When I am being idealistic, I want queer people not to work anywhere that makes us be less than our full human selves: historically, this list has included the military, most schools, most churches, and so on …. For instance, I envision on a given Sunday — near or on Coming Out Day — all the queer musicians and choir leaders and preachers just up and walk out of church, shaking the church’s homophobic dust off their fabulous sandals.
With the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the military once again has preceded the church into a degree of justice, which will be complicated to implement, but which I hope will continue to march forward. I don’t particularly want queer people to serve in the military; I don’t even want us to have a military. But if there is going to be a military, and queer people want to serve in it, that should be that.
This came to mind once again when I read this story, in which the husband of a deceased Marine was able to be treated like a human being who’d lost his beloved — because he had the right piece of paper, which he had because of the actions of the Supreme Court in a state that put the law before bigotry.
… Ketterson contacted the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and told them that Fliszar, Class of ’71, had wanted to have his ashes interred at the USNA’s Columbarium, a serene white marble waterside crypt next to the school’s cemetery.
The memorial coordinator asked about his relationship to the deceased. Ketterson said that John Fliszar was his husband.
“They were always polite, but there was this moment of hesitation,” Ketterson recalled. “They said they’re going to need something in writing from a blood relative. They asked, ‘Are you listed on the death certificate?’ ‘Do you have a marriage license?’ ”
He was and they did, the couple having been married in Des Moines when gay marriage became legal in Iowa two years ago.
Ketterson sent a copy of the marriage license. That changed everything. … A marriage certificate was the key that let the USNA know how to treat Ketterson in relation to his husband’s service.
My idealistic side wants to say that the piece of paper shouldn’t matter. But that is how we have organized our society. It takes a piece of paper to know how to treat people in relation.
Ketterson attributes the actions of those he interacted with at the Naval Academy to patriotism: “when the chips are down, when the issue was patriotism and honor for a veteran, they were wonderful.”
I don’t see it as patriotism; I see an institution being enabled to do the just thing because of the law. That’s not always the case. Sometimes the law does not allow for justice — or effectively mandates injustice — as when committed queer couples are not allowed to establish legal or religious settings for their relationships and commitments.
Rather than patriotism, I’d simply label what happened as appropriate respect, the “do unto others” that is part of — if not the basis of — the moral ethic in most religious traditions, and even in humanistic traditions.
One would think that degree of respect would be a minimum baseline form of love in Christianity. But no. Once again the secular world does a better job for the neighbor than does the church.
Are we waiting for a piece of paper to tell us how to treat people in relation? Shame on us.