My heart breaks as I write this letter because I just read about Crystal Craven’s passing. I was born and raised in Jones County, Mississippi. I went to public schools – Soso Elementary and West Jones High School. I grew up with values of family and love. I am a product of Jones County. But I am a different product.
Growing up, the emphasis I learned from my surroundings was that family was important. Family was women getting married and having a family. Family was if you brought children from a previous marriage into a new one that they were treated no different. In all of these things there was love.
I attended elementary and high school with Crystal Craven. She was a few years older than me. Crystal was a rough and tumble girl who didn’t take anything off anyone. I was the chubby “little sister”, so being picked on was a common theme. It is interesting that I did not like Crystal as a child because she was what I might have called a bully (in a child’s eyes). But little did I know that we would meet again one day and have more in common.
I grew up and graduated in the top percent of my high school class at West Jones. I feel I had a good education despite economic and financial challenges in my personal life. I was 17 and in my junior year before I realized or considered that college was a possibility for me. I didn’t even consider myself smart. So in my senior year when I learned of a full scholarship to Jones County Junior College, I was beside myself because I felt I had made this huge achievement.
However, there were stirrings in the back of my mind that made me feel different in a way that I kept people at a distance and was probably a bully myself. I felt that the things that were going on with me in Laurel/Soso, Mississippi would not be well received. I gave up my full scholarship after a year to move four hours away to attend the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). It was there I felt this freedom to get in touch with who I was.
There were several things going on. To make a long story short when I was twenty-one years old I found out that I had a genetic condition known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, which means that I have XY chromosomes, but I was born and raised physically female. I describe myself as Intersex. A year after finding out that I was intersex, I “came out” as lesbian.
Before I came out as lesbian, however, I felt I needed to be out in another way. You see, being intersex has this shame and secrecy attached to it that makes people feel sub-human. I grew up in Jones County with the same values as everyone else did. I thought being married and having a family was the norm. But then I found out that not only would I never bear children, but if I had not had this condition, I would have fathered children, not bore them. Imagine my shock and confusion for quite some time! I wrote a letter to my campus newspaper (in response to the 2003 gay marriage amendment argument going around at that time).
Being intersex female means that my relationship with a woman is seen as a lesbian relationship (homosexual); however, genetically, we’re heterosexual (me XY and she XX). If I were to be with a man, socially we’d be a heterosexual couple, and genetically a homosexual couple.
There is talk about “traditional marriage”. There is talk about going against God’s Word. And although I did graduate with a double major in History and Political Science, I’m not going to debate this on a religious level. I will simply say this:
I grew up with the belief and understanding that marriage was for two people who love each other. Marriage was a bond of love, honor, and friendship. By the time I came of age, marriage was not a requirement that two people had to be fertile to be married. They didn’t have to agree to only have sex in certain ways or a number of times a week. They didn’t agree to have only a certain amount of children. And by our divorce rates, they certainly did not agree to not getting divorced. And you know why? Because that is the privacy those couples are afforded.
Further, we want our state and country to oppose marriage because it goes against their religion. What about the First Amendment? Since the majority is Protestant in Mississippi, I’ll assume that their religion probably opposed Catholics, Episcopalians, Buddhists, Jewish people, Muslims, Mormons and Unitarian Universalists from being marriage because it is not part of “their” religion. Yet these people are allowed to marry. And brazen enough they are allowed to inter-marry!
So why a big stink about two people of the same gender being married? We’ve established that they are allowed privacy. A Baptist Preacher, Methodist Minister, or Catholic Priest (or any other person of faith) won’t be required to marry the couple. They have the freedom to not marry a couple that is not within their church or faith, so same-sex marriage won’t be forced on them if their religious bylaws don’t accept it.
There are faiths and churches that do allow same-sex unions (Unitarian Universalist for one, which was the church my wife and I married in 2010 in Ellisville, MS (Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church)). But there are also Justices of the Peace that are government officials not bound by a religion (although they may be bound by a personal one, it bears no reflection upon that office) or shouldn’t be. I’m sure post-1967 after the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case ruled that interracial couples had the right to marry in all states that some, even in Mississippi, thought the institution would be damaged. But as you can see it is not. People aren’t forced to be interracial married, just as no one will be forced to be married in a same-sex ceremony.
During my college days and then after I graduated and moved back to Laurel, my paths crossed with Crystal again. After years of my having this dislike for a person I felt tortured me, I realized that she was like me. Confused with who we were, we lashed out because that’s the only recourse we had. Meeting Crystal again made me realize what a warm and caring person she was. And while we didn’t become best friends, we were pleasant and spoke when we saw each other in town.
My heart breaks for Jessica because she’s facing one of the parts of marriage that,unfortunately, really matters – the death. Unmarried couples have no legal rights to their partner (gay or straight). There are some instances where the couples can have Power of Attorney, Medical Wills, and other legal documents to protect each other’s rights. When I married my own wife, we had to fill out, notarize, and sign (with witnesses) that are about 10 pages long giving each other rights in cases of medical intervention and death. Whereas, those married couples under the law only need one piece of paper – a marriage license.
Not only was Jessica allowed to be banned from the funeral, but if the home she shared with Crystal was in Crystal’s name, then she could be thrown out of the home without justification. Any survivor benefits that Crystal did have, unless they were explicitly drawn up as going to Jessica, would go to the “next of kin” and not the partner. If the couple had children, and it was the birth mother who died, in the State of Mississippi, the partner has no rights. The list goes on and on.
So while it is okay to not be “for” the gay marriage, same-sex marriage, or what I like to call marriage equality. At the end of the day, my marriage shouldn’t be banned simply because some religion or political party or individuals don’t agree with it. They are entitled to that belief, but no one is entitled to deny me equal protection under the law.