'Just friends' no more
By tossing portions of DOMA and dismissing Proposition 8, US Supreme Court helps move gay marriage into the mainstream
By Carla Sameth 07/02/2013
Guillermina Alvarez, 52, and Rhonda Reznick, 58, have been together for more than 10 years. Both women have grown children from previous marriages (to men), and both came out at age 33. They are domestic partners under California law and had considered marrying before Proposition 8 passed in 2008. The two were finally wed Friday in San Francisco. I sat down with Alvarez and Reznick to discuss the Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8. Following are highlights from an interview conducted on the eve of the rulings:
Pasadena Weekly: What are your feelings about the upcoming Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriages?
Guillermina Alvarez: We are nervous and excited. We are leaving for San Francisco and will be there for Gay Pride, so I’m certain we’ll either be really depressed or ecstatic, depending …
Rhonda Reznick: For me, first of all it’s about the insurance and legal issues — we got the domestic partnership to put Guillermina on the insurance. Turns out [my employer] has rules that ask for a lot of extra documents besides the domestic partnership, and in addition, there is a waiting period. Finally we found we would have to pay an extra (around) $400 while married couples pay nothing and only have to show their marriage certificate.
GA: And then there are the financial issues. I’m thinking about retirement and my retirement would be much better with her plan. And then the homes we own separately and the community property issue which is automatic if you are married. Wouldn’t it be better to know one of us wouldn’t get kicked out of the house if the other died? But we don’t have any legal protection, so we talk about going to get a will but we know if we were married we wouldn’t have to do that.
RR: If same-sex marriage existed in our society, our relationship would carry the same weight as a heterosexual one. In general, people wouldn’t be so ostracized or treated differently by families. We have to worry about whether her mom would be embarrassed seeing us as a couple.
GA: It might be a little more acceptable, if my dad heard, “Well, you know, they are wife and wife.” I guess I might still have to worry about whether my mom would be embarrassed and my dad still pretends not to know.
There’s the legal aspect and the social aspect and I think people’s attitudes do not change overnight. It’s interesting how people’s attitudes have changed over time.
RR: Gay marriage being legal would move that along.
GA: It’s difficult to say, as progressives, we have to think about it this way. For example, pro-choice abortions are legal, but in my family, no, they are not. My mom would have a heart attack if she knew or thought that either my sister or I had had an abortion.
RR: I do think the validation of gay marriage being legal would help to change people’s attitudes towards it so that in the future people are less likely to be second-class citizens … to be embarrassed or ashamed or hide that they are esposos or partners as opposed to this is “Guillermina and her friend Rhonda.” For decades, people have been introduced as friends.
GA: I know and last night I still introduced you as my friend. And our host, my cousin, who is always very good to us both, took pictures of all the married couples, but he did not take ours.
You feel if you were married …
RR: It takes awhile, but then it becomes second nature.
GA: I think this is the time to do it; people’s consciousness and acceptance have grown. But people’s attitudes — even our own — might take awhile to change.
I’m wondering still how comfortable I would be saying in certain circles, like if my parents are there, to say to another person “Mi esposa … my wife.”
RR: But decades from now, when there are fewer and fewer people that grew up without gay marriage, it’s going to feel perfectly comfortable to them when people our own age and older die off. So I think we are doing something for society, that’s important to me.
GA: Yes, to set that precedent.
RR: Those who came before us did something for us at Stonewall, where the drag queens broke the beer bottles, got up on the bar and said “You are not taking us alive.” They weren’t allowed to congregate, they weren’t allowed to go into this bar wearing any clothing that was considered belonging to the opposite gender.
Do you think it will make a difference to your kids?
GA: Our own kids have always been very accepting of our relationship in the home, but to their friends, that’s another thing.
RR: She had a little pink triangle on the back of her car …
GA: Our own kids have always been accepting of our relationship in the home, but to their friends, that’s another thing. When my oldest son was in junior high, he took the little triangle rainbow sticker off the car. He didn’t want it there when I picked him up. I told him, “I don’t think anyone at your school will know what it means.” But he said, “Believe me, they do.” Then I told him, “It’s OK, you are not forced to come out as your mom being gay, but just remember, those kids who would give you a hard time because your mom is gay, they are not really your friends.”
Do you see any change in attitude with your kids’ friends, family?
GA: Funny, the same son in his last year of high school knew some people in the gay-straight alliance and we heard he had a crush on one girl who identified as being bisexual. He was VERY happy to be able introduce her to us, “This is my mom and her partner,” to show how cool he was.
How did you feel when Proposition 8 passed?
GA: We were just really, really sad … mixed reactions since Obama got elected. And yet, a little bit of hope because it won by such a narrow margin. It showed society’s views were changing.
Do you have any plans for when same-sex marriage becomes legal?
GA: We are definitely getting married. My sister has a big house. Maybe we can have a big party. At this point, it’s a question of money, as we are getting closer to retirement.
But we are definitely getting married, “tarde o temprano!”
And when you have this big party, it will be interesting to see how family will deal with it.
GA: Yeah I’m still not sure if my mom will be there. Some of my cousins, of course our children, friends, co-workers and such.
So even if it’s legal, the people closest to you, your mom …
GA: Well, she is close enough to joke … when someone asked Rhonda why she got only a two-seater, my mom said “por la suegra … because of the mother-in-law.”
Is there any other way that you feel like it’s impacted your life … do you think that the fact that is was illegal to marry a woman affected the age you came out?
RR: First of all, it would have to be legal to be accepted and normal, so I just think, if gay marriage were more accepted and normal, a lot of people would be coming out sooner. For me, I was married to a man when I was younger. I had no idea that I was gay, because I didn’t see people like myself in the media. When I was in my 20s, homosexuality had not gained such notoriety. There were no gay pride parades. Lesbians were invisible and there were not that many gay men that you could see. No pink triangles, no rainbows.
GA: A few of the hair stylists were gay, that is about it.
RR: You didn’t see yourself on TV or in the movies, no Ellen DeGeneres. If you thought you were attracted to women, you think, “Oh, there is something wrong with me.” You just try to put it in the back of your mind as much as possible and go on with your life. I think it causes people to become alcoholics. In my day and age when I was young, I think a lot of people drank to not have to think about how they really wanted to live, who they really wanted to be, and what’s wrong with me? So I didn’t see people like me.
What if same-sex couples got all the rights of marriage but just couldn’t call it “marriage?” A civil union.
GA: It’s OK with me.
RR: As long as the law did not recognize marriage as being something different and only recognizes civil unions (church can have something called marriage), OK. But not where they recognize marriage for straight people. But if you are gay and you want all the privileges and responsibilities of marriage, you get a civil union.
Like “separate but equal,” which wasn’t really equal.
RR: No, it has to be the same name recognized by state and institutions.
GA: I guess I’m kind of on the fence on that because I don’t give a shit what they call it as long as they give us the same rights marriage has. As far as we’re concerned, we know we’re a couple, we know we’re partners for life, we are spouses, we can call each other spouses and no one is going to kill us for that. So, I think that within our family, we can say we already have a marriage. We are spouses for all intents and purposes.
RR: No, it has to be the same thing. It has to be the same name recognized by institutions and the state. Since they already have something called “marriage” recognized by the government, you have to call it marriage. Otherwise, it’s never going to be the same.
GA: Yeah, I can see that point of view too.