As a gay man who came out much later in life, I thought I would have had a more progressive view on marriage equality than I did.
I was 37 years old, married for 16 years with three daughters when I fully came out to myself and my family. This was 2000, and the country had just finished a nationwide movement to enact Defense of Marriage Acts at state and federal levels. At that time, I took the stance that recognizing domestic partnership relationships should be fine and I hoped that would provide the protection same-sex couples needed.
Pushing marriage equality was something I, like many others, thought the country wasn’t ready for at the time. It wasn’t until I entered into a long-term relationship that I started understanding the discrimination LGBTQ+ people faced in their daily lives and their medical, legal,and financial planning.
There are so many little things you take for granted as a straight couple that aren’t so easily afforded to a gay couple: the ability to walk down the street of Anytown, USA, and feel comfortable holding your partner’s hand, having a romantic dinner to celebrate milestones in your lives without people staring, entering a hotel and requesting a single room with a king-sized bed without feeling uncomfortable or immediately have someone suggest a room with double beds, and selecting a vacation destination without hesitation versus researching how gay-friendly or accommodating a particular location is to the LGBTQ+ community before finalizing plans.
However, it wasn’t until my partner, Mark, received a cancer diagnosis in 2011 that I realized these were all minor inconveniences compared to the medical, legal and planning barriers gay couples face.
Mark and I were together almost 10 years when he received a diagnosis of Stage 2 renal carcinoma, which required the immediate removal of his left kidney. We now found ourselves faced with making legal, financial and medical decisions in a very short period.
The most important of these decisions was making sure I was protected and was able to enter his hospital room without challenge, that I would be his main point of contact when corresponding with medical professionals, and that I would be the sole person responsible for any medical decisions if he became incapacitated.
We worked with an attorney to get the proper documents in place and made sure the hospital and his family had the appropriate documentation on file to prevent any misunderstandings once he entered the hospital. At this point, I realized the importance of having the legal protections provided by a marriage license. Furthermore, I realized these protections and benefits could not be provided by simply recognizing or acknowledging domestic partnerships.
After Mark’s surgery and his complete recovery, I became more disturbed by these inequities. From a medical standpoint, being married affords you the right to enter a hospital room without question. It also makes you the next of kin to make medical decisions for an incapacitated spouse and it allows you to take advantage of medical plans offering spousal benefits.
From a legal and planning standpoint, it provides you the ability to transfer property from one spouse to another without taxation, it allows a surviving spouse to receive benefits from pension and Social Security plans, it automatically gives you an insurable interest in a life insurance contract, and it allows you to file federal and state income taxes jointly as a married couple, recognizing the lowest tax bracket available.
My views on the subject of marriage equality completely changed after 2011. On June 26, 2015, I was excited to see the U.S. Supreme Court strike down all state bans on same-sex marriage, and as a result of this landmark decision, same-sex marriages became legal in all 50 states.
This effectively eliminated the inequities between married couples and gay couples wishing to marry. People often debate that marriage should only be between one man and one woman from a religious standpoint. I am completely comfortable with that stance. My response is we have a government that provides separation between church and state.
Suppose state governments issue marriage licenses to part of the population, and those individuals receive both legal and financial benefits. In that case, states should not be allowed to discriminate against a section of the population based on an individual’s sexual preference.
June is Pride Month for the LGBTQ+ community. This year, I took time to be more reflective than in years past and thought about what Pride truly means to me. I am proud of the people who came before me who were brave enough to stand up against the injustices and inequities between the LGBTQ+ and heterosexual communities.
I am proud of the people who took a stance at Stonewall in 1969, protesting against being targeted by political officials and police for simply gathering as gay men; the couples who were relentless in filing lawsuits at both the state and federal levels over the years allowing same-sex partners to have medical, legal and property rights; and for all those individuals who for 45 years pushed for marriage equality and did not settle for domestic partnership recognition instead of marriage. We all should take pride in their efforts.
As a professional working in financial services, I also take pride in being part of an evolving industry, particularly a company that recognizes the value of diversity, equity and inclusion across many aspects of our business.
Not only do we look to create an inclusive and energizing environment that empowers teammates to learn, grow and have meaningful careers, but also, we seek to provide distinctive, secure, and successful client experiences and products delivered through touch and technology that support the unique needs of all people. We truly are living our purpose of inspiring and building better lives and communities.
Michael Rusk is senior vice president, internal sales, financial institutions channel with Crump Life Insurance Services. He may be contacted at [email protected].