domestic partners don’t have the same benefits as real married people,” she continued. I kept calm, but I let her have it:  “Domestic partners and ‘married’ couples have the same rights and benefits. I don’t know how you work in HR and don’t have a clue about California state law.  I need to meet with your manager to complete my forms.” She very cheerfully collected my direct deposit information and we concluded our meeting.

    In the meeting with her supervisor, I explained what had happened and her face went white. She looked over and took my completed forms and said she “would make this right.” Post-meeting, my only concern for taxpayers is that the clueless, bigoted, homophobic HR benefits coordinator was allowed to retire instead of getting fired.
    We HAVE to take responsibility, and we as a community cannot be doormats.  Demand accountability and responsibility.

  • 8
    Jason D says:

    I was just thinking this the other day. Who in their right mind thinks making medical decisions for someone else is a privilege? It’s a responsibilty, and it absolutely should be my husband’s. 
    I’m afraid we don’t have an example, like insurance, because I lost my full time job (again!) in May and his job cut benefits last winter. 

  • 9
    Eric in Alameda says:

    My partner and I have been together for six years.  I am a manager for an interstate corporation and my partner is self employed.  Living in California, we are lucky to have been able to include him on my company insurance. Because of this we were not bankrupted by medical bills when he was diagnosed with cancer and had to quit working two years ago. He is now able to work part time but our finances have not yet recovered.  I could have taken a better paying job last year in another state, but had to turn it down because they have a mini-DOMA.  Our situation is further complicated because he is not a US citizen.
    If the anti-equality folks were sincere in their proclamations that marriage is only for parenting, they should have no qualms about denying recognition to similarly situated childless heterosexual couples. Their failure to apply a consisten standard reveals their position for what it really is:  post hoc reasoning intended to mask the ugliness of bigotry and irrational discrimination.

  • 10
    Steve T. says:

    We’ll be together 38 years in January. I was 19 and his student when we met, when I was in college. He supported me financially then and after college, though I supported him as well in the ways I could, as a secretary and research assistant. I had a computer, I could type. He supported me emotionally as well when I was volunteering at AIDS Project Los Angeles, during the 80s when it was a very dark time and there was little hope to offer people.
    When I came to New Orleans to work at a museum he came too, to support me as I had him, shopping and cooking and managing the house. Incidentally, at great effort he held off full retirement until the UC system granted full health coverage to same-sex spouses. We’re registered Domestic Partners in California, and without that coverage I’d be a lot more nervous about my future.
    After I left the museum, his health began to fail. His back pain grew worse, and he grew generally weaker, finding it difficult to leave the bed at all. Then two years ago he suffered a stroke that left him totally bedridden. I’m 56 now, and he’s nearly 80, and I have to help him with everything: dressing, washing, urinals, bedpans, all of it. But I don’t begrudge any of it. He has been so much and done so much for me for so many years that it is not just my responsibility but my pleasure to pay him back. To make his last days the best they can be.
    So don’t talk to ME about commitment. I know what it is.

  • 11
    King Mott says:

    My partner, James and I have raised four daughters….we have a blended family that came together over 11 years ago.  While we both work, my health benefits from my employer cover him and the four girls.  It’s an amazing cost over time.  But, perhaps more difficult is the possiblity of a tax audit.  How can a family that is not seen as a family really obey the law when it comes to gift tax?  We have supported each other without question financially and in all other ways during these years.  That has meant that money flows from one of us to the other and to the girls….across legal lines.  We would be destroyed financially if any of these were ever truly submitted to audit.  Even writing this is dangerous, but I want to express in public how difficult and fragile my relationshp is because we have no federal rights.  Yes, plenty of shared responsilbity, very few rights.  On the brightest of all notes, we have done it!  Our elders just graduated from college, the New School in the City (NYC for those outside…lol) and two of the triplets are in college now.  Beautiful.

  • 12
    Spaniel says:

       My experience is kind of like King Mott’s, in that we’re flying beneath the legal radar, and the opposite of Rob’s and Steve T.’s, in that we are not getting any kind of spousal recognition, nor are we getting the benefits that involves.
       My husband and I got legally married in Canada in 2008.  His employer does not provide insurance, so when we returned from Canada, I applied to have him put on my health coverage as my spouse.  We figured it was a long shot, because I work for the state, and our state does not recognize same-sex marriage.  Predictably, we were turned down. 
       My husband does not earn a lot of money, and he became aware of a state program that would give him health coverage because of his low income.  When he went to apply, they asked who he lived with, and he gave them my name.  They asked what the relationship was, and he said, “Partner.”  The agency then wanted my financial information, on the grounds that since we were living as a family, my income had to be factored into his application.  I don’t make a whole lot of money (as I said, I work for the state), buy my income would have destroyed his elegibility.  He was (and we are) particularly angry, because the same state that wouldn’t recognize us as a family when I wanted him to get spousal coverage on my insurance was more than willing to recognize us as a family if, by doing so, they would be able to disqualify him from getting insurance on his own.
       So my husband told them that we had broken up.  And he got (and retains) the coverage.
       When NOM talks about good, Christian straight people being forced into doing business with evil gays, I suppose they mean us.  But we’re not talking about a florist or a wedding photographer who doesn’t want to provide services to a same-sex couple (there’s always someplace else to buy a flower arrangement); we’re talking about the difference between my husband having health care and not having it.  Private insurers are not lining up to provide coverage for my husband–a man over 40 with some pre-existing conditions.  We wanted to do the responsible thing.  We tried to do the responsible thing.  The bigotry of the state forced us to be dishonest.

  • 13
    snc says:

    Hi Rob,
    This is not directly to your point, but I just want to say that I do not think you “failed” Will.
    You two made what turned out to be a bad bet on health insurance. This happens to lots of folks, gay and straight, single and coupled. When he had a problem, you got it handled, as you said. When you realized his coverage was insufficient, you made the necessary change. That’s not failure.
    All any of us can do when dealing with the bizarro-world “market” of health care and health insurance is make the best guess we can about our needs and what our coverage will actually be like when we need it. I’m just glad it was a broken wrist and not something more serious that highlighted the insufficiency of Will’s coverage. A friend of mine learned she would need an organ transplant while on such a plan. She had to leave school, work for a few years, get her transplant and then come back to school.

  • 14

    […] But I can see why Vogt is confused.. We speak of equality quite a bit, for the very reason he identifies above: “we all have deep, innate longings for fairness and equality.” To deny us equality is to deny us our equal humanity. That makes it a powerful persuader, a great (and true) rhetorical strategy. But that doesn’t mean a desire for equality is our primary reason for demanding marriage rights. As I’ve argued before, we only ask for the rights because we’ve already accepted the responsibilities: […]

  • 15

    […] Not just the rights, but the responsibilities as well. […]

  • 16

    […] Not just the rights, but the responsibilities as well. […]

  • 17

    […] makes both partners better members of the community. It’s a vision of marriage that has been evident for a long time in Tisinai’s […]

  • 18

    […] Now, I know “love” is not a particularly convincing word for anybody that might be reading this from the Catholic Right. You all think that same-sex love is inherently unloving. So maybe a better way to formulate it is Rob Tisinai’s: “We only ask for the rights because we’ve already accepted the responsibilities.” […]

  • 19

    […] We’ve shown your above questions are nonsense. And I don’t even know what the “homosexualist worldview” is. But if it were “selfish and self-defeating” we wouldn’t be debating same-sex marriage. Selfish people don’t expend time and money fighting for the right to commit to another person the way we have. And as I’ve written before, we only ask for the rights because we’ve already accepted the responsibilities. […]

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