“We were sure that they would understand, but I guess all those words about marriage rights didn’t mean much after all.” So said Jan Newman as I sat in her living room last year, on one sunny September day. We were sipping iced tea and discussing the recent experience she’d had with her life partner when they applied for a marriage license in California.
“After Proposition 8 was struck down, it seemed that California would finally be ready to accept us for who we are. Certainly our love for each other is genuine. But marriage discrimination really hurts.” Clearly, the memory was fresh in Miss Newman’s mind, and the pain was real.
Jan Newman and her partner John have been committed to their life together for five years. In a world where about half of marriages end in divorce, and where many state governments are now allowing homosexual marriages, they are frustrated by the hypocrisy they have encountered. To avoid discrimination, they have had to relocate twice to larger, more progressive-minded cities. Yet each time, it has continued to affect them.
The most recent example began when they were at the office of their local county clerk. Since they now live near San Francisco, known for its acceptance of nontraditional couples, Jan and John were not expecting the discriminatory bombshell they received.
John recalls how the attendant noticed with interest that they shared the same last name. “Have you already been married?” he asked.
“No, we haven’t.” John replied. “But we’re glad that neither of us will have to change our name.”
“You still could, if you like,” quipped the attendant. “We have a brochure here about The Name Equality Act of 2007. It allows both of you to change middle or last names in the marriage process.”
But his friendly, accepting attitude fell apart when they answered one fateful question. “Are you related to each other? Cousins, or closer?”
John suspected that the old discrimination would arise again, and was hesitant to answer the question. But Jan felt comfortable, perhaps because of the rainbow-colored LGBT pin on the attendant’s lapel. “Yes, we’re actually twins. Fraternal, of course.” That’s when John’s fears were realized. The attendant refused to proceed, and they were unable to obtain a wedding license. But worse still, they heard the “I-word” that John and Jan regard as a personal attack: incest.
Apparently, it’s still a felony crime in California for consanguine couples to marry. The county clerk was happy to explain the law to John and Jan, and the reason why they were being denied the right to marry.
In our meeting, Jan explained her frustration. “Why should the state care about children born from a consenting, consanguine relationship? The science shows a high probability that they will be perfectly normal! But the central issue, I think, is that the government has no place in the bedroom. These are our decisions to make, and we know that our love is completely natural.”
John added, “True marriage equality should allow anyone to marry anyone else. We’re not asking for anything ridiculous, like marriage to pets or livestock. But I think we should have the same rights as any heterosexual or homosexual couple out there. It’s simply unjust. We can’t stop being who we are any more than a hispanic or a homosexual.” Later, he wryly suggested that perhaps the LGBT movement should remove one of the colors from its rainbow pins, if it is not willing to accept and promote consanguine relationships together with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gendered.
Clearly these two people share a deep love for each other, made only deeper by the fact that they grew up in the same household. Their plight raises some important questions about the continued intrusion of society into the personal lives and choices of individuals. If California’s laws can embrace and recognize committed LGBT relationships, then should they not also embrace consanguine relationships in exactly the same way? After all, it is not unusual for LGBT marriages to produce children, and we no longer question that such children can be just as healthy as those raised in heterosexual marriages.
Should age-old concerns about “the I-word” be allowed to hinder loving couples like John and Jan from enjoying the full rights and privileges of marriage? Even as LGBT freedom-fighters rejoice in their recent victories, the example of Jan and John Newman shows that our society’s progress toward a brave, new world has only begun.
(The Newmans’ names have been changed to protect them from further harassment and discrimination.)