I Now Pronounce You… Universally Understood
July 6, 2009
This post contributed by HRC Foundation Family Project Deputy Director Tom Sullivan. True story. David, a friend of mine was on vacation in the Caribbean with his husband, Rob, a few years back. They were traveling from Massachusetts, which at the time was the only state that afforded marriage equality to same-sex couples. They had made a point of reserving their rental car from a company that was known for valuing its LGBT customers and would offer them the spousal rate. However, when they arrived at their destination and went to the company’s kiosk at the airport, they found that the spousal rate had not been applied to their rental agreement. The agent, while pleasant enough, claimed no knowledge of the “domestic partner rates” or, for that matter, “domestic partners”. At that point, David told the agent that he couldn’t believe that the company would not honor its promise to recognize his marriage. “Marriage,” the agent said, “why didn’t you say you are married?” She then reprocessed the rental agreement with the spousal rate. For those of us immersed in the LGBT rights movement it is sometimes hard to believe, but there are a lot of well intentioned folks out there who are unfamiliar with our issues and the accompanying terminology. Marriage, on the other hand, is a word that everyone understands, though it is still withheld from use by same-sex couples in most parts of the country. For instance, I know that my domestic partner and I have had hospital visitation rights in our hometown, Washington, D.C., ever since we registered here in July 2002. However, we can’t be 100% certain that the employees at the local emergency room have been fully informed about the law. The experience of Kenneth Johnson and his partner James Massey is a tragic reminder of this fact. Winning legal protections through the courts or legislation is the first step. Education must then follow. If you haven’t done so lately, check out the map of Marriage Equality & Other Relationship Recognition Laws [pdf] and you will see the many recent milestones on the road to marriage equality. And this week, the map gets another update. As of July 7, 2009, marriages by same-sex couples from other jurisdictions, including foreign countries are expressly recognized in the District of Columbia, thanks to the D.C. City Council and Mayor Adrian Fenty. (The State of New York established a similar policy in 2008 under Gov. Paterson’s leadership and it should also be noted that the D.C. honors other forms of state relationship recognition under its domestic partnership law.) Today’s news is cause for celebration for those who live in, or visit, the nation’s capitol. But until the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” has been repealed and we see the day when marriage equality is a reality in every state and the District of Columbia, we all need to continue educating on the rights that our families have under current domestic partner, civil union, reciprocal beneficiary, advance healthcare directive and other laws. We need to get this information into the hands of everyone who works at healthcare facilities or who provides customer service at their place of business. Basic LGBT cultural competence training is needed to bridge the gap in understanding and give these employees the tools they need to do their jobs. As for my friends from Massachusetts, if you need to rent a car the next time you visit Washington, D.C., just tell the agent that you’re married. They’ll know exactly what you mean. Special thanks to David Wilson of the HRC Board of Directors for sharing his story for this blog post.
May 24, 2013