|Photo description: Brooklyn Surrogate Court Judge Lopez Torres
The fight for people within the LGBTQ community to have the right to marry, is also, arguably about the desire for the recognition of the existence and possibility of love existing in unexpected places. The idea that two men might have sex might be disgusting to some, but the idea that two men might love each other is terrifying. Love changes everything. It changes the debate and it forces people to see people differently. I was always impressed, and moved, when I saw protesters, carrying placards about the right and freedom to love, the right and freedom to be loved, and the right and freedom to express that love through marriage. Not only was that argument accurate, it was also politically astute. While it's one thing to fight against 'marriage' it's another to fight against 'love'.
I had a discussion once, with a woman from the United States, who said that she couldn't support 'gay marriage' when she worked with people with disabilities who were also often disallowed relationships and who faced incredible obstacles on their way to the altar. I suggested that she might be hiding homophobia under an argument that didn't make sense. She, almost violently, disagreed and suggested I had 'tainted loyalties' to people with disabilities because I was a gay man. Well, she's right, being a gay man has made a difference in how I see things.
It's because I am a gay man that I began to write and speak about the issues of sexuality and people with disabilities. It didn't take much intellectual work to see that the oppression of the sexuality of a whole people was very similar to the oppression of the sexuality of a whole people. I found, similarly, that the discussion of love and relationships was much more politically charged than the discussion of sex. People could grant that people with disabilities could be sexual and they could grant that masturbation was an appropriate outlet under certain conditions and restrictions and with various approvals. But when I, along with many others, raised the issue of love and the right to love, THAT made people uncomfortable. Suggesting that love could be found in the unexpected space between a couple with an intellectual disability changed the dynamic. Now, breaking them up wasn't 'dealing with behaviour' it was 'engaging in emotional abuse.'
Yesterday, I read a news report that made me ridiculously happy for several reasons. It's the story of a 29 year old man with Down Syndrome, who, because he was in love with a woman and wanted to get married to her, his mother and brother fought for guardianship so that they could deny him the right to the relationship he had with his girlfriend and ensure that he not ever marry. It seemed, and this is my reading of the story, as if they thought that the fact of his disability was enough and that they expected this 'fact' to trump all other facts and that the guardianship would be granted.
The judge in this case, Brooklyn Surrogate Court Judge Lopez Torrez, said two things I'd like to highlight. First she said something that should rock the world in its perception of people with disabilities: "The right to have a family of one's own is not reserved only for persons with no disabilities ... and the yearning for companionship, love, and intimacy is no less compelling for persons living with disabilities."
I've always believed that, always. Always. I have presented on that fact at conferences. I have commented on this on radio programs. I have written about that in books and in articles and in columns for newspapers. But to hear it said so clearly and plainly in a courtroom, to hear it said in a judgement, in a ruling, was incredibly powerful.
Then, and this is the part that took my happiness to such a ridiculous level. She quoted from the Supreme Court Ruling on 'Gay Marriage' saying marriage: "rises from the most basic human needs; marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations."
Those thousands of protesters on the street, demanding the right to love, probably didn't think of the implications of what they were fighting for. They probably didn't think that the judgement made would effect the life of one man with Down Syndrome and one woman - the one that he loved, but it did. It really did.
But then civil liberties work that way, don't they. They don't stay neatly confined in a box. They reach out and affect other communities, bringing ideas, and perspectives, and courage, and change. The work for justice here, will bring justice there. The fight against oppression here will bolster the fight against oppression there.
The man at the centre of this, not named, is a hero. He testified at the trial. He spoke of his love. He stood against his family and for his rights. This is a difficult thing to do. But in doing it, he did something huge. He fought a fight that was not simply for his right to love, his right to marriage, he fought a bigger fight. One day others will benefit because of the precedent set here.
And he won.
There will not be crowds cheering in the streets.
But there is wild cheering in my mind and in my heart and in my soul.
Will LGBT people ever know of this victory? Will they know that their fight brought light to a dark place? I don't know.
I am going to send this to a man I know who was a leading proponent of 'Gay Marriage' here in Canada. He has a right to know. And he may know who to tell.
I'm telling you.