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Monday, May 26, 2014

Marriage chronicles: A brief taste of equality

Posted By on Mon, May 26, 2014 at 7:13 AM

click to enlarge NEWLY WED: Krys Stephens (left) and Ganice Wilson.
  • NEWLY WED: Krys Stephens (left) and Ganice Wilson.

An employee of UAMS wrote me last week out of frustration after the University of Arkansas System extended — and then took back — insurance benefits for same-sex married couples. She and her partner had acted during the week when all couples in Arkansas briefly could taste rights denied by Arkansas's legalized discrimination against same-sex couples. It is just one more illustration of a struggle by real people with real families denied fruits that others take for granted. These newlyweds, in addition to ongoing discrimination, are among 1,200 people who face uncertainty about their status on account action they took, out of love, that momentous week.

Krys Stephens of North Little Rock writes:

I work for the U of A system. On Monday, May 12, 2014, my partner and I sprinted to the courthouse as soon as I got off work. We were directed to the licensing office where we got in line with other joyous couples waiting to apply for a license. We then proceeded to a section where an ordained minister married us and took pictures to commemorate the event. We went back to the licensing office and filed immediately.

We had planned to marry next year on Halloween, in a different state where gay marriage was legal. When Judge Chris Piazza struck down the ban, we just looked at each other and we knew...we had to do this.

The feelings were and have been profound. The moment when an opportunity so monumental is in front of begs to be seized. We still intend to have a small private ceremony this coming October, so that our family and friends can help celebrate. It doesn't matter if the appeal upholds the ban, we are married, we are family, we are bound in a unity that no person, no state, no higher authority can take away unless we give consent. Do not mistake that as becoming docile. We have the fire to fight this, to keep voicing our opposition to being oppressed.

I am not sure if you have ever had a civil liberty given and then ripped away from you so easily. It is quite disturbing; it makes one think just how easily any other rights can be given and then taken away in the matter of days and hours.

On Tuesday, May 13, 2014, I went to my HR department to request paperwork that would enable me to change my benefits coverage to include my new spouse. I was informed that I could fill the paperwork out; however the U of A system was still trying to decide how to process same sex couples requesting benefits. I was informed I would receive an email when a decision had been made. On Wednesday, May 14, 2014, I turned in the completed paperwork and was again informed a decision would be made soon; an email would inform me when. We went out of town to visit relatives for the next few days after Wednesday. On Thursday, May 15, 2014, I received a mass email announcing that the U of A system would indeed be honoring any same sex couple who married BEFORE the stay went into place. At this time, I believed my paperwork was being processed to include my spouse. We enjoyed our short vacation with this new found victory fresh on our minds. We made plans to get her, my wife, in to see the doctors she needed. Imagine my rage and dismay when I found out that would not be the case.

A short five days later, on Tuesday, May 20, 2014, I received another email. This email explained that the U of A system had in fact decided NOT to honor any same sex couples married before the stay. The email provided a link, which I could not access. I quickly called the HR department and spoke to, what I assume, was a secretary. She explained  that any benefits requests would be put on hold while the appeal process was ongoing. She apologized to me and said there was nothing that could be done.

Basically, I was informed that my marriage was on hold while I wait for some higher authority to decide if my marriage is valid. And now, here I am, waiting. I feel like a child who is being punished for doing something wrong; like waiting outside the principal's office while my fate is decided by parents and faculty.

I am a grown woman; therefore, the implication is very insulting. I made the coherent decision to marry someone I couldn't help falling in love with. Who has the right to tell me who I must choose to marry; who I choose to laugh and cry with? Hell, who I choose to be miserable or happy with?!

The implications are also absurdly silly to consider. I am an American citizen who works an honest job, makes an honest wage, and pays dues in the forms of taxes. Who has the right to deny me the benefits of my neighbors, my relatives, my colleagues whom already enjoy a married life void of scrutiny? I answer: No one; no one except myself and the consenting adult I engaged in the love game.

No one was there for a shy first date, or an awkward first kiss. No one was there for the marriage proposal or wedding plans. No, not anyone, except myself and my partner. We are the only people who should be deciding if our marriage is valid, by staying entered into it. This is my story.

And I wait; proactively, but still waiting. I hope this story encourages you to seek out others who may have had a similar experience; to give us a voice that should not be unheard. We are Arkansans too, after all.

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