From the Montgomery Advertiser

Montgomery businessman and former Equality Alabama board member Tony Hickman wrote the following letter that was published in the Montgomery Advertiser today.  Thank you Tony for helping spread the word, and pointing out how marriage inequality affects our families.

It takes a strong person to stand for justice and equality, and I applaud President Obama for making a statement in support of equal marriage rights. His “evolution” is shared by many Americans of his generation and those older, yet many are still undecided about marriage equality.

Countless Christian evangelicals and African Americans are strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, but according to many polls, today’s youth have supported same-sex marriage for some time.

As a taxpaying citizen who happens to be gay, I dream of equality and justice for everyone. I have been gainfully employed for more than 35 years, I own my home, and I am active in my community, church and city. It is a blessing to be loved by my family and many friends. And even though I lost my partner, Ken, some time ago, I have a good life.

Ken and I were together in a committed relationship for more than eight years. Our lives were very much like everyone’s, filled with daily mundane household tasks and caring for our aging parents. We were spouses in every meaning of the word except we could not legally marry — a legal disparity that denied us about a thousand rights enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples.

The importance of legal documentation became painfully obvious upon Ken’s sudden and tragic death. A traumatic event was made even more painful as I was made to feel that our relationship was not valid and that I was a second-class citizen.

I was not empowered to make any decisions — decisions like what funeral home would transport his body from the hospital, what casket, burial or cremation. Since I had no legal paperwork, only his sister and mother, who had to arrive from out of town, were allowed to authorize those decisions.

Ken and I were blessed that our families have always supported us, so any decision I made was fine by Ken’s family. The hospital and funeral home staff were all very kind and compassionate and simply doing their jobs, and although they couldn’t accept my decisions, they gladly accepted my check for payment.

I know many other lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender couples have not been so fortunate or loved. The families of one’s spouse could come in and take over everything from their health directive to finances, leaving the surviving spouse with no recourse.

Many in the LGBT community have been barred from hospital rooms and funeral services of their longtime partners — something our opposite-sex married couples never have to worry about. Legal marriage would help ease the stress of already traumatic situations.

Fear is a way of life for many gay people: fear that their relationship with their partner will not be respected, fear that they will be barred from a sick or ailing spouse, that they will lose jointly held properties or financial securities, fear children will be taken away and they will be left to feel like their loving union was nefarious and that they should be ashamed of being gay.

These fears have caused many LGBT people to leave Alabama and move to states that offer equality and respect for all people. I will not let fear or other people’s ignorance force me to leave the state where I grew up, where my family lives, the home of my memories, and a state I love.

I believe in the inherit goodness of the people of this state. So I make an effort to educate and let people get to know me and see that we have more in common than otherwise. We work to keep our children safe from bullying and hope to save their lives by letting them know their lives matter and things do get better. I want our children to be respected for who they are and not feel like they are second-class citizens.

President Obama’s affirmation of the mutual humanity of families with same-sex spouses and respect for our LGBT members of the military and his support of equality and justice for all, gives me hope and great joy that my dream for equality will be real one day.

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