By Evan Wolfson: Earlier this year, when Christopher was gravely ill in the hospital, Patrick was told that he couldnít be at his partnerís bedside.
Christopher and Patrick, an Oregon couple, registered for a domestic partnership so they would be protected in the event of a crisis. But earlier this year, when Christopher was gravely ill in the hospital, Patrick was told that he couldn't be at his partner's bedside. Why? Because they were not married. The hospital staff said Patrick was not considered "family."
One of the reasons partnership laws like Oregon's aren't good enough is that they pointedly — and pointlessly — withhold one of the main protections that comes with marriage: being married.
Marriage matters. When you say those simple words — "We're married" — there's no doubt what it signifies. It says, "We're family" in a way that no other word can. It's a universally understood expression of love, commitment and the heartfelt desire to take responsibility for the ones we love. Marriage is a building block for strong families and strong communities and, for most of us, a personal commitment so important and defining that we wear its symbol on our hand.
This is the common-ground starting point from which Oregonians can begin a meaningful conversation about why marriage matters to all couples in loving long-term relationships — including Oregon's caring, committed gay and lesbian couples.
I have been all around the country and talked to thousands of gay and lesbian Americans and their families. I've seen gay couples raising great kids, struggling to make ends meet, worrying about their aging parents and caring for one another in sickness and in health. They share everyone's hopes and dreams, including the dream of a legal commitment to match the personal commitment they live out day-to-day, doing the work of marriage with the person they love.
Denied the freedom to marry, these families are denied the safety net marriage brings, touching every area of life from birth to death, with taxes in between. Yet legal protection isn't the only concern; there is also the question of fairness. At its heart, the conversation about why marriage matters is as basic as the golden rule: Treat others as we would want to be treated.
Fairness and respect for each other are basic American and Oregon values. We honor these values when we ensure that all our neighbors have the opportunity to create a family with the love, commitment and protection that the freedom to marry offers. In America, we simply don't make one set of rules for some and another set for others.
These values of family, freedom and fairness are why we need to start a conversation in Oregon — now, today — with our families, friends and neighbors about why Oregon's exclusion of committed couples from marriage must end.
This week, I am joining with Basic Rights Oregon to launch a grassroots effort to get Oregonians talking to each other about extending civil marriage to same-sex couples. The more we talk with the people around us — each of us the most effective ambassador to those in our lives — the more we help them think through how they'd feel if they were denied the freedom to marry the one they love, and how unnecessary this harmful exclusion is. Each one of us can, and should, engage people in conversation about why marriage matters. After all, there is no marriage without engagement.
Join the dialogue at www.MarriageMattersOregon.org. Let the conversations begin.
Evan Wolfson is founder and director of Freedom to Marry, the national gay and non-gay partnership working to win marriage equality nationwide, and author of "Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry."