Lance + Jeff + Marriage Equality

marriage equalityWe live in some amazing times.

As a blog that every-once-in-a-while discusses a marriage between two dudes, I suppose it would be slightly irresponsible to our three readers (hi, Mom and Dad! And person from Singapore!) if I didn’t address the Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act cases in front of the Supreme Court this week, and what they mean to me and us.

Regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court affirms, overturns or invalidates California’s Proposition 8, the tide is turning.  Marriage equality has already won.  As the basically infalliable Nate Silver points out, support for marriage equality has increased about 2% every year over the last decade and a half.  Neither DOMA nor Proposition 8 nor many of the state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage which passed over the past ten years would’ve even been seriously considered today.  To paraphrase analyst (and kinda creep-o) Jeffrey Toobin, the war for marriage equality in the United States is basically over, though the battles (and there are many still) remain.

Like I said, though: we living in amazing, remarkable times, especially from the viewpoint of a young gay man who saw my home state deny my right to marry in 2002 2004; ten years less than ten years later, I legally wed my partner in our nation’s capital.

We have a president who fully supports marriage equality, as does nearly half the Senate.  Nine states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages, and just this past election, Maryland and Washington state were the first states to enact same-sex marriages by popular vote.  Though leaving civil rights up to the population goes against the 14th Amendment and all that, I’ll let these two states slide, since it demonstrates that, yep, we’re on the cusp of change.

This may all be a bit naive.  If the Supreme Court tosses the Proposition 8 case as many are suspecting after oral arguments on Tuesday, no massive change will have occurred; things remain with the status quo, still too slow to curb bullying, too slow to convince LGBTQ youth that there’s something better out there than the quick release of suicide.

But to those youth, I say, yeah, it does get better.  Look at the numbers, man–it’s actually getting better before our eyes.  It might be slow, but a 30-plus point reversal in public opinion in the last 15 years is massive.    You see all those red and pink equality signs on Facebook? Those people have your back.  Did I ever think, as I was figuring out who I was in the early 2000s, that I’d be able to be married and generally un-harassed and surrounded by a strong network of people who either fervently support my rights or at least say, “eh, who cares?”

Marriage equality is coming at the federal and state level.  Non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation will become more prevalent.  State bans will be overturn.  Eventually, the Supreme Court will consider same-sex marriage protected by the Equal Rights Amendment–they’ll have to from a practical perspective, since how long can the country go with half of its states recognizing some marriages but not others?

I will be able to actually check off “married” on my tax returns, and I’ll be able to do it soon.

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Book Review: Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office

The cover to “Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office”

I was asked to review a copy of Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office awhile back.  At first, I didn’t understand why I was being contacted–was it because I run a blog that every so often touches upon LGBT issues? I certainly don’t spend a lot of time soapboxing on this blog; while I wholeheartedly believe in employer/government protections from sexual orientation discrimination, the fight for equal rights, etc., that’s not what this blog is about.  It’s about trying to find the funny and stupid in an marriage.

As I was reading through the first couple of testimonials in the book (the book is loaded with 5-10 page chapters, each from a different member of the LGBTQ and A community), it dawned on me why “Lance + Jeff” as a site would be a place somebody would bring this book.

Out & Equal at Work, the effort of the impressively large international organization Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, is essentially a collection of “It Gets Better” messages aimed not at teenagers struggling through the hells of emerging identities, but at professionals at all levels struggling with how to incorporate their personal identity in the business world.  For heterosexual people, the personal and professional often intersect unnoticed: watercooler discussions about what you did over the weekend, or your Valentine’s Day plans, or who to bring to the company picnic.  These seemingly innocuous, everyday conversations wreak havoc on somebody who does not fall into a normative identity: LGBT, religious and racial minorities, etc. (Though, for the purpose of this review and since I am a white boy who was raised Christian in America, I can’t much speak to the other identities with much authority).

I struggled with this issue myself at one time after getting my first real, full-time job.  I did that delicate disassociation between my personal and professional lives for several months.  Hiding this part of my life was not only a drain on my energy, constantly steering conversation away from personal matters and creating a separate and false narrative of my life to present at work, but lessened my ability to develop honest relationships my co-workers.

I stayed in the closet because I didn’t know how my co-workers would react, and only came out when I was forced to by a rather insistent and obnoxious co-worker who loved to pry.  Still, though I didn’t much care for her (we no longer work together), I do owe her for pulling me out of the closet at work.  It has made my life incredibly easier: my co-workers are very supportive, and I can be myself without trying to maintain some sort of ridiculous dual-identity.

So, to say that Out & Equal at Work is a bunch of “It Gets Better” testimonials is not to diminish its impact in any way.  If anything, the contributions from executives at Dell, Clorox, Wells Fargo, Disney Parks, Campbell’s and Accenture are more lengthy and in-depth than most of the Youtube videos of the same vein provide.  I saw this book as a useful resource for young professionals who may have already come out to family and friends, but struggle with how to incorporate their true identities into their workplace.  We often worry about threats to job security (many states, including Pennsylvania, do not consider “sexual orientation” a protected identity in job discrimination), job advancement, harassment at work, not to mention issues of benefits for partners.

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates works with employees and employers to create “safe and equitable workplaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”   This collection of testimonials is not only meant to provide hope to closeted professionals about the potential success they can achieve while still being honest about their identity, but it’s also an effort in normalizing equality in the workplace.  As a young gay man living in the most exciting, rapidly-changing period of the LGBTQ rights movement, it is very encouraging to read about companies who provide legal services to same-sex couples, or creating pride groups within their organizations, efforts they aren’t required to provide but go out of their way to anyway.  By showcasing examples of LGBT-friendly employers and featuring pieces by executives who are strong advocates for LGBTQ rights, Out & Equal at Work, broadens its scope beyond just being about LGBTQ leaders in business: the book’s purpose is to demonstrate the growing network of LGBTQA support in the business world.  By showcasing positive examples, Out & Equal at Work encourages current and potential allies and LGBTQ professionals to take a stand and push for inclusive policies in their workplace.

So, I don’t think I’ve quite answered why I responded so strongly to this anthology, and why I relate Lance + Jeff with it so well.  This blog, on the surface level, is not a rah-rah! gay rights blog.  It’s a humor blog that usually features two gay guys who happen to be married.  I don’t focus a lot on the “gay” aspect of it very often because that’s not how I, at least, identify myself most often.  I’m a shy, introverted geek first, second, and third most days of the week, and gay somewhere down in the list.  I hope that’s what this blog can provide to the much larger narrative of LGBTQ rights and inclusion: my marriage is just as loving and stupid and challenging and fun as anybody else’s; we laugh at the same stuff and cry when things are difficult and eat lots of ice cream and watch too much bad TV.

In a roundabout way, I hope Lance+Jeff helps, in its own (very) small way, to normalize the perception of gay marriage.  It’s really just a marriage.

The Second Lance+Jeff Wedding, Brought To You By All Of My Money

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Yup, this is the one where we paid for a real photographer.

As I mentioned in my last post, we split our actual legal marriage from the ceremony and reception. We had to cross several state lines in order to get our certificate and D.C. isn’t enough of a “destination” to ask our friends and family to make the trek down there.

Instead, our pals Christie and Rich offered up their beautiful abode to host our reception, which was great, especially since we were paying for everything ourselves (with some help from my parents) and we didn’t have a ton of money to spend on a venue and hors d’oeuvres and stuff.

Pretty much everything about our reception was casual, handmade, and pieced together by yours truly (Lance did undergo an exhaustive search for the perfect wedding scents [Bath & Body Work’s Coconut Leaves and Seaside Escape], though. So there’s that…) (more…)

The First Lance+Jeff Wedding, Brought To You By The Cheesecake Factory

Man, getting gay married is a pain in the ass.

Sure, we could’ve just done a commitment ceremony and signed some domestic partner documents in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, but we really wanted to stick it to the Straight Man, y’know?  As Lance’s spiritual advisor, Dolly Parton, says, “Why can’t they get married? They should suffer like the rest of us do.”

In order to do a real honest-to-goodness marriage in the spring of 2011, our options were limited: most of New England (too far), Iowa (super too far), and the District of Columbia.  California, like a bunch of buttheads, let us down with that stupid Proposition 8; we totally would’ve done a combo marriage/honeymoon in your beautiful state if it wasn’t 52.24% full of intolerant jags.

So, that left us with Washington, D.C., a pleasant two-and-a-half hour car ride from Philadelphia.

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Proof we were in D.C. at all: the wonderful honeycomb of the D.C. Metro. Riding this was way more exciting than the “getting married” part of the trip!

This doesn’t matter as much now that both Maryland and New York allow same-sex marriages, but if you’re keen on getting married in our nation’s capital, you should check out this website on how to do it, especially if you’re from another state.  It’s what I used to try and figure out all we needed to do in order to get legally wed.  This meant driving down to apply for a marriage license in person, and then there’s a waiting period of three-plus days before they will actually issue you the official paperwork.  The wonderful people who work in the marriage bureau also won’t confirm a specific day and time to your ceremony when you submit your application; you have to call back at a later time to do that, since red tape is great.

Anyway, we decided to get officially, legally married on March 14, since Lance has some sort of cosmic relationship with the number “314” (there is no actual explanation for this; just know that it has nothing to do with pi).  We’d save the ceremony and reception (and gift acceptance period) for the summer.

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Look at these gorgeous, romantic decorations! BEAUTIFUL.

My parents drove down from Michigan, and Lance’s family came down from Pennsylvania that morning.  This was big for us, particularly Lance, since it was just a few months before that the ice began to melt and his family started acknowledging Lance as the person he really is rather than a person not living up to the standards their church deems worthy (whatever, I could go off on a big ol’ tangent about this, but it’s not funny and not my story to tell, so moving along…) Regardless of all that, it was incredibly significant that our families were there, and it meant a great deal.

I sometimes get righteous and indignant about how that’s just the way it should’ve been and we shouldn’t have wondered if anybody was going to show up because this is LOVE, gosh darnit, regardless of if it’s two dudes, two chicks, or some combination in-between…but I had the luxury of incredibly supportive parents from Day One, and that’s not the world we live in (yet), so I should just shut up.

Anyway…

We had an awesomely jovial justice of the peace presiding over the ceremony; he reminded me a little of the goofy Hank Hooper from 30 Rock, mustache and all.  He read off some spiel about a non-denominational God and the Huey Lewis and the News’s Power of Love, we signed some paperwork and then we were officially, legally hitched.

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Gay marriage is difficult enough. I can’t imagine the headache and paperwork of a gay divorce. You’re stuck with me, Boo!

After the rather quick ceremony, we headed into Alexandria for a celebratory lunch at the Cheesecake Factory.

…Waitaminute.  I’m noticing a trend here…

Aloha Aku No, Aloha Mai No

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“I will never propose to you,” Lance said to me, repeatedly.

In most cases, we naturally disregard gender norms in our relationship since, you know, we’re both dudes.  However, there are some instances where Lance wants to be “the girl,” and this was one of them.  I wasn’t going to get out of buying the ring and getting down on one knee and all that.

And I thought Hawaii, if anyplace, would be the place to propose.  Though of course, in stereotypical “thoughtless guy” fashion, I didn’t formulate a complete plan before we left on our trip.  There are a pair of reasons for this:

  1. Lance is particular, so I didn’t buy a ring, knowing that it would either be the wrong size or he wouldn’t like the design I picked out (yes, this is your typical “man making excuses” thing here)
  2. To be honest, I panicked.  Though we’d been living together for almost three years at that point, a part of me wondered if Lance’d really say yes.

Remember, folks, this was also waaaay back in the intolerant Stone Age (to borrow a phrase from Jodie Foster) of 2010, when the number of states you could get gay married in could be counted on one hand, so marriage wasn’t something we’d seriously talked about since our sinful union wouldn’t even be legally recognized in our home state of Pennsyltucky.

Still, I knew the time was quickly approaching when I’d either have to lock down Lance in the chains of matrimony, or he’d jump back into the meat market that is gay dating.  Lance is not a terribly patient person!

So, I had a mess of a plan: propose somehow, somewhere in Hawaii.  It was the perfect place–beautiful, tropical, full of mai tais and kalua pork.  What could go wrong?

Well, he could say no and then we’d be stuck together on a tiny island halfway around the world from home…

It was a chance I had to take.

Since it was our first (and presumably only, at that time) trip to Hawaii, I wanted to do as much as possible, which included hiking up Diamond Head crater.  For those of you that don’t know, Diamond Head is a dormant volcano that overlooks Waikiki on the island of O’ahu.  It was used as a fort by American military forces in the first half of the 20th century.  The paths used for these installations have since been adopted as a tourist hiking trail to the summit, from which you can get a wonderful view of the southeastern portion of the island.

The hike isn’t difficult (not like the Grouse Grind in Vancouver), but on a hot day, you still end up sweating quite a bit.  Which we did.

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All the while, as we made the hour-trek up to the top, weaving in and out of tunnels and old military observation posts, I was fretting big time.  I knew, in all of Hawaii, that this was the place I had to propose.  I wasn’t going to get another chance at a setting this majestic.  But remember, I had no ring.  And I wasn’t 100% positive Lance was going to say yes.

Of course, when we finally arrived at the top, we weren’t alone, enough though admission to the crater had already closed for the day.  We were surrounded by Japanese tourists, the clickclick of their cameras and their quick, indecipherable native language totally distracting me from my task at hand.  We were both drenched in sweat. This is not quite what I had imagined.

Lance leaned over to me.  “You’re awfully quiet.”

I nodded.  “Err. Yup.”

There were so many people around us, a few dozen at least.  And unlike you straights out there, who’d fawn over a cute proposal on the top of a volcano, I had no idea what to expect if the people around us saw one dude get down on one knee in front of another dude.  We were on top of a mountain–would they through us off the edge of a cliff?

I know this shouldn’t have crossed my mind because love overcomes everything and all that nonsense, but I also didn’t want to ruin the moment with a bunch of rude homophobia.

“Are you ready to go back down?” Lance asked, after a few minutes of taking in the view. (See what I mean about that impatient thing?)

“No, wait…” I said, reaching for him.

I leaned into him, and whispered, “Err…will you marry me?”

This is Lance’s favorite part of the story, because it’s so terribly unromantic.  But, as he says, completely like me. (I’m not sure how to feel about that comment :-/)

Lance, probably not quite sure what was going on, didn’t say anything for a split-second, which obviously felt like an eternity for me.

“Yes,” he whispered back.

And that was that.  Though I didn’t have a ring (that would come later–and then get lost, but that’s another story), we did get engaged on the circular rim of an enormous crater named after a diamond, so…that’s about as close to an engagement ring as I got that day.

Aloha aku no, aloha mai no: “I give my love to you, you give your love to me.”

…Then we went to the Cheesecake Factory Waikiki to celebrate :-/

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The Trouble With “Normal”

Image[leans into the mic, clears throat, proceeds in Suze Orman-like voice]: Jeff here, and the subject I want to cover today: taxes.

Taxes, taxes are no fun. Not to get too political (since it’s not really the purpose of this blog), but I am fairly liberal; I believe in programs to assist the poor, environmental protection, and NPR. Therefore, I begrudgingly (I mean, who loves paying taxes?) accept that in order for our country to progress towards Obama’s great socialist nightmare, I need to pay my taxes.

But here’s the rub: I don’t like paying taxes on stuff when other people don’t, particularly health insurance.  Now, if you’re one of the lucky ducks who actually has access to affordable health insurance, you know that you and your (biological sex-opposite) spouse don’t pay taxes on those benefits–they’re taken out of your paycheck pre-taxed.  Great, right? Stickin’ it to the man!

And you probably know this already, too, but the man is gonna be stickin’ it to you, son, if you are in any sort of domestic partner relationship and have that partner on your health insurance.

I want to quantify this inequity for y’all: Lance and I learned this the hard way when when Lance lost insurance coverage for three months while transitioning to a new job. I was terrified that something awful (motorcycle stunt gone horribly wrong, escaped tiger, etc.) was going to happen in those 90 days (Murphy’s Law, amirite???), and I’m lucky enough to work for an employer that will offer domestic partner health insurance, so we decided to put Lance under my coverage.

We had a sort of vague notion of how that all worked–I mean, we knew the Employee+DOM contribution costs, and that I would be taxed on the the employer contribution to Lance’s coverage (it’s considered part of the employee’s taxable income).  However, we weren’t really ready for this:

Before Lance was added to my insurance plan, my federal taxes (withholding, Social Security/Medicare) were $813 per month (I get the max taken out because, apparently, I’m a dummy).

After Lance was added onto my insurance plan, my federal taxes were $933 per month, or a $120 difference.

That’s $120/month just in taxes that I’ll never see again, beyond just the cost of adding on another person to my insurance (which more than triples the cost of my insurance alone).  That’s $120/month that, just because Lance is a dude an therefore is not recognized by the federal government as my spouse, I have to pay and Bob and Margaret with their 2.5 children don’t.  And obviously, that’s $120 that I could be saving for, say, a house or really nice bottle of wine.

This has been hitting the fan lately since, even after Lance was taken back off of my insurance, my pay has been very inconsistent due to corrections, errors, etc. I just want my kids…erm, money back!

Now, there’s a whole argument inside the LGBTQWERTY community about whether or not marriage equality should be a goal worth pursuing. Michael Warner’s The Trouble With Normal does a good job at articulating why, by pursuing marriage, the LGBTQ community is essentially validating pre-existing norms about families, what constitutes a relationship, etc. If we all live under the queer umbrella, shouldn’t we be a little more progressive and actually fight against the institution of marriage as it’s commonly understood and seek a radical re-definition of commitment?

Well, my thought on that whole thing boils down to: do what you want. I wanted to demonstrate my commitment to your favorite mixologist (and mine!), Lance, by getting hitched in D.C. The trouble with fitting in with what is considered a “normal” committed relationship is that we’re getting screwed. And this is where I agree with the above position regarding legal equality: domestic partners of all types (man/woman, woman/woman, Cylon/Andalite) should not be considered “less than” by the government. Why is my commitment to my partner any less valid than, *ahem*, Newt Gingrich’s?

Anyway, this is all stuff you probably know, but maybe didn’t know the exact cost of. It gets me down some times, but then Lance tries his hand at drawing Scrooge McDuck and suddenly I feel better…

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I'm not sure which is more confounding: the dollar bill hovering over his back, the 'fro, or the inexplicable mole.