‘Til Death Do Us Part

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I don’t like terms like liberal and conservative.  Those terms are too divisive.  I believe I have a good measure of balance in the way I think about the things that impact my life and the lives of those I care about.  That balance, I believe, comes from observation and understanding before judging.  That is most evident in the fact that it usually takes a little time for me to warm to new people.  I’m not shy.  I believe I’m far from an introvert.  I simply like to know who and what I’m dealing with.   Neither a liberal nor a conservative viewpoint is a substitute for understanding the people you’re surrounded by or the situations you find yourself in.  Watching a family member navigate the end of a 27-year relationship over the past five months left me examining my feelings about marriage.

Americans are clearly divided over marriage.  Want to know just how divided?   Look no further than same sex marriage.  The debate runs the gamut:  from religious protection of the “sanctity of marriage” to constitutional protection of civil rights.  Many of us knows someone in a same sex relationship.  They’re our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.  But look, the religious and constitutional arguments of same sex marriage are not my goal here.  A more practical outcome is my focus but I need to say just a little more about this.

Intricately woven into the fabric of all the issues faced by couples in same sex relationships is their inability to actually “be a couple”.  That means everything from hospital visitation during illness to family health coverage, bereavement and inheritance rights, child custody and support and an equitable division of property if the relationship ends.  The inability to be a couple is the same for a man and woman who want to spend their lives together without marriage.  That is my focus.

When a man and woman decide to cohabitate and build a life together without the benefit of marriage, they’re treated quite similar to a couple in a same sex marriage.  There will be a group professing God’s plan for man.  There will be a mandate to protect the sanctity of marriage claiming that its purpose is procreation.  My thoughts gravitate to those who may not want or are ill-equipped to guide and nurture another human.  Then there are those men and women who are incapable of having children.  What is their answer to their need for companionship?    What then?

Let’s go back to the 27-year relationship.  When faced with terminal illness and death we’re simply men or women.  We’re not married or not; heterosexual or not.  The two people are just committed to each other in a relationship.  In the end, you don’t grieve differently.  When the door opens to the next chapter in your life you walk through just as everyone else does.  And everyone around you has an obligation to celebrate your love for the other person . . . and the loss.

As I watched the pain of losing a life partner unfold before my eyes, I also witnessed the reality of how people deal with society’s constraints.  At best I witnessed a family member facing sheer isolation.  On the other end of the spectrum I saw a grief stricken companion trying to hold on to some semblance of control of his relationship . . . and where and how he lived.

From the very beginning, the ability to make any decisions about medical care was stripped away.  Those decisions were left to someone the law considered more appropriate.  But what about more capable?  In essence, the “appropriate” person may not know the wishes of the incapacitated family member.  He or she may operate solely from an emotional place.  It never occurred to me that losing a companion would also mean losing yourself – losing your home.  That, however, is often the case in the scenarios discussed here.

Life’s milestones bring change.  Sometimes the changes are simple.  At other times they’re difficult.  Whether you have a marriage license or not; whether your partner is the same gender or not shouldn’t impact your access to health insurance or end-of-life decisions.  How you embrace life is what defines who you are.  Life shouldn’t be more difficult based on who your companion is.  Losing a lifelong companion is hard enough without the prejudices.