Jacqueline Taylor and Carol Sadtler at their wedding in Vancouver in 2003.
Updated: July 7, 2011 3:51PM
‘Are you married?” the woman on the other end of the line asks. It shouldn’t be a difficult question. Either you are or you aren’t, right? Wrong. I’m somewhere in between.
I clear my throat. “Well, actually, yes, I am married. I got married in 2003, in Canada.”
The office worker filling out the form just wants to take down my health insurance provider, my address and phone number. “But on your form, maybe not. My spouse is another woman. The marriage is not recognized in Illinois.
“Oh, OK. I’ll put no,” she says.
As of today, June 1, 2011, Illinois, through its new civil unions law, finally recognizes my marriage. I’m glad and grateful for this milestone. More than 600 laws that apply to married couples will now apply to me and my spouse. These include inheritance rights, the right to make care decisions as next of kin in the case of hospitalization, the right to include one another for spousal health-care benefits through our employer and even the right to room together in the assisted living facility we fervently hope neither one of us will ever need.
I’m also mightily aggravated. I don’t want to feel grateful for partial rights. Same-sex couples still can’t get married in Illinois. And because there is no comparable federal legislation, we still cannot file our federal income taxes jointly or take a spousal Social Security benefit if one of us predeceases the other. Our marriage still legally evaporates when we drive outside our state in any direction except into Iowa. The progress is real, but it’s incomplete.
We’re 27 years together, eight years married, Carol and I. We crossed the border to Canada, weeks after gay marriage became legal there, and my partner of 19 years became my spouse.
She dislikes the word wife. To her, that word evokes a second-class status, something she wants no part of.
“You’re thinking of a bygone era,” I tell her. “Wife doesn’t mean that anymore. And even if it does, a little, when we use it, the word gets bigger, takes on new meanings. Language lives. Occupy wife, and it can come to mean what we are to one another.” But she’s adamant. If I didn’t like tough-minded women, we never would have made it this far.
What I really want to say to my fellow Americans on the subject of marriage rights is this: Catch up!
What you think of, when you think of marriage, we’re living a version of it. We have two just-now-grown daughters, a mortgage, silly little fights over nothing, anniversaries that we remember and now and then ones we forget, long walks in the park, in-laws, the quiet of an empty nest after the hubbub of homework and music lessons, and the pleasures of a life built together over decades.
Give us marriage laws that make sense in the 21st century. Make an honest woman of me. When someone asks if I’m married, I don’t want to give them my whole life story, with a disquisition on marriage law thrown in for good measure. I just want to say yes.
Chicagoan Jacqueline Taylor is the author of the memoir Waiting for the Call: From Preacher’s Daughter to Lesbian Mom.