Marriage equality, it’s personal

I usually stay away from politics here, but last Friday was just too monumental.  On June 26th, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled definitively in favor of marriage equality. It’s now the law of the land, and for me, it’s personal.

Many families have secrets. Something everyone knows but nobody talks about. But that sounds so yesterday. And yes, for many it is. Yet many families still struggle with acknowledging that a loved one is gay or lesbian. Yes, family secrets – we all have them.

My family is no different. My Aunt Dorothy was born in 1914 and died in 1997 at the age of 83. She lived her entire adult life with her partner, Teal. There was never an open discussion in our family; to us, they were just “life-long friends”. Dorothy and Teal met while serving in the Women’s Army Core (WAC) during WWII, and lived together until Teal died in 1990.

Dorothy, a life-long Roman Catholic never heard a Pope say, as Pope Francis has, “who am I to judge?”

The pain of same sex couples to be accepted and respected in our society was never more evident for me than when Teal was in her final days. Dorothy had cared for her at home as long as she could, but once Teal was hospitalized, the hospital staff ignored Dorothy.

Dorothy was there all day every day and managed all of Teal’s care, but when Teal died the hospital didn’t call her. They called Teal’s nephew instead who had visited her only once or twice while there.

Dorothy walked into Teal’s room to find an empty bed.  She was not acknowledged as a partner by any of the hospital staff.  How painful for my aunt. They had been partners for over 40 years.

Teal was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  But Dorothy could not visit her grave unless she found someone who would lend her a pass; she was not recognized as a family member.

It is thinking about couples like Dorothy and Teal that made me tear up Friday night.

I was living in Massachusetts in 2004 when it became the first state to legalize same sex marriage. I’ve lived in Michigan for the past few years. On March 21, 2014, a U.S. District Court ruled the state’s denial of marriage rights to same sex couples was unconstitutional. The next day, more than 300 same sex couples married in Michigan before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed enforcement of the district court decision. I was at wedding ceremonies in Ann Arbor that day when the court’s ruling dashed the hopes of so many couples still in line to get their marriage license. My husband, a Unitarian Universalist minister, assisted other ministers officiating at the weddings. On November 6th of last year, the Sixth Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling and upheld Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. So those 300 Michigan couples married on March 22nd, 2014 were put into a marital limbo until last Friday.

My faith tradition is now Unitarian Universalist. I’m proud to say that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has been a leader in the fight for marriage equality, passing the Gay and Lesbian Services of Union Resolution thirty one years ago in 1984 at its General Assembly. That resolution affirmed that UU ministers could conduct services of union for gay and lesbian couples, and asked UUA faith communities to support these unions.

I have worked in health care for most of my career. We are committed to serving everyone with compassion and sensitivity. I’m happy to say that at UMHS, the definition of family in our “family presence and visitation” policy is very clear and inclusive:

“Family” explicitly includes, but is not limited to, a spouse, a family member, a friend, a domestic partner/civil union partner/significant other, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and a pediatric patient’s parents, regardless of the gender of either parent. 

That is what Dorothy and Teal needed back in 1990.

In October 2014, UMHS was recognized as a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization. The findings were part of HRC Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index 2014, a unique annual survey that encourages equal care for LGBT people and recognizes healthcare institutions doing the best work.

UMHS earned top marks in meeting non-discrimination and training criteria that demonstrate its commitment to equitable, inclusive care for LGBT patients and their families, who may face significant challenges in securing the quality health care and respect they deserve. We were one of a select group of 426 healthcare facilities nationwide to be named Leaders in LGBT Healthcare Equality.

Let’s hope that thousands more healthcare facilities will receive this same designation in the coming years. It’s about time!

Friday’s Supreme Court ruling was truly historic and long overdue – love does indeed win!


UMHS family presence and visitation policy

10 thoughts on “Marriage equality, it’s personal

  1. Chris Greene on said:

    Wow, we had a very similar “family secret.” So similar that I would only need to change the names and one or two details. Marriage equality does not only affect the two people in a committed relationship, it impacts many other people who care deeply about those individuals.

    I’m proud to work for an organization that strives to honor and respect all people.

  2. Kate Gamble on said:

    Beautiful piece, Sue. My heart breaks that your aunt was forced to hide such a significant part of herself. But I’m sure both Dorothy and Teal are smiling to see your organization named as a leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality.

  3. Lisa Presley on said:

    As the same gender partner of a patient at UMHS in 2013, it doesn’t surprise me they got that award from HRC last year. Nothing but respect, honor, support and caring from all the staff. Great work! And thanks Sue, for this blog. Dorothy and Teal would approve, I’m sure.

  4. Howard Williams on said:

    Sue, this was a very, very beautiful and moving posting.
    I usually try and read all of your posting, but this one kind of touched me, so I had to say thank you for sharing a little bit of your family history.

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Howard, thanks for the feedback. This one seemed to touch a lot of people given the comments and emails I’m receiving. We all have stories.

  5. Ann Steiner on said:

    Thanks so much for sharing your family story. I feel so deeply for your Aunt and her beloved. So much pain and judging in this world, when there should be more loving and acceptance.

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