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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Separate or Equal: A Non-Wedding Story

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education

England and Wales are legalizing same-sex marriage. If the House of Lords does not scupper this bill, lesbian and gay couples will be able to choose to have a minister of religion conduct their wedding, or have it in a church, or not, like any other couple getting married. Unlike civil partnership, marriage is a term that means something outside this country. It is not “separate but equal.”

Inevitably, this made me think about my non-wedding day. The day itself was happy, but beforehand I was acutely aware that civil partnership was separate and not equal. Not just because I had to ask my sister to pray in a separate building, after the legal ceremony was over, so as not to contaminate the gay with God. The town hall room itself made discrimination hard to miss. There was a big sign right up front, where it would be seen by everyone. “MARRIAGE ACCORDING TO THE LAW OF THIS COUNTRY IS THE UNION OF ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN...” it proclaimed, to the polygamists, barnyard-animal-marriers, and queers.

This was like something you’d see in America, I thought. I wanted to protest, but I’m a foreigner, at the mercy of British immigration authorities. That’s why I was there in the first place. (Well, and to have a massive party in the other building.) I couldn’t afford to rock the boat.

In the excitement of non-wedding preparation, I happily forgot all about this. With a great deal of difficulty, seven members of my family, including my brother’s girlfriend (now wife) Elizabeth, traveled from the U.S.A. to celebrate with us. But until the ceremony, and my sister’s blessing in the Indian restaurant, were over, I knew nothing about the most boat-rocking moment of the whole day.

“Now that you’re legal,” Elizabeth said over dinner, “we can tell you what we did.” Turns out I may have forgotten about the offensive sign, but my aunt noticed it right away.

This won’t do, she thought. My brother’s pictures document her striding right to the front of the room and removing the sign. Then she and Elizabeth hid it behind a curtain. Unbeknownst to me, they kept worrying that a town hall employee was going to find it and put it back.

When I heard what had happened to the sign, I was retrospectively thrilled that it hadn’t been there to spoil our non-wedding pictures. But I was more proud of my family’s actions. They weren’t afraid to ask for discrimination to be taken out of the picture. They didn’t even ask.

Resistance to British authorities is why America is a country in the first place. Civil disobedience is what we do. My straight American relatives couldn’t make equality happen in this country, let alone in their own. But when and where they could, they struck a blow for equality.

And that brings us closer than ever.

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