January 8, 2012 in Opinion

Gays deserve same rights

 

Last summer Dean Lynch and Michael Flannery decided it was finally time to plan their commitment ceremony. After all, Lynch’s mother was 79 and his grandmother 98.

So in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the day they met, Lynch and Flannery invited friends and family to a fairly traditional ceremony on the terrace of their South Hill home in August. A harpist played before the ceremony. Lynch brought in his grandmother; Flannery escorted Lynch’s mother. During the vows, the couple turned to the two older women for the rings.

And then Lynch and Flannery slid the bands onto their right hands, in recognition of the fact that they still cannot legally marry in the United States.

On Wednesday both men felt proud when Gov. Chris Gregoire made a heartfelt announcement of her support of same-sex marriage and the legislation that would legalize it in the state of Washington. “That was gutsy,” Flannery said. “She didn’t just quietly say to Lisa Brown, ‘If it comes to my desk, I’ll sign it.’ ”

It was July 26, 1986, when Lynch and Flannery met in Coeur d’Alene Park in Browne’s Addition. Lynch was taking a walk through the neighborhood, and Flannery was riding a bicycle. Six weeks later, Flannery says, “I was pretty sure he was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”

Through the years, the differences between a gay partnership and a legal marriage have been sharp. Lynch and Flannery point out that same-sex partners can’t count on an apartment lease applying to both of them equally, a house belonging to them jointly or their relationship being respected during a critical illness.

They haven’t added up the extra costs of the legal help they’ve received over the years. “I know we had to jump a lot more hoops living as loving, caring men than if we were married,” Flannery said.

Lynch, a retired social worker and a former Spokane City Council member, and Flannery, a retired stockbroker, have decided not to register as domestic partners in Washington. They’re waiting for same-sex marriage to be approved nationally. They see its legalization in Washington as an important next step.

“I wanted to wait until I had all the rights,” Flannery said. “I didn’t want it to be ‘married lite.’ ”

Flannery doesn’t expect churches to change their stances on same-sex marriage, but he does believe government should treat everyone equally.

So does Susan Hammond, a Spokane nurse. Late Wednesday night, after Gregoire’s speech, Hammond posted on Facebook a letter to her legislators. She invited her friends to forward it as well.

She wrote, “I am counting on your leadership and humanity to do the right thing so that my young adult son, who is gay, can live in a society that affirms who he is and allows him the same right his brothers already have: to marry the person of his choice.”

The opposition to same-sex marriage baffles Hammond. “I honestly don’t get it,” she says.

After all, the strongest argument against changing the law is that marriage has traditionally been defined as being between a man and a woman. But that’s like using a long-standing definition of slavery as an argument against emancipation.

This is, as Hammond says, “the civil rights issue of our time.”

Lynch, 61, and Flannery, 57, believe they’ll be allowed to legally marry in this country before they reach old age. When they do, they’ll finally move their wedding bands to their left hands.

Hammond believes her 21-year-old son’s life will be different than those of older gay men. “I hope in my lifetime that I go to his wedding, and I meet his husband,” she said.

Gregoire wisely evoked the image of gay couples and their children and their desire to be treated equally as families. She might also have addressed the needs of their mothers because the benefits of same-sex marriage ripple throughout extended families as well.

One day soon, every woman with a gay son in this country should have the chance to become, complete with a marriage license, the proud mother of one of the grooms.

Jamie Tobias Neely, a former associate editor at The Spokesman-Review, serves as an assistant professor of journalism at Eastern Washington University. She may be reached at jamietobiasneely @comcast.net.

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