(as originally run in the Free-Lance Star on 05/17/2014)
by Joanne L. Harris, plaintiff in the Freedom to Marry case in the Commonwealth of Virginia
I have always found it interesting that so many people feel as if being part of a same-sex relationship is this strange new phenomenon. It makes our very normal daily life sound much more dramatic than it really is.
I wonder if other mothers who wake up early in the morning to ensure their kid’s breakfast is cooked, clothes are laid out, lunch is packed and soccer gear is ready to roll find their commitment to their families to be a newsworthy event. I’m guessing not.
When I was diagnosed with epilepsy four years ago, Jessica was there to hold my hand. While I suffered a generalized tonic–clonic seizure, she stayed by my side as I convulsed and vomited and my muscles constricted. She also did what any loving spouse would have done. She called my physician and explained what was happening.
The risk we take is that my physician didn’t have to talk to Jessica because she isn’t legally an immediate family member. Why? Because we live here in Virginia, which forbids marriage between same-sex couples. He could have said, “I need to consult with the next of kin.” Which in this case would have been my parents who live nearly two hours away and weren’t present during my seizure. What could they have offered to my physician in regard to relaying important, perhaps life-changing, information? Nothing.
Yet, because Jessica and I are not married, we held our breath and prayed as she called my physician for medical guidance. This is a harrowing reality that same-sex couples like ourselves face in times of crisis when the protections that come with marriage are closed to us.
Jessica and I have been together for 12 years, and we’re planners. We knew a day like this would come when one of us would be in this position. So, as silly as it may sound, Jessica and I attend nearly every doctor’s appointment with one another. We allow our faces to be seen by every doctor who’s ever treated us individually.
Is it an inconvenience to take off work every time one of us has a doctor’s appointment? Yes. Is there any option if we want a hopeful chance at equal treatment and care? No. This is the real life choice we’ve made, to be completely intertwined in each other’s life without question. We do this in an effort to ensure that we are treated as a couple that assists one another in making medical decisions.
That’s what we’re fighting for in our lawsuit challenging Virginia’s marriage ban. We’re fighting to be treated with care, compassion, sensitivity and, in the end, equality. Jessica and I have shared our story because we believe we should have access to the same legal protections as our family members in regard to marriage. Not just in a piecemeal domestic partnership sense (what is that, anyway?) but rather a legal marriage.
Our parents raised us to believe in the American Dream. Doesn’t that American Dream consist of not only financial and professional success, but the real richness that comes from love and commitment and security for your loved ones? We have found that in one another, and it’s not strange, but it’s just our family. Yes, Virginia, we believe in family and we believe in equality in our home state.
Joanne L. Harris and her partner, Jessica Duff, are named plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit challenging Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. They are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Virginia and Lambda Legal.
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