By B. Imei Hsu, BSN-RN, MAC-LMHC, Artist
While Washington State was in the process of creating (and subsequently passing) Referendum 74 allowing same-sex couples to marry in this November’s Washington State elections, I thought about what both sides of the issue are and will continue to fight over. While I applaud and support my state in granting same-sex couples the right to marry, it’s clear there is so much more to be done! Same-sex couples who marry will still encounter bias and administrative red tape at the federal level as their marriages are not recognized in other parts of the country. With just a brief review of history in the year 1967, we can glimpse at what one remarkable time in history can teach us about learning from the past to better our future. What are the rights of marriage? And how can we move forward to help strengthen families by supplying adequate support and care?
1967: Loving v. Virginia
Growing up Asian in America has both its joys and its sorrows. As much as I’d like to say that I was treated like any other kid, I was not. I know I am not alone in expressing a sense of culturally-triggered depression from feeling outside the circle of inclusion in the tender days of elementary and middle school. Racial bias abounds in subtle and overt practices, and many of the freedoms I experience today come from the struggles and sacrifices of so many others during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. Reflecting on the Loving v. Virginia case from 1967, I turned to Wikipedia, which supplied plenty of facts about the case of an African-Native American woman and a white man who married outside the State of Virginia (the District of Columbia) in order to flee the Racial Integrity Act. This act banned white people from marrying non-white people.
In case you didn’t know your U.S. history regarding this matter, our country only repealed this ban against interracial marriage in 1967. Until then, a white -non white marriage was illegal, and the way one proved a crime had been committed was to catch the illegally married couple in the act of sexual intercourse. In the case of Loving v. Virginia, the couple was taken into custody and given a jail sentence of one year unless they agreed to leave Virginia. Their case was heard again at the Virginia Supreme court level in 1963, five years after they had married; the verdict was upheld, and the Lovings remained criminals. Only in 1967, was the ruling over turned, and as recent as 2000, Alabama was the last state to end the anti-mixed race marriage law.
After watching the movie, Cloud Atlas, I kept musing about one of the questions evoked by the repetition of the timelines in the story. Why do we continue to repeat the mistakes of the past? Prior to 1967, our nation was willing to prosecute couples as criminals because they did not marry someone of the “right” skin color; that is, one could only marry someone of one’s own skin color. Today, many are arguing that couples should be denied the right to marry nor have their marriage acknowledged in the eyes of the State because they are not the “right” gender. It is no surprise that the U.S. Supreme court weighed in on this case and declared that marriage was a civil right. From Wikipedia, the U.S. Supreme court defined marriage as a fundamental right:
Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.
If we were to break free and move forward with progress, it is my opinion that if we were to define marriage as a basic civil right, gender, like race, cannot be used as a legal restriction by any state to prevent people from forming a legal marital union with the rights that come with marriage. In many ways, I wish single people could enjoy those same rights, as if marriage had to be the only way to obtain them. But we work with what we have. And winning the right for gays to marry is a start.
From the standpoint of a therapist, we need able-bodied and willing people to create loving unions, to parent children wisely, and to provide positive role models for the current and coming generations. Married or single, gay, straight, bi, or transgendered, we need every awake person to be acknowledged, embraced, and empowered to take their part in making this world a better place to live.
The Rights of Marriage: Welcome To It
I hope my readers can see the humor in my next words. As a psychotherapist going on my fourteenth year in one of the most amazing fields of work, I have seen the best and worst of human behavior. I think marriage is marvelous, and I believe marriage to also be harbor of the most incredible emotional heartbreak known to mankind. I’m looking forward to attending a lot of weddings, gay and straight. I think we’ve won something amazing for more than just gay couples; we have won something for being human. Relationship, in all its variations, is worth it.
To my gay friends, colleagues, professionals who are getting married in the next month and year, I welcome you to the rights of marriage. They are the same for any couple getting married. These rights include the right to form a family, to having your heart split open with joy and crushed with pain; the right to support your spouse financially and be torn apart in dissolution; the right to be acknowledged as a couple by the law, and fleeced for deception on Facebook; the right to offer your spouse healthcare benefits, and the right to watch your spouse fade away in a hospital room instead of being ordered to leave because “you’re not immediate family by law”. I welcome you to saying your vows in the presence of family and friends, and signing your divorce decree in the silence of an attorney’s office. I welcome you to starting families and blending your own; I welcome you to the terrifying journey of custody battles and psychological testing for sanity and fitness to parent. You have a won a wonderful thing; you have won a mess. Join in the fun.
Welcome to the right to love who you want, grow old, and be buried side-by-side in any non-Catholic cemetery plot. [Apparently, since the Catholic Church believes homosexuality to be a sin, you can’t be confirmed in the Catholic Church, and possibly not buried in one of their cemeteries either. However, there isn’t an official sanction on that. Yet.].
Creating Strong Relationships: An Appeal
There are no substantive studies that prove that same-sex couples create weaker or less stable family structures than opposite sex couples. If anything, the available studies indicate that gay couples provide the same strong parenting structures as straight couples, no surprise. When therapists across the country have weighed in on the issues surrounding their state’s support or denial of marriage equality, the majority of helping professionals in this field must point to available research. In a nutshell, a marriage relationship is a complex union for anyone who chooses it, regardless of gender or orientation.
One of the ways couples of all kinds can improve their relationships is to have access to unbiased professional resources: community, medical, psychological, spiritual. Imagine being a same-sex couple seeking marital counseling, only to find that the marriage conference everyone is talking about doesn’t address more specific needs of gay couples? Or how about if you’re a lesbian woman considering marriage, and you wish to discuss your relationship with a therapist? What if your therapist repeatedly evades your specific questions about sexual expression, starting a family, or “coming out” to co-workers, family, and colleagues? What if you need spiritual counseling, and you can’t find someone you can relate to because they look at your union as a sin?
When a new client tells me the reason he sought my help was because his last therapist or physician was uncomfortable with his lifestyle choices and gay partner, I am sad for this client. Every client has a right to nonjudgmental, educated, and compassionate care. There is a high likelihood that others in the sex-positive cultures of our nation will continue to encounter bias in their medical and psychological services. While I’d like to say that our educational institutions are working to change this, it is my opinion that the machinery is slow to crank out more professionals capable of providing excellent service in poly, open, kink, LGBT, and sex-positive communities of which books such as, “Fifty Shades of Grey” only begins to allude.
So, I’m going to put it out there: if you are helping professional who has had NO training or experience working with the LGBT/poly/kink/sex+, please self-disclose this information. If you post on your website that you are supportive of these communities, please take a moment to honestly qualify your understanding of what that means.
If you are trying to be of help, say so. If you don’t know what you are doing, get educated. Attend LGBT meetings at a local college, ask questions, find out what the needs are, interview people, read books and articles pointed at understanding these communities and how you can be of help. Analyze your own weaknesses in providing care address them.
This straight girl did this very thing when she saw a gay man denied the right to be in a hospital room with his partner in the 1990’s. I’ve watched partners express anger over lack of access to care for their life partners in ways that straight people can take for granted when we talk about acts of lovingkindness, fidelity and loyalty, and basic physical care when their partner becomes ill.
My appeal to other health care workers — in my State, and beyond – is to start talking about your ability to care for all kinds of people in all sorts of relationship configurations. We can’t rely on the minimum of what we were taught in school. I appeal to you to continue your education in providing excellent care to a population of our nation as if we have truly learned from our civil rights history back in 1967.
Regardless of your sexual orientation or relationship configuration, you will be meet with respect, compassion, and non-judgemental candor through our office and professional services at Seattle Direct Counseling. Thank you for putting your trust in us.
P.S. This article is written in humble thanks to the men and women, couples, educators, and willing people who have been my educators, welcome wagon, clients, and friends who have helped me become an educated and compassionate healer to this extraordinary community.