My 93 Year Old Grandma Thinks I Should Be Allowed to Marry; Why Don’t You?

Today, there are major battles occurring in New Zealand, the USA, France, and many other countries.  It’s a civil war of sorts, another civil rights movement, and this time, the question is:  Should we allow gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) couples legally marry?  (Not civil unionise.  Marry.  As one of the Supreme Court justices said, it’s the difference between a skim-milk marriage and a full marriage.)

We’ve heard every excuse in the book from the anti-marriage crowd.

“Marriage is for procreation.”  Really?  How can two straight people in their 50s get married if marriage is for procreation?

“God / Allah / Jesus / [Insert Your God Here] wants marriage between a man and a woman.”  I don’t think you or I can say anything about what God (or whatever god you believe in) thinks.  Besides, marriage has been around for a lot longer than some of our gods, so no one religion can truly make a claim on the institution of marriage.  Also, holy books like the Bible say a lot of things like, “Don’t eat shellfish” and “Don’t wear clothes of two different fabrics” and “Women are not equal to men” and “You can have slaves” and “Don’t cut your hair” and “Don’t get tattoos or pierce your body” and (my favourite) “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, yet anti-marriage equality people seem to conveniently forget some or all of these parts.  And, while we’re arguing this point, LGBT couples are asking for the right to legally marry so we can have the same rights and privileges under the law (not your church) that straight couples have.

“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”  If you are dumb enough to believe that Adam and Eve were the only two people on the planet at the start, then you are dumb enough to spout garbage like this.  My Mom (a very smart woman) said to me one time: “I think Genesis in the Bible is how God tried to tell His people about these things in very simple terms, like explaining the Big Bang and evolution to a 5 year old.”  And it’s true.  Now, we’d say, “Imagine there was a boy named Adam, and a girl named Eve,” knowing that Adam represented men and Eve represented women.  And, even if you want to argue this point with me, go read some of the additional Biblical texts out there and let me know who Lilith is and how she fits into the picture if Adam and Eve are the only man and woman on the planet.  On the scientific front, homosexuality and even homosexual pairing is observed in many species on this planet.  So, God created gay ducks but He didn’t create gay people?  Right.

“Marriage is sacred.”  If it’s so sacred, why do we allow divorce?

“The fabric of society will unravel if we let gay and lesbian couples get married.”  Really?  Because we heard this argument with multiracial couples, and it totally happened when we allowed a black man to marry a white woman.  Oh wait.  It didn’t.  And see the point above.  If divorce, single parents, mixed marriages, etcetera, etcetera, haven’t destroyed the fabric of society (and they won’t), I doubt letting a few loving, caring, monogamous gay and lesbian couples getting married will unravel society either.

I could go on all day with some of the garbage that people say about the whole thing, but it comes down to this:

I was born gay; the only choice I made was to tell the truth and live my life true to my biology / genetics / whatever made me gay.  I pay the same taxes as everyone else.  I am supposedly equal in the eyes of the law.  But, as the law currently stands, I do not have the legal right to marry my partner Noel.  This automatically bars him and me from certain legal rights (like the ability to adopt as a couple) in New Zealand and thousands of legal rights, protections, and abilities in the USA.  This brings the argument back to that, therefore, as a gay man, I am not equal in the eyes of the law.

The USA is very good at doing this to groups of people, including African-Americans throughout US history and Japanese-Americans during World War II (at least).  Animal Farm has the perfect quote: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

One of the stories my Grandpa used to tell us that stands out in my mind was when he had to go to the emergency room in a hospital in Chicago or Milwaukee sometime in the 1940s or 1950s; I wish I could remember the story exactly.  My Grandpa had scoliosis (a curvature of the spine) and so, I guess he was used to being a bit of an outsider in that regard, and he did the Christian thing and treated others as he would like to be treated.  At the hospital, Grandpa had to wait for a while to see a doctor.  The nurse came in, quite flustered, and apologised profusely.  Grandpa said he was in a bit of pain, and the nurse said, “Well, we do have a coloured doctor on duty.”  Grandpa told her he didn’t care what colour the guy was, send him in.

The doctor came in and kept asking Grandpa if he was sure he wanted an African-American doctor to help him.  Grandpa said, “You’re a doctor, aren’t you?”  The doctor confirmed he was, to which Grandpa replied (again) that he didn’t care what colour the doctor was as long as he could make him feel better.

And this is the attitude a lot of my family has to this day.  This was the amazing attitude Grandpa had towards everyone he met in life, and it’s something I try to emulate (hopefully somewhat successfully, because I, like he, am a minority).

Grandpa died in 2004, aged 83.  I still think about him every day.  At his wake, though, another amazing thing happened.

My Grandma was talking to one of her and Grandpa’s friends, a woman about the same age.  I was standing nearby and happened to overhear my Grandma: something she doesn’t know to this day.

My then-83 year old Grandma said, “Marty (my Grandpa) even got to see Scott before passing away.  Scott flew in from New Zealand; we all wish his husband Noel could be here with us, too.”

My grandparents, devout Catholics their entire lives, never cared that I was gay.  They never cared that I was in love with another man or wanted to marry him.  They thought I should have the same rights as everyone else.  They never judged me at all, because they loved me for who I am.

It took courage for my Grandpa to let an African-American doctor help him out in an era that that was frowned upon.  It took courage for my Grandma to say to her peers that her grandson was married to another man.  It took courage for my friends and family to stand behind Noel and me to love us for who we are and support us in our fight for marriage equality.

Every little step we take as individuals, for the freedom and equality of others, helps change society in a positive way.

Do you have the courage to stand with us, on the right side of history?

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Yesterday, I spoke about the fragile “interior” me as opposed to that “exterior” me that seems so strong, but I think I left a few things out there.

If you do decide to go “into battle”, to stand up to the bullies or for something you believe in strongly, you need to pick your battles wisely.  There may be compromise.  You may wish to take the higher road, turn the other cheek.  You may go in with all guns blazing.  You may need to defend your honour.  There may be things you have to do that you don’t like doing but the end justifies the means.  Any which way you look at it, there may be winners and losers.  It may be a short, sharp blitzkrieg or a long, drawn-out war.  There might not be a battle at all; maybe they deem you too weak an opponent to consider, or maybe you walk away with your head held high.

Read Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Since I’m not well for the second day in a row, I thought I’d share a blog from Scholars and Rogues about gay marriage in the USA. Enjoy!

Progressive Culture | Scholars & Rogues

CATEGORY: LGBTIt’s been an interesting few days.

  • The American Benefits Council and 278 employers, organizations and municipalities have filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
  • Earlier today the far right Drudge Report was linking to a story outlining a new study that suggests gay marriage may save lives.
  • A large and growing list of prominent Republicans “have added their names to a legal brief urging the Supreme Court to declare that gay couples have a constitutional right to wed.” The list includes Mitt Romney, “prominent commentators and strategists Alex Castellanos, David Frum, Rich Galen, Mark McKinnon, Mike Murphy and Steve Schmidt; Mary Cheney; Ben Ginsberg, counsel to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign; George W. Bush administration officials Kevin and Catherine Martin, and Mark and Nicolle Wallace; and operatives ranging from Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff to Ronald…

View original post 1,551 more words

I Don’t Want to Get Civil-Unionised; I Want to Get Married!

Gay marriage cake decorationsIn New Zealand, like in Illinois, gay and lesbian couples can have their relationships legally recognised in civil unions.  In both jurisdictions, civil unions only offer some (not all) of the legal protections and rights a marriage would bring.

I refuse to get a civil union.

To me, the rights a civil union bestows on Noel and my relationship makes it a second-tier, second-class relationship.  It’s as if the Government is saying, “We’ll try to placate you with most of the rights, but not all of the rights, of a straight, married couple.”

Sorry.  I won’t put up with it.

If either Noel or I had any more spare energy (you know, after trying to rebuild the school after the quakes and [still] fighting Government bureaucracy), we would help the fight for marriage equality in New Zealand.  In another way, I feel we did our bit by helping with immigration reform for gay and lesbian couples in New Zealand.

As I type this, both the New Zealand Parliament and Illinois lawmakers are considering legalising gay marriage, which is a huge step in the right direction.

There will be those who argue against gay marriage, trying to tie it to their religious beliefs, but what it comes down to is that the Government (which is not linked to any specific religion) is there to protect the rights of all its citizens and ensure they are treated fairly in the eyes of the law, not in the eyes of the Christian God, or the Hindu Gods, or whatever Gods you may or may not believe in.

And while we’re at the argument of religion, no one religion owns marriage.  They do not get to claim a monopoly on it.  Marriage pre-dates some religions, which shows it has always been more of an act of civilisation no matter what the dominant religion in the region than a religious act alone.

The cartoon above speaks about the “sanctity of marriage”.  If it’s so holy, why do those spouting off that it is a religious rite alone allow people like Kim Kardashian and Brittany Spears to make a mockery of it?

As humans understand more and more about themselves, we have come to accept scientifically that LGBT people are naturally that way, just like the rest of the animal kingdom has LGBT animals in it.  If two male ducks can mate for life, and none of their fellow ducks seem to have a problem with it, why can’t two human men in love with one another and have that relationship recognised legally by human society?

This struggle for gay marriage is about giving Noel and me the same legal protections, reassurances, and opportunities for my life and my future as those my straight brothers and his straight brother and straight sister have.  We pay our fair share of taxes; we should have our fair share of rights.

Several state and federal governments around the world are starting to realise this and are now starting to afford our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters around the world the right to marry.

I urge New Zealand and Illinois to join those ranks next.

The Battle for LGBT Equality in New Zealand Immigration

When I arrived in New Zealand, gays and lesbians who had a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident as a partner could gain permanent residency through a relationship visa.  This would have probably been the only way I could gain New Zealand permanent residency under the system as it was then.

There was quite a flaw in the system though, as gays and lesbians were treated differently under New Zealand Immigration’s rules.  Back in 1996, or even 1998 when I applied, the rules (created in 1988) were as follows:

Straight Married Straight De Facto Gay De Facto
When the non-NZer could apply for Permanent Residency Immediately 18 months together 24 months together
Wait for Permanent Residency Approval None 6 months 24 months
Total time Nearly instantaneous 2 years 4 years

Obviously, this was not fair.  How could Immigration determine that a gay relationship was at any more risk than a straight married one?  Why was there such a cool-down period for gay couples?  The difference of 2 years between de facto couples, totally dependent on their sexual orientation, was astounding.

Noel and I didn’t feel this was fair or right.  So we did what many LGBT people have done before us to secure what legal rights we did have; we fought.

The LGBT media (and, to some extent, the mainstream media) were extremely supportive with our fight against the New Zealand Government.  No one seemed to be able to answer why there were different categories based on sexual orientation, but the underlying current seemed to be the assumption that gay and lesbian couples were less likely to be stable or stay together than straight couples, so more stringent criteria were needed for gay and lesbian couples.

Remember, boys and girls, that to “assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.

Noel and I became sorta “poster-boys” for this campaign, especially when another couple involved felt they had been fighting too long and needed to get on with their lives; they sadly left New Zealand and the fight for equal rights behind.  One of the examples I could find was the 15 May 1997 edition of Express newspaper, of which the main story is about immigration rights in New Zealand.  The main tidbit read:

Christchurch couple Noel Turner and Scott Fack met on the internet nearly three years ago.  Fack, an American, wants permanent residency to stay with his partner in New Zealand.  He says the four-year requirement does put strain on the future of a relationship, making it difficult to plan ahead.

Openly-gay Labour MP Tim Barnett and his colleague Annette King helped with the fight.  Noel kinda pushed me to be the liaison with all these people: media, other couples, Tim (the latter of which made it difficult for me because I couldn’t always understand what Tim was saying with his British accent…).

It was difficult for me personally because, as a gay American who wanted to become a New Zealand permanent resident, I had to basically put my life on hold for 4 whole years.  I had to pick a visa and stick with it for 2 years.

If Noel had been a woman, by the time the first 2 years had passed, I’d be a permanent resident.  It made no sense.

Then Immigration minister Max Bradford repeatedly stated that changing the law to allow gay and lesbian couples the same rights under the law as straight de facto couples was too difficult and would need numerous changes all over the place to work.  He was skipping like a broken record: “Too hard.  Too hard.  Too hard.”  The tune was getting repetitively boring.  In the end, I think we kinda backed off because all we kept hearing was the same thing; it was very apparent the old buffoon wasn’t going to budge.

(In all my dealings with Bradford, he reminded me of an old goat, or even worse, a stubborn German.  I’m a stubborn German, so I know one when I see one.  He just. Was not. Going to. Budge. One bit!)

The problem with the marriage-certificate-gets-permanent-residency-immediately route was that, technically, people could marry and fool Immigration into thinking they were a legitimate couple.  The non-New Zealand would become a permanent resident, the two would live as a couple for a while, and then the now permanent resident could easily site problems in their relationship for the reason he / she was leaving.

Of course, LGBT couples didn’t have the right to marry.

We moved on with our life, trying to live as normally as we could.  We applied for permanent residency under the system in 1998.  It would mean I would have to wait until 2000 to know whether or not I could stay in New Zealand.  (It’s very hard living years of your life in limbo, not sure if you’re going to be able to put roots down or not.)

Bradford was replaced, eventually, and the new Minister of Immigration, Tuariki Delamere, took power.  Thank God for the LGBT media, because they revived the story and brought it to Delamere’s attention.  Delamere pretty much turned around and said, “I don’t know what the big deal over this is”, and, after a discussion with Cabinet, he announced the change to the policy on 22 December 1998.

The policy was changed to the following:

Straight Married Straight De Facto Gay De Facto
When the non-NZer could apply for Permanent Residency 18 months together
Wait for Permanent Residency Approval 6 months
Total time 2 years

I’m not sure when we heard about the policy change but it wasn’t implemented until 29 March 1999.  I do remember that we found out that all existing applications were technically considered under the old 4 year policy, and since I’d applied around February 1998, mine fell into that same category.

Back to the Minister of Immigration we went, with the full support of the LGBT media.

Again, Delamere waived his seemingly magic wand — it must’ve been a magic wand because his predecessor said this all couldn’t be done easily — and told Immigration to have those couples whose applications were under the old scheme to reapply, charge free.  Technically, the old application was cancelled and the new one was made under the new rules.  Smart thinking, that!  See?  It wasn’t that difficult, Mr. Bradford!

Immigration called us into their Christchurch city offices around this time, where we met with a lovely Immigration officer named Trish, to fill out the new application form and have a final interview.  Since we were well past the 24 month / 2 year stage of our relationship (Noel and I at nearly 38 months / 3 years, 2 months at this point), and we’d gone well beyond the 6 month waiting period, Immigration wanted to get our application done in one fell swoop.

An embarrassing confession: Trish asked us a question, and Noel started to answer it, but he had his facts all wrong.  I interfered to tell him the correct facts, and then we had a wee bit of a domestic in front of Trish.  A big smile crept across her face as she returned to her paperwork, and she told us she’d seen enough; only real couples bicker like that!  Amazing that such a funny little incident proved to Immigration that we were a genuine couple.

Thursday, 8 April 1999.  My birthday.  The post arrived, and I rushed out to the mailbox to get it.  There’s a letter in there from Immigration New Zealand.  With Noel beside me, I took a deep breath and tore it open.  We read the letter together.  My permanent residency had been approved; I started crying as Noel hugged me.

We’d won.  We’d won our fight to make things equal for LGBT couples where one non-New Zealander wanted to gain residency through their New Zealander partner.

Noel was taking me to Wellington for the weekend for my birthday.  It was a great birthday, and we had a wonderful time, knowing that our relationship was safe and my roots could be planted here in New Zealand now.

By Wednesday, 13 April 1999, my passport had the New Zealand permanent residency visa and permit in it.

Now, 17 years into our relationship, we’ve proven to the New Zealand Government that their choice to give equal rights to LGBT couples was the right one.  And, as always, I am extremely thankful for the help that the LGBT media gave us, especially Express newspaper and Queer Nation TV show, especially Andrew Whiteside, and to MP Tim Barnett and other MPs who supported us.  Of course, a huge thank you to then-Minister Tuariki Delamere for doing what was right by New Zealand and the LGBT community.

All Love is Equal, All the Time

Today is Valentine’s Day. Imagine my luck on stumbling across this song by Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis about marriage equality.

All love is equal, all the time. We all share the “Same Love”.

Thank you to all my straight and LGBT friends and family who stand up for Noel and my right to be married in the eyes of the law.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

My Memories of World AIDS Day 1995

December 1 is World AIDS Day, a day in which people around the world raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic, think about those living with HIV and AIDS, and remember those who have passed away from AIDS.

I only have been involved in World AIDS Day once, in 1995.  I was attending Elmhurst College, and a few classmates and I decided to attend the service taking place in the main student centre.  Elmhurst College had actually been able to secure a section of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and, besides all of us wanting to see it, we felt we could support what we were being taught at Elmhurst College — to embrace diversity and support your fellow humans — by actually doing something, however passive it might be: a show of solidarity with our brothers and sisters who had HIV or AIDS and with people who lost loved ones to AIDS.

1995 had been a rough year for me.  I’d finally broken up for the last time with my first ever boyfriend, I moved away from NIU because my family and I could no longer afford to pay room and board, and, with the ever-helpful and insightful advice of my best friend Anne, I discovered that NIU wasn’t offering me the opportunities and academic challenges overall that a smaller, private university could offer me.  I had been extremely impressed with Elmhurst College, and there’d be less room and board costs if I lived at home (I’d only have to pay for petrol, which I had to pay for anyway), so I’d upended my university life and moved to a new school for my senior year.

What I lost at NIU, I made up for at Elmhurst.  All the students I was in class with were friendly and supportive.  The teaching and support staff members were always helpful, caring, and compassionate.  They actually engaged me, and I could feel my critical thought processes blossoming like a flower under a gardener’s tender care.

Back to loss:  breaking up with your first ever boyfriend/girlfriend can be traumatic.  For me, it’d been love at first sight, but we had to be discrete about things.  I wasn’t out; he wasn’t out.  The difference was that I was willing to come out: my love for him was that strong.  I made the commitment to him, but, looking back on things, that commitment didn’t go both ways.  I honestly don’t think he knew what he wanted, and I honestly do think he loved me (“but not enough” as Arnold says in Torch Song Trilogy) so I left.  To this day, I honestly don’t know if he ever loved me as deeply as I loved him.

Being suddenly single again makes you think, and my thoughts were that I wanted to be alone for a while and maybe being without the one you love was better than being with someone you didn’t love enough.  So, at Elmhurst College, being the new kid on the block, I found myself cautious in befriending people.  Part of me just wanted to be left alone, but most of me secretly enjoyed everyone being so nice to me, and, for the most part, not judging me for who I was.

Back to Friday, 1 December 1995:  We arrived at the service.  It was very sombre.  I remember looking at the section of that quilt on the wall and wondering, “Who were these people?  Did their loved ones still ache for them?  Did dying hurt?  Will anyone remember me or immortalise me with such a wonderful act as this?”  It was a lot to take in.  I was struggling to keep my emotions in check.  One of my classmates started crying, and my hand instinctively rubbed her back and shoulder to calm her down.  I think that impressed my other classmates because I also remember looking at one of my male classmates with tears gathering in my eyes, and I think he was so moved by me reaching out in compassion to someone I didn’t know extremely well (but nevertheless liked) that he put his hand on my arm and gave it a squeeze.  That was just the type of people I went to Elmhurst College with.

In the 90s, HIV/AIDS was still something we were all coming to terms with.  My Mom, a nurse, was working for an orthopaedic surgeon in the early- to mid-90s, and I remember one of the doctors or nurses lending her this book about HIV/AIDS.  To be honest, to this day, I can’t believe my Mom fell for some of the weird stuff the author wrote.  One part stated that by 2000, HIV would have mutated enough to be transmitted by sneezing or coughing or just through the air itself.  The author also said we’d all have to live in higher altitudes because HIV’s transmission would be greatly reduced due to air being thinner.  If you’re thinking, “huh?” by this time, so was I.  I remember saying to Mom that I didn’t think a virus that could only survive outside the body for a very short window of time would suddenly mutate to survive outside the body for a much longer period of time within a few years.  The whole premise seemed a bit far-fetched to me, but this was the paranoia we were living with back then.

My Mom also got upset when I was applying band-aids to friends who had cut themselves at various times.  I might’ve done it four or five times for the same number of friends when we were at NIU or wherever.  Mom (post-book, if I remember correctly) was worried that one of these friends potentially could have HIV or AIDS and I could become infected by putting a band-aid on an open wound.  Again, I brushed her off; it was a band-aid I was applying, letting the gauze go over the wound.  It wasn’t like I was rubbing my wound over that wound or whatever.

I’m hoping that we have evolved in our understanding of HIV/AIDS and people who are infected with HIV or AIDS.  We live in an age where most people with HIV can manage their condition through a cocktail of medication, and so perhaps this has caused many of us to become more accepting of people with HIV or AIDS.  We understand how it is transmitted and how the virus itself acts (for the most part), so HIV/AIDS is “less scary” than it used to be.  Not having many (if any) friends or family with HIV or AIDS, I can’t tell you outright about how things have changed (if they have), but I personally feel they have.

Maybe some day there will be a cure: hopefully sooner than later.  But for now, we should use World AIDS Day to think of and pray for the approximately 34 million people living with HIV or AIDS in the world today and the approximately 30 million people who have died from AIDS, and to educate ourselves and others about HIV/AIDS.