I am a “Southern-Southern” Chinese-American, meaning my maternal Great Grandparents emigrated from Southern China to the Florida-Georgia region in 1875 right after the Civil War during Reconstruction. So I am fourth generation ethnic Chinese and fourth generation Southern American.
My parents met at the University of Minnesota in the 1940s. My father, a foreign student and my mother a Southern farm girl. Due to anti-miscegenation laws legally forbidding relationships between races, they had only each other to date or else they could not date at all. My mother said she had wanted to marry a man like Clark Gable, whom my father definitely did not resemble in style or looks. But there were very few young Chinese men in the South and the law clearly outlined who could marry who. So I was born/raised in Florida where we were legally “Colored”—the “must drink from segregated drinking fountains” and “must sit in the back of the bus” kind of “Colored.” Even though my father had a PhD he could not find employment in his field and was only allowed to buy property only in the “Colored” ghetto. “Separate but Equal” in reality was” Separate but Inferior.”
In the mid 1960s one of my uncles got a Caucasian girl pregnant. I remember my grandfather yelling because he was so terrified that my uncle would be arrested at best or lynched at worst. The couple was sent to be married in a Midwestern state without anti-miscegenation laws. This was before the Loving vs Virginia Supreme Court decision outlawing anti-miscegenation laws throughout the country. My family did not have another inter-racial marriage until the late 1970s. In the 1960s, I remember young Chinese men and women would drive hundreds of miles to attend Chinese match-making parties. I have an Aunt who is one of the Mississippi Chinese brought over as indentured servants to replace Black slaves right after the Civil War. Her mother sent her all the way from Mississippi to attend one of those parties.
And I am Gay. My husband, Chris, and I fell in love in college in 1975 and we have had a loving monogamous relationship for 40 years. In 1984 I became the first Asian Pacific Islander AIDS caseworker in the entire United States. I have worked in oncology and in hospice. I have cared for thousands of end-of-life patients and held the hands of hundreds of dying over my career. I have done my part in making this world a better place. And Chris has been right beside me for this entire journey.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 1984 we updated our financial and medical powers of attorney and wills in hopes that we could cover all eventualities. I had to forcibly insist those essential documents be placed into my chart at the hospital and at the physician’s office to ensure that Chris had access to me and be part of my care. In 2007 Chris was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease resulting from exposure to Agent Orange. At the VA hospital we were told we were not legal spouses so we again had to update our financial and medical powers of attorneys and wills and insist they be placed in the VA’s files.
In 2003 we were married in Canada two weeks after Marriage Equality was legalized in Ottawa. We were married again in 2008 in California when we attended George and Brad Takei’s wedding. Then married a third time in 2013 in Washington State. We were married multiple times because those marriages were only legal in the jurisdictions where they took place.
I have read many different articles saying that racial and same-sex marriage discrimination are completely different with different bases. I have experienced both—racial marriage discrimination as Chinese and same-sex marriage discrimination as Gay. Whatever those types of discriminations are based on, both feel like the same kind of hatred to me and both kinds of marriage discrimination limit and control who we can love and marry by arbitrary imposition of law. Civil unions are a “Separate but Inferior” compromise. If civil unions were so desirable why was there not a rush by heterosexual couples toward civil unions?
My love for Chris is unconditional and absolute. I have been with Chris for 40 years which is twice as long as my life before him. We have faced serious illness, financial hardship, family and societal disapproval, and disastrous losses of friends and family together. We cared for Chris’ mother in our home before her death because of her dementia. My parents put Chris into their will. Chris and I worked for years in my parent’s restaurants on weekends. Aren’t all those experiences—through thick and thin, sickness and in health, forsaking all others—the meaning of marriage? How is our commitment to each other less than any other couples’? How can someone say that our love is perverted and evil?
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the decision for the majority of Supreme Court Justices on the same-sex marriage equality issue. He ended his decision with these elegant words. I cannot describe my love, my relationship and my marriage to Chris better:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people have become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect is so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgement of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed It is so ordered.”