Marriage Equality -- The Journey

This blog will hopefully chronicle our quest for recognition of our marriage by my employer, the state, and the nation. For a peek into my life other than this lawsuit, check out my personal blog at http://milindoe.blogspot.com

Friday, January 14, 2005

WOW! What a day!

Today was a day that was so eventful that your first thought is, "Nobody could make this stuff up!"

I woke up a bit tense, not knowing what the day would bring, but knowing that it's just "out" there, and I couldn't stop it now if I wanted to.

I had planned, back around Thanksgiving time, to take today off, just to burn a day or so because my leave bank was getting up there to the point where I was going to have to "use it or lose it." So, we got up, I put on my slippers instead of my shoes, and waved goodbye to Lisa in the front window of the house as she drove off for work.

I sat down with a cup of coffee at my computer, and checked the local rag, only to find that it appeared that the story had already been relegated to the "archives," literally, as yesterday's old news. I found I was a bit relieved with that.

I logged in to my work email account and found the usual daily "news" up there, and it contained only a couple of articles about work happenings. No emails other than that one daily one. That's great.

So, I settled in and tried to organize my thoughts. I figured I'd try to update this blog, but found that I just didn't have much to think about at the moment and considered that there was an entire day ahead of me -- one I'm sure I'd find something to write about.

I telephoned the union president, because I needed to talk to her about a union issue that had arisen about our pay withholdings. I chatted with her for a few minutes about the union issue, and then she told me how pleased she was that my lawsuit had been filed. She's been pretty supportive all along, and I've kept her informed at every step -- figured I owed it to her. We chatted for a few more minutes about the lawsuit, and then hung up.

I poured myself another cup of coffee and, sometime around 10:00 or so, I decided it might be a good idea to check my work voice mail, as I thought that it was possible that some reporters might have called (since my name, place of employment, and position were published in the paper), so I dialed the number. I logged in to my voice mail account, to find that there were thirteen new messages. Each and every one of them was from someone where I work, expressing support and best wishes. One said "You're my hero." A couple of them expressed how huge they thought this was, and how proud they were of me. They were all pretty much the same sentiment. Support. Pride. Awe. By the time I'd gotten through all of my messages, I was emotionally drained. I cried a bit -- I felt so liberated, so empowered by those messages of support!

I called a friend from work (she's been my sounding board for the past few months) and chatted with her for a bit. She'd been one of the messages -- "You GO girl!" I hung up after conversing with her for a bit, and called another person that had left me a message -- a total stranger. Spoke with her a bit, then hung up. I decided that I just couldn't call any more of the folks that left messages -- I was overwhelmed, emotionally, by this surprising display of support. And it wasn't just from the gay/lesbian community at work, it was from "straight" folks, too.

I'm not a person who likes a lot of attention or scrutiny. I was a bit uncomfortable with all the attention, initially, but then realized that it was foolish to be uncomfortable with it. It's not like I didn't see it coming, after all. I have to learn to take it in stride.

Lisa usually calls me when she's left work, to let me know that she HAS left, so I have a better idea of when to expect her home. I thought she'd be really interested to hear of all the places our story had appeared today.

At about 5:15 the phone rang -- about the average time for Lisa to call. I checked the caller ID and saw, with huge disappointment, that it was, in fact, Lisa, but she was calling from her work number, not her cell phone number.

She was calling to let me know, obviously, that she was still at work because she didn't want to leave just yet. It seems a male co-worker of hers, who has not been "right" for a few days, was not "right" even worse. Her boss and a couple of other co-workers were still there, and refusing to leave until they knew he was okay.

Long story short, it turns out that the emergency response training she and I took recently, yielded good dividends. She had observed him, what appeared to be, sleeping sitting straight up at his desk. She and her boss managed to raise him but he was apparently disoriented. He went to the bathroom but, when he returned, he was holding his left arm, like it was in an invisible sling. She apparently realized that, with his grayish/ashen skin, his sweatiness, and the fact that he was rubbing his left arm, he was likely having some sort of cardiac symptoms. She convinced him to lay down, and she elevated his feet. She said that just a few minutes after they got him to lay down, he started to "pink up" again -- that is, he lost some of that ashen color. She just chatted with him, in a friendly manner, asked him how his right arm felt. He replied "Fine, it's fine." She said "How about that left arm, does that bother you?" He admitted that it hurt. She asked if his chest bothered him, and he acknowledged that it did. She began rubbing his back and asked him if he felt any pressure there -- he acknowledged some discomfort.

An ambulance was called, Lisa was able to provide the paramedics with important information regarding her co-worker's appearance, behavior, disorientation, etc., and they took him away to a local hospital.

Lisa was really stoked, mentally, but jazzed up badly, physically. It's really affected her a lot -- I think the enormity, the gravity of the situation hit her on the way home. Her face was red when she came in the door, her stomach was a bit woozy, and she went almost directly from the front door to the bedroom to retrieve the blood pressure monitor. Her BP was fine, but she still felt flush and "jazzed."

We settled in, had some dinner, and now she's laying on the couch watching "The First Wives Club," -- all is well with the world.

This next part is meant merely as a muse -- there's no ulterior motive, no hidden message, nothing sinister, just a bit of an epiphany I had today.

Some time back, I had a relationship with a woman -- in fact, she was my lover before Lisa, the first person, other than my kids, that I really, truly loved. She was, what is referred to in some psychiatric circles, my "transition" relationship. There's really no need for particulars because the relationship ended. The thing is, this WAS my transitional relationship -- the first time in my life I truly acknowledged all of me, without holding back. It was this person who taught me how to love, and how to BE loved. Her name was Kim.

At the time our relationship ended, I was devastated, beyond belief. I couldn't bear to look into tomorrow without her, barely wanted to get out of bed in the morning. I was lost. It was at this time that I read something that I just remembered today.

It said that people come in and out of our lives -- some for short periods of time, and some for our entire lives. Those that come into our lives for only a short time, serve a purpose. They touch our lives in ways that we don't understand until sometime later in our life. But they always leave a mark, and shape our futures.

It occurred to me today that, while I can't stand the thought of ever being WITH Kim again -- the love of my life is Lisa -- it was, in fact, Kim who was the catalyst behind this whole situation that I find myself in today. Because of her I explored myself, discovered who I really was, and let myself free-fall into a whole new life. A life of integrity. But also a life destined to be full of adversity as well.

It was Kim who opened me up to the point where, when Lisa came back into my life, I was finally ready for her. We have often commented about how we have Kim to thank for "us."

But, if you are a member of the GLBT community and you support what we're doing with this lawsuit, and putting it out there for everyone, then give Kim some credit for that, too. If there had been no Kim, there would be no Lisa now. And if there was no Lisa, there would be someone else who would have to step up to the plate, as we have done, to help forge a new path of freedom and equality for our brothers and sisters in the gay and lesbian community.

So, if you know Kim, thank her. If you don't know Kim, thank her anyway for helping me to transform from the caterpillar.

Thanks, Kim. From both of us. Really.
      

Initial reaction

We had a pretty decent discussion last night, about all that's going on. I've been a bit concerned about how Lisa feels with all of this coming to a head, but she reaffirmed last night her belief that this is larger than both of us, and our wants and needs.

She went in yesterday and spoke to her employer, gave her a copy of the press release, told her that she didn't want her to learn about it from the media, that she'd rather learn about it directly from us. Anyone who knows Lisa would realize what a huge thing that was for her to have to do. I'm so proud of her -- she's discovered courage I don't think she realized she had.

After having given this a lot of thought (and worry) during the past couple of sleepless nights, I've decided my greatest worry is that our relationship will be tested a lot, and how we'll fare with it. We've got a lot of stressors in the relationship as it is, what with the big "M" sitting squarely in our faces (menopause), making me weepy, moody, weepy, bitchy, weepy, impatient. Did I mention weepy? On top of that, my ex just decided he was tired of paying support and stopped paying about 6 months ago. That's another $500 a month we're living without right now and, sadly, I think that the two most common things couples fight over are kids and money. On the up-side of that, I manage money VERY well and had gotten us to a point where, while the loss of the support certainly hurts, it still doesn't put us in a position where we can't meet our financial obligations.

Our union is also in a state of flux -- we broke away from the larger unit this past fall because of some issues there. So, we're still without a "valid" contract, no raises, take-home pay decreasing due to increases in health insurance, union dues, and withholding of those items. It seems our withholding has changed to 24 pay periods instead of 26, but we'll still get paid 26 times. According to the union president, they can't do this without consent of the union, so the matter is now in arbitration.

Small stressors, large stressors, non-stressors -- it seems they all come together at the same time. I keep reminding myself of the adage that, while you can't control what happens in your life, you can control how you react to it.

I just hope Lisa's up to the task of keeping me from coming unglued. Perhaps that's why she bought me a glue gun for Christmas...y'think?


      

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Games are Afoot

Well, I got a phone call from a reporter for the local rag and, wouldn't you know it, it's in the "evening edition" of the newspaper's online web iste. It's a decent article -- the reporter seemed interested in reporting fact rather than sensation. More on our reaction and how we feel once we figure that out!
      


Our Marriage, July 5, 2004 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada Posted by Hello
      

ULP!

I got a phone call from the lawyer's office at around 10:00 this morning -- they were heading over to the courthouse to file the lawsuit. Following that phone call was an email with a copy of the "press release" attached. They named us both -- we expected my name to come out, but weren't sure about Lisa's. Now we know.

Lisa printed off a copy of the press release and is going to take it in to her boss, to give her a heads up and let her know that it's not about that company, it's about MY employer.

I feel like someone has kicked me in the stomach, my nerves are raw -- the whole world will now know about me and Lisa. God, I hope we can represent the GLBT community with honor!

More as it happens.
      

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Journey Begins

As a bit of a background, here's the situation.

On July 5, 2001, my partner (Lisa) and I went to Vermont and entered into a civil union. For us, it was a formal declaration of our commitment to each other -- and only to each other. We had no wants, needs or desires to shout it to the world or to celebrate it with anyone other than the two of us.

In December 2003 I inquired through Human Resources regarding the possibility of domestic partner benefits, since Lisa's health insurance coverage was going to be reduced by half (her employer had been paying 100% of it). I was told "the (union) contract won't allow it."

As San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California, a small town in New York hit the national news radar when it's mayor, Jason West, a 26 year old Green Party representative, announced late one night on the New York City news (a channel we used to get) that he would be performing a dozen or so same-sex marriages the following day, February 27. The following morning I called the New Paltz town complex and was directed to a web site where, I was told, very shortly would be posted information on marriages in New Paltz. I was fortunate to get them when I did because, within an hour's time after that, no phone calls could get through and those that did were re-directed to the web site. The web site took an astounding number of hits!

I sat and just kept hitting "F5" for "refresh" until suddenly a link popped up that simply said "Marriages in New Paltz." I clicked on the link and hurriedly completed the requested information and we were on the waiting list to be married in New Paltz! I knew we had to have gotten on that list quite quickly and we were hopeful that we'd be able to marry very soon.

We got all of our legal documents around, and Lisa put them in an envelope marked "HOLY SHIT! LET'S GO!" and we waited...

On Tuesday, March 9th, just 11 days after getting our names on the waiting list, we got a phone call from the New Paltz Equality Initiative asking if we were still interested in getting married. We were informed that Mayor West would not be doing the ceremonies but that clergy was lined up to do it -- we were to meet at a bed and breakfast that very Saturday (March 13th) at noon.

There were 26 couples married that day in New Paltz -- old, young, with kids, without kids. It was amazing! And even more amazing were the people who worked tirelessly to make this happen for perfect strangers, at no cost to the couples. Additionally, the clergy members from the Unitarian Universalist church who performed the solemnizations were amazing in their support and sacrifice -- they knew they'd face legal repercussions.

We were not issued marriage licenses but, under the provisions of the New York State Family Relations law, a license isn't necessarily mandatory for a marriage. Past precedents had been set whereby the OFFICIANT was held accountable for the lack of a marriage license, but the participants in the marriage were not, nor were the marriages negated unless they were illegal to start with. Same sex marriage in New York state isn't illegal. We were given an "Affidavit of Marriage" and we entered into a "Contract of Marriage" and those documents were notarized and returned to us, along with information on Lambda Legal, Marriage Equality, GLAAD, and the ACLU.

Upon our return from New Paltz, I attempted to put Lisa on my health insurance, based on our new "status." I was flatly turned down, again, with "the contract and the county don't allow it." I informed the HR Director that I wasn't looking for "domestic partner" benefits. I was demanding spousal benefits. Long story short - she poo poo'd me right back out of her office. Problem solved...for her.

It was then that I contacted the local office of the ACLU. I sent them copies of my memos to HR, copies of our Vermont Civil Union license, and our New Paltz documents.

Interestingly enough, as I prepared to rebut the HR Director's assertion regarding the contract, I found that the contract was completely silent regarding health benefits for spouses. I had gone to that specific section so that I could quote the exact language used, to press the case for spousal benefits. However, the section merely said that the EMPLOYEE could enroll, but the contract did NOT contain language that said the employee could enroll their spouse or their dependent children. I pointed this out in my memo to the Director of HR and told her that there seemed to be a "presumption of eligibility" for straight couples and that, to deny me this eligibility violated NY State law (SONDA - Sexual Orientation Non-Descrimination Act).

I sent this information to the ACLU also and I received a response from them that the case sounded "interesting" and they'd get back to me. Within a couple of weeks, I was contacted by the ACLU and told that they would take the case. They asked for some supporting documentation and told me that they'd find a lawyer to work "pro bono" on the case.

As the same-sex marriage train gathered more steam with the pending opening of marriage to same-sex couples in Massachusetts, Lisa and I began to make some plans. In the end, we decided that Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) was too anti-gay for us to make any firm plans ans that, if he could find a way to stop it, he would. He did -- at least, he found a way to stop out-of-state couples from coming in and marrying.

We turned our attention north -- to Canada. After some bureaucratic requirements were met, we traveled to Niagara Falls on the third anniversary of our Vermont Civil Union and, on July 5 of 2004, we were legally married.

Upon our return, I again sent a memo to HR, demanding spousal benefits. A full month went by before any reply was received and a meeting was set, for myself, my union president, and the director of HR. At that meeting, the HR Director kept referring to my request as "domestic partner" benefits, again. I kept correcting her telling her that, even if domestic partner benefits were suddenly granted to employees, I was no longer eligible for them as I was legally married. This really seemed to confuse her (because she didn't WANT to hear it, if you ask me). Additionally, when I raised the issue about the contract's silence regarding enrollment of spouses, she insisted that the contract did, in fact, allow spouses to be enrolled. The union president and I both insisted that it (the contract) did NOT allow for it. I finally suggested "Read the contract, article 32," and the HR Director reached into her drawer, took out the union contract book, opened it to the correct section and began reading. She flipped the pages forward, backward, read, and re-read and finally looked up and said "Well, it's IMPLIED!"

Implied? I asked her if she was sure her "implied" response would stand up to legal scrutiny. She looked surprised and raised an eyebrow and said "Legal scrutiny?" I told her that she would leave me with no recourse but to take legal action to secure the benefits that were "implied" for opposite-gendered married couples. At the mention of legal action, she became flustered and said that she'd not "clearly understood" what it was I was seeking and that she'd have to re-submit it through....whatever channels. I asked her if 30 days was sufficient time, and she agreed to get me a response within 30 days. That was August 11, 2004.

At the end of August I met with the lawyer that would represent me in the case. I updated him on the meeting and he vowed that by September 10, he wanted to have the complaint filed. Goals are good to have, aren't they? Poor man failed to remember he's working with a bureaucratic organization (ACLU) and that the process would prove to be painfully slow.

I decided that I was no longer going to prompt or hand-feed the director of HR to remind her that she owed me a response. When September 10 came and went without any response, I notified the attorney that the deadline had expired and no response received.

On November 8th I discovered that "open enrollment" was moved up a month and that it would CLOSE OUT on November 15 -- this was because of a new software program that we are going to and this earlier enrollment date would give ample time to get the information entered correctly and to correct any problems which might arise. Realizing that if I didn't get an application in within the prescribed time, the HR Director could simply say "Hey, she didn't apply, what can we do?" I submitted an application to add Lisa to my health insurance policy. I submitted it with a cover letter which simply said that it would document that my application had been submitted within the prescribed time. I gave a copy to the President's legal counsel, our union president, and the HR Director. Amazingly enough, I got a reply from this HR "professional" on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving -- November 23rd. Two and a half months later than was promised, and fully two weeks AFTER having submitted the application.

The response said that the matter had been "carefully researched" and that my employer has no "responsibility" to Lisa. Whatever. Apparently NY State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer's informal opinion on March 3, 2004 where he says that the state is obligated to recognize legal marriages that originate outside the jurisdiction of the state, means nothing to this woman. Doesn't her directorship of HR trump his status as the state's top attorney?

I think it's noteworthy that the ACLU (locally and at the state level) are calling this case "pristene," and very "clear cut." I think that little hole in the union contract regarding the lack of language really cements the whole thing.

In the meantime, the complaint had been drafted and revised. And revised. And revised. And revised. And revised. And revised. I mailed a "retainer agreement" out to the lawyer (required by the ACLU for some reason) on Monday and, as far as I know, the complaint will be filed either tomorrow or Friday.

Let the games begin.