Thursday, July 7, 2011

What’s Love (and Marriage) Got To Do With It?!

by Janet Weinberg

Marriage equality finally passed in New York. It is hard for me to believe it.  The LGBT community of my generation experienced life events opposite to our heterosexual counter parts. In the early 1980s, I began attending a funeral every few months of someone who died of AIDS. By the early 1990s, there were days when funerals competed with each other. We were in our 20s and 30s and our parents had been to fewer funerals than us.

Now it is 2011 and here we are talking about marriage. Usual life cycles have people marrying first and then going through the horrific act of burying loved ones.  All of a sudden, the LGBT 20 and 30 somethings are now approaching or have reached their 50s and for the first time allowed to plan their weddings.  I truly never thought that I would be married and here I am engaged.  It was a right that I thought would not happen in my lifetime. As some of you know, I received my proposal via email letting me know that the marriage bill was about to pass and would I marry my life partner of 20 ½ years.   It sure does turn things upside down!

Suddenly people that I have never socialized with want to know if I am getting married and if I am, when they will receive their wedding invitations.  My normal, usually peaceful and calm household is now in a tizzy. My head is spinning from all this talk of marriage. And it is not just going on in my household. Friends who have been waiting for New York to legalize marriage seem to be facing the same conundrums that I am facing.

Here at GMHC we have been advocating for marriage in Albany for the past 3 years. Why do we care about marriage? We serve people affected by HIV, some of whom are in love. That love should be recognized by marriage if the couples desire to be married.   These couples would like to show their love just as many heterosexual couples have shown for literally thousands of years. According to the New York Bar Association, there some 1,300 laws covered under marriage. It also gives these couples the ability to be covered under their spouse’s health insurance.  Might this lift some burden off the state?  Perhaps fiscal conservatives should be jumping up and down about this law. 
Studies also show that marriage, particularly amongst LGBT people of color, is a health resiliency factor. Black gay men are the hardest hit with HIV.  So why shouldn’t we offer one more structural tool to reduce new infections?  We consistently talk about needing every tool in the HIV tool chest to decrease the number of new infections. Of course marriage should be in that tool chest.  The passing of the marriage act is just one more piece of legislation that proactively helps to reduce new cases of HIV. 
If marriage equality had been around in those dark days of the 1980s and ‘90s, the legal protections would have been so beneficial. Married people could have accessed the probate court which processes wills and estates.  It would have proven property intent when a loved one died in very short and unexpected circumstances—such as with AIDS.

No matter how you slice it, marriage equality is just a best practice.  Here’s to more successes and more marriages to toast! 

Janet Weinberg is the Chief Operating Officer of GMHC.

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