Minding Your Health - Marriage Equality: A Glorious Opportunity and Challenge

This summer’s historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling mandating that all states must allow for marriage equality represents a huge step forward for our civil rights, legal rights, economic well-being, relationship equality and recognition.
Many readers probably thought they would never see the day when same-sex marriage would become the law of the land. It was not that long ago that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a common solution, both in the military and in families. It was not that long ago that we were still considered to be sexual outlaws and perverts unworthy of recognition.
In 1996, gay marriage had a 27 percent approval rating among U.S. residents in a Gallup poll; in February 2015, a CNN/ORC poll found that 63 percent of Americans believe that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. The world is changing, and now we are challenged to change.
Many more of us are in longtime committed relationships than most people believe. Those in long-term relationships are less visible, and myths persist that we are less capable of lasting, stable relationships. In fact, just as many straight couples fall into difficulty; problems with communication, disrespect, trust and addiction pay no regard to sexual orientation.
We have wonderful pioneers and role models in our community, with Kansas City couples enjoying long-term loving relationships for as many as 20, 30, and yes, even 60 years together!
As we contemplate this new-found legal recognition of our commitment, we would be wise to ask the right questions and to be clear in our intent.
Make an informed decision: Get the facts and take the time to discuss your decision with your partner. Now that our love can be legally recognized, we are challenged to appraise our relationships and needs realistically and to act responsibly.
Do we understand and embrace the full implications of marriage on our financial options, tax options and inheritance? Do we understand how this might affect credit, loans, and property ownership? Do we understand how this affects our involvement in each other’s health decisions? Do we know how this affects Social Security? Access to health insurance? Our children? Immigration law? Future financial planning? Retirement? Our standing in our church?
Do we want our relationship to be similar to a heterosexual marriage, or do we want to create our own model and contract? The possibility of legal divorce is a new reality. Are we prepared to handle the financial and social ramifications if our relationship does not continue?
As we journey toward authenticity in relationships, social acceptance and cultural inclusiveness, the option of marriage challenges us to confront the destabilizing influences of addiction, learning to be more open and honest in our most intimate relationships (most of us learned to lie to survive before we came out, and even bad old habits persist), and improving our skills in validating, empathizing, understanding, and supporting each other.
Just because we have the option to marry does not mean that this is right for all people. Some may prefer to be single. Some may prefer to continue serial monogamy. Some may prefer more than one partner without a primary marital commitment. Some of us just want to have fun and are not looking for a serious commitment.
The option of marriage does not detract from embracing our relationship, social, cultural, racial, gender, and sexual diversity.
Jason Carrigan is a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist practicing in the Westport area and is active in the leadership of the Greater Kansas City LGBT-Affirming Therapists Guild.

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