From Craig Hickman:
When we consider that our ancestors couldn’t have their marriages to each other honored because they were considered property and had no individual rights, and therefore, our families weren’t considered important enough to keep together when it was time for one of us to be sold to another master, one would think Black folks wouldn’t want to see anybody’s marriages go unrecognized by the state.
You might not know this, but there are lots of gay people who have no interest in this issue at all. While they don’t come out against it, they don’t support it and think gay people who do are just selling out to the majority culture.
I must admit that being involved in marriage equality wasn’t something on my plate years ago, either. Even though I was married in the eyes of God, I was perfectly fine with that and sought nothing more from the state. But as I’ve aged, my life experience as an adopted person and as an adult adoptee rights advocate raised my consciousness. You see, in most every state in the union, an adopted person who’s an adult has no right to access his original birth certificate. That is, the birth certificate the state impounded when the child was adopted and a new birth certificate was created to include the name of the adoptive parents. The birth certificate is a person’s legal DNA. I was adopted in the late 60s, during the time when everything around adoption was about shame. Adopted people know that their birth certificate is a lie — my mother did not give birth to me as my birth certificate says she did. It was important to my psychic healing to be able to see my original birth certificate after I found my birth mother, but I needed her permission to see it. A grown man needed the permission of a woman he may have never even met just to see a copy of what is rightfully his. All across the nation, grown people are treated like children by the state, like little pieces of property moved from one family to another, a move they had no say in whatsoever, and when we’re grown and we want to know where we came from, the state tells us it’s none of our business, and if we REALLY want to know, we need to get permission from some stranger we may never even want to meet or crawl before a judge on our hands and knees and beg the judge to open up our adoption file and our birth records just so we can see that piece of paper that includes our original identity, and if we’re lucky, it will help us heal.
If you can see a connection between this and our experience as Black people in this country, then you’re with me. If not, I don’t know what to tell you.
What does any of this have to do with gay marriage?
Walk with me, and I’ll try to explain. But first you’re going to have to set aside any negative value judgments about homosexuality you might harbor. Just for now. You can pick them back up when I’m finished, if you must.
One of my gay friends, in the wake of the most recent high-profile firing of a gay soldier said, “There are not laws that prevent a openly gay couple from sharing a life together. In most states, they cannot currently get that certificate of marriage, but they are not affirmatively prevented by law, or other government action from being a couple. Under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell the law is that if you are openly gay, you’re out. That’s why I consider DADT more repugnant, and a more serious battle than marriage equality.”
He’s not in a relationship, nor is he in the military, so I couldn’t really understand why he wanted to elevate the importance of one issue over another. For me, civil rights is civil rights is civil rights. Equal protection under the law is equal protection under the law. In employment. In housing. In public accommodations. In adoption. In civil marriage. Either we ALL have it or we don’t.
So I told my friend this:
When a person has no recourse to force an undertaker to come and take a corpse out of their home because the survivor is not legally considered the next of kin despite their 30-YEAR RELATIONSHIP and the dead person’s next of kin is thousands of miles away and, because of Alzheimer’s, doesn’t even remember who the dead person is anymore, but she is the only person alive who, by state law, can force the undertake to remove the corpse from their house; when you wrap your mind around all of the practical and emotional turmoil that results in this situation because of this discrimination, I would argue STRONGLY that that certificate of marriage is way more than just a piece of paper.
This is but one example. It’s not a hypothetical, either.
I could provide many others, several much more devastating.
A marriage certificate is akin to an adoption decree and an altered birth certificate: it creates a LEGAL FAMILIAL RELATIONSHIP.
Short of one grown person adopting another grown person and having the relationship legally defined as parent and child, and I’m not sure what two grown people in a loving and committed relationship would want to jump through THAT hoop just to become a legal family, the STATE DENIES GAY PEOPLE THE RIGHT TO BECOME A FAMILY UNIT THROUGH CIVIL MARRIAGE.
That, from where I sit, is an affirmative prevention of something afforded every other citizen.
It must end.
My friend had no reply.
Adoption and civil marriage are the only two ways the state allows unrelated people to create a LEGAL FAMILY UNIT in this country. Both are established by a certificate – a piece of paper filed with the office of vital statistics – which protects that FAMILY UNIT against all sorts of madness and bullshit from other parties.
As Black people whose ancestors’ families were ripped apart by the institution of slavery, HOW CAN WE STAND IN OPPOSITION TO THE CREATION OF A FAMILY UNIT and the safety and SECURITY, emotional and otherwise, that ensue for all of its members?
Tell me, Black people.
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