Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
   Comment
   Looking Up
   Reckonings
   Opinion
   Myth America
   Letters
 News & Features
   Newsfront
   F.Y.I.
   Features
 Dining
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
   Leftovers
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
 Music
   Listen Here
   Live
   Recordings
   Noteworthy
 Arts
   Theater
   Dance
   Art
   Classical
   Books
   Art Murmur
 Calendar
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
 Classifieds
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
 Personals
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 AccuWeather
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad
I Do, I Don’t, I Might
As the battle over same-sex marriage rages on, advocates for the unwed call for an even more inclusive notion of family

By John Rodat

Keith Dix wants to be clear that—sincerely—he has no regrets about getting married. The fact that his wife, Kathleen, is sitting in the room as he says this may or may not be a factor; but it’s easy to take him at his word. The couple’s breezy, teasing manner with one another conjures an enviable sense of real comfort and stable intimacy. During the pauses in conversation, when Keith passes the phone from one ear to the other in an attempt to mollify one of two Rhodesian ridgebacks nuzzling for attention, the vision of the couple that crops up is one of almost stereotypical marital contentment.

And, no surprise. The path leading up to their wedding in April 2001 took a course many young newlyweds would recognize: on-again-off-again college sweethearts—a semester abroad here, a reassessing of the relationship there—an eventual cohabitation, a test of that cohabitation in the form of a shared relocation, and then the big question.

From the living room of their recently purchased home, this retro-perspective has the sense of inevitability; and again, Keith says, he couldn’t be happier with the results of the decisions made along the way. But . . .

“I honestly wish I could remember what it was that prompted me to ask Kathleen to marry me,” he says, sounding bemused. “It’s something we just kind of did. It’s actually kind of hard to figure out why.”

In the background, Kathleen can be heard offering an opinion: “I am hot.”

“Well, yeah, there’s that,” Keith allows.

Marriage is for many couples just “what you do.” It’s the natural outcome of an orderly romantic progression. Barring soap-opera-style upset, attraction leads to pair partnering, with at least an assumption of romantic exclusivity, and ultimately to the solemnization of that partnership in the eyes of the community and the law with a binding contractual link, the ceremonial extension of which is usually a wedding. The appropriateness of that traditional arrangement is culturally reiterated in a thousand different ways, giving it an obligatory—if not compulsory—feel. But there are those who for one reason or another have chosen not to participate.

Strange as it may seem to say at this time—when equal access to the institution for same-sex couples is being so hotly debated—there are couples with no strict legal prohibitions standing between them and the Big Day who feel that they, too, are being discriminated against. And according to Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller, authors of Unmarried to Each Other and founders of the advocacy group the Alternatives to Marriage Project, there are more than you think.

Solot and Miller, an unmarried couple themselves, began the Alternatives to Marriage Project in 1998, after a series of events called their attention to the prejudicial treatment unmarried couples sometimes receive.

“We were in the process of renting an apartment,” Marshall recalls, “and all the landlord wanted to do was quiz us about our marital status: ‘Are you married? When are you going to get married?’ We ended up not renting from that landlord, of course, but we did rent an apartment, and then the tenants’ insurance company wanted to charge us twice as much—basically, for two separate policies—even though this same company had at our previous apartment insured us jointly. It was completely arbitrary.”

Expounding on this personal example, Solot points out that the prejudice against unwed couples comes in multifarious forms—anything from active discrimination to frustrating failures of imagination: “The landlord had a clear moral-religious agenda: ‘I’m not going to rent to a couple who are living in sin.’ He was pretty overt.” In such a case, the response is clear, as Solot jokingly observed: “This is not the man we want to be relying on to fix our toilet.” But, as in the case of the fickle insurer, the absence of an articulated ideology of exclusion isn’t necessarily indicative of open-mindedness: “The insurance company . . . I don’t even know what their reasoning or attitude was. I think it was probably just ‘you don’t fit in our box.’ ”

Across the country—and in New York particularly, which according to Census information has the highest percentage of unwed folks in the states—there are a growing number of people forced to deal with the repercussions of living outside that box, repercussions that easily silence any late-night-comedian’s quip about marriage being the real punishment. In addition to suffering housing discrimination, which is illegal in many states, unmarried couples can have significant difficulties finding joint health care or securing mortgages, among other legal headaches or heartaches.

Miller provides dramatic illustration by citing the news story that convinced him and Solot that they should take a proactive role in addressing the barriers to equity for the unwed. “The thing that tipped us over the edge was this court case in Rhode Island,” he says. “A man and woman living together unwed, and their son—the biological father was out of the picture. So, basically, you have a nuclear family: man, woman, child. This man was the only father the kid had ever known, so what he wanted to do was very simple: basically, a step-parent adoption to create a legal tie between the child and him, so that if the kid broke his nose in a Little League game or if something ever happened to the mother, he would be the parent. So, they went to the judge and said, ‘Hey, can we do this?’—something granted all the time by judges—and the judge said, ‘No, come back when you’re married.’ ”

Years after the case, Miller’s and Solot’s indignation is still apparent. “It was amazing,” Solot says. “It felt like if the case had been about anything else, if it had been about interracial adoption or gay adoption or whatever, the groups that support those issues would have been there saying, ‘What about the best interest of the child?’ and there would have been advocates. There were clearly no advocates.”

The couple began the ATMP as an evening and weekend endeavor but, given that lack of representation, it was no time before the level of interest killed the idea of keeping hobbyist’s hours. (Solot has since quit her job to attend to ATMP full time.) It’s truly a Herculean task. The organization’s Web site (www.unmarried.org), newsletter and Unmarried to Each Other address many of the basic questions, but new cases spring up all the time. As heartened as Solot and Miller are by the conversations—and actions—undertaken in service of extending legal benefits to same-sex couples, they point out that this is only one aspect of a much larger, more complicated, issue.

“Even after same-sex marriage is legalized, and I believe it will be eventually, there will be gay couples who don’t want to get married,” Solot observes. “There will be all kinds of other people whose lives and families somehow don’t fit in this box, and there will be people who still can’t get married for some reason: There are situations with prisoners, and situations with people who are mentally disabled but in relationships and whose parents aren’t consenting, or senior citizens who are receiving pensions or social security benefits from a deceased spouse that they will lose if they remarry. . . . Even aside from the same-sex issues, there are all kinds of inequities that exist and will continue to exist.

“Clearly, in this country our legal system is still based on this very narrow definition that family is blood, marriage or adoption. Even while the Census numbers come out month after month and show that family has less and less to do with, or is less and less limited to, blood, marriage and adoption. So, there is a big disconnect and a lot of catching up to do with reality.”

Robin Adams and Julie Gedalecia have been together romantically for five and a half years, and they’ve recently solemized their dedication to one another in a manner both deeply symbolic and legally binding. Their respective parents, Adams says, were very excited for them.

“It was our way of showing our commitment to one another: 30-year fixed love.”

After years of renting together, the unmarried Adams and Gedalecia bought a house.

To the best of Adams’ recollection, the decision—such as it was—not to get married was based on his partner’s discomfort with the notion of the state’s involvement in an essentially private matter. That being said, Adams reports that it’s not an issue of particular passion for the young couple. There are some aggravations, he confesses, attendant to their unwed status. For example, Adams’ employer, Borders Books & Music, which does provide health coverage for same-sex partners, does not provide similar benefits for its straight employees; and he admits feeling a moderate disappointment upon his discovery that New York state does not recognize common-law marriages. “We were going to shoot for seven years, and see what we could get,” he laughs. “I like that idea: We’ve done all the work and then the state says, ‘Good job.’ ”

But, to hear Adams talk about it, these are all academic concerns. Marriage or no, state-sanction or no, he knows where he and his partner stand.

“We consider ourselves a family,” he says. “Two cars, a house, a dog, both functioning members of society. That’s a family to me.”


Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
   
 
PETsMART.com Dogs
promo 120x60
120x60 Up to 25% off
 
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 4 Central Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.