Over dinner the spouse and I were discussing a newspaper article about Obama’s having to weigh in on whether gay partners of federal employees should get health benefits. Thanks to the “defense of marriage act” signed by then-President Bill Clinton, the government opposes this, while the courts say yes.
Aside from generally being in favor of human rights, we watch this issue closely. Two years ago we got hitched. We love each other and all that. In fact, the marriage thing was probably the best decision either of us ever made, but it was a calculated decision. (I mean that literally. I used a calculator.) One of us is past the child-bearing years, and neither of us has any great desire to breed or adopt except possibly from the local animal shelter. We did not marry in order to raise a family.
After careful consideration, we married for the bennies. That’s benefits to my friends in more progressive places like, oh, CANADA. In the US there’s no national health and the cost of medical treatment is astronomical. Private health insurance is expensive and mostly doesn’t cover “pre-existing” conditions. I wanted to quit my job and knew that while I could afford to take lower paying freelance work, I could not afford to be without health insurance. The quickest and by far least expensive way for me to get health insurance would be by marrying which would enable me to get on my husband’s work-covered plan. There were other benefits as well. As a married couple, we could file a joint income tax and as I wasn’t making that much money, we would pay a lower tax rate. And then of course there’s stuff like social security and many other privileges available only to those living in wedded bliss.
As we waited for our food to arrive, we reflected on a recent fund raiser we’d attended sponsored by Garden State Equality in which the brilliant comedian Judy Gold did a slide-show about who can get married (Brittany and K Fed, Levi and Bristol, etc.) and who can’t (sane adults who happen to be gay, no matter how much they contribute to society, and not withstanding whether or not they are raising children together).
As the waiter arrived with our dinners, I made the following naive and foolish statement (I’ve gone kind of soft and idealistic since Obama was elected): “But if the conservatives just understood it as a rights and fairness issue. You can’t have some people getting these benefits and others not….”
My husband looked at me like he was seeing the first signs of senility. “But the religious right does get it. That’s the point. They don’t want gay people to have rights.”
“But we won the election. He can…”
“If he has the balls to stand up to them.”
“But they’re not the majority..”
“They are in Dixie.”
Then he went on his usual rant about how the cultural divide in the US could not be mended. Despite our President’s very appealing words, there are two America’s.
“The only solution,” my better-half argued, “is for the US to get out of Dixie. We should have let them go after the Civil War.”
“We’d lose New Orleans,” I said.
He pointed out that even the most backward nations have their points of progress and charming cities.
“Which city do you think New York has more in common with, Amsterdam or Dallas?”
“We’d lose Florida,” I pointed out, thinking about his mother in Boynton Beach.
“We could open up diplomatic relations with Cuba,” he countered.
He was tired of his tax dollars going to support energy policies that it made it possible for people in Houston to run their air-conditioners 365 days a year. He didn’t want to pay to bring water to the Arizona desert. He didn’t want to still be debating whether or not evolution should be taught in schools. Mostly, he didn’t want rapture-ready zealots getting us into stupid wars. He didn’t want to ever see Sarah Palin’s face again.
“There shouldn’t be a debate about what the founding fathers meant by the separation of church and state,” he said.
“Or about who can get married,” I added.
We sipped our wine in the Italian restaurant with its immigrant wait-staff and its multi-ethnic neighborhood clientele. Probably not one person in that room had voted for McCain or believes that god hates the gays. While the Obama presidency has made us all feel very good about ourselves, it’s not clear what can be accomplished if he has to kowtow to the South. I’m no great fan of partition – India/Pakistan and Israel/Palestine being two examples that didn’t work out too well. But as Craig points out, left to its own devices, the South would not be strong enough or powerful enough to be a threat. It’s far more dangerous to the United States and the world as a backward, racist, backwater of a superpower.