Gay marriage

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(Host) Gay marriange could be the “wedge” issue in the 2004 presidential election. Commentator Alexis Jetter looks at how it might affect one Vermont family.

(Jetter) The headlines the other day said it all. More deaths in Iraq, more hunger here, another child abducted – but what’s one of the hottest issue for politicians? Making sure I can’t marry. Why is that going to make the world a safer place?

It made me think about my grandmother. Thirty years ago, when I was a teenager, I was sitting in her kitchen, in the Bronx. Baba had a bad case of hiccups. Only one thing would scare her enough to cure her.

“Baba,” I said. “I’m never going to marry.”
“Lexi!” she shrieked. “Don’t ever say such a thing.”

The hiccups disappeared, and so did the topic. I didn’t come out to Baba for years. “Oy, Lexi,” she said when I told her. “This is terrible.” She told me she loved me, though, and gave me a big hug. I could feel her fingers inspecting my waistline.

“Lose a little weight,” she said. I actually think my love handles bothered her more than my love interests. But she was worried that I’d be lonely. And that I wouldn’t have children.

Baba’s gone now, but I know she’d be thrilled that I have two kids. And it turns out I can get married – starting on May 17, in Massachusetts. But that’s giving a lot of people a major case of hiccups.

President Bush says marriage is a SACRED institution, and we must defend the SANCTITY of marriage. Sacred, and sanctity, are religious words. I’m not looking for anyone’s blessing. I’m looking for equality, and two other S words: Social Security.

My civil union doesn’t provide any federal benefits. That means that, if Annelise dies, I wouldn’t receive her Social Security. The kids and I wouldn’t just be emotionally destroyed. We’d be on the street.

Why does THAT promote family values? We’re already penalized by prejudice. Because we’re not married, Annelise pays a hefty tax for my medical coverage – even though we have a family policy, and my coverage doesn’t cost her employer an extra penny.

Look, I feel lucky to have medical insurance. But last year, due to a clerical error, the feds took a year’s worth of that money out in just three months – cutting her income by one-third at Hannukkah and Christmas. None of nnelise’s married colleagues had to pay those thousands of dollars.

And that won’t change until we can challenge the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies families like mine federal marriage benefits. Only getting married makes that challenge possible.

But we’re lucky. My sister loaned us some money to get through. I’ve never asked her what she thinks about gay marriage, because she’s a born-again Christian and it’s a painful topic. But she loves us. So she helped us out. That’s what families do. Families that care about each other, anyway.

I understand that gay marriage makes some people uncomfortable. It’s new, and it’s different. But it’s fair. If my immigrant grandmother – and my born-again sister – could see past the hype, and the hate, and focus on what’s really important – why can’t the rest of us?

This is Alexis Jetter, from Thetford Center.

Alexis Jetter is a free-lance journalist and teacher. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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