No Freedom Until We Are Equal

The United States of America prides itself on being the land of the free and the home of the brave, yet many American minorities are too afraid to be brave and too discriminated against to be truly free. We are a nation founded on the fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, yet the rights of many minority Americans are being violated each and every day.

The impending election is important for all Americans: male, female, young, old, gay, straight. The outcome will affect the future of this country, a nation that has flourished on the principles of freedom. However, on Nov. 6, too many citizens will not exercise one of our greatest privileges: the right to vote and take part in our prized democratic system.

A little over a year ago I lost the love of my life when he accidentally fell from a four-story building. As a young, healthy couple, Tom and I had not prepared for death. We had planned on the future: going on vacations, having children and, of course, getting married -- once it was legalized. But because that basic right was (and still is) denied to LGBT couples in California, I battled numerous obstacles following Tom's death. The hospital staff forbade me from entering the emergency room. After all, I wasn't Tom's legal family. His parents barred me from attending his funeral and taking any part in his funeral planning. After all, I wasn't Tom's legal spouse. But I was Tom's family, and I was his partner. We had been together for six happy, committed years, during which we bought a home, started a business and adopted a dog. Tom and I were each other's everything, but without a marriage certificate, without "approval" from the government, we were nothing more than roommates, legally.

In May of this year, on the one-year anniversary of Tom's passing, I took all the pain, anger, sadness and frustration that had built up and turned it into a message of tolerance and hope. I posted a video on YouTube called "It Could Happen to You," a 10-minute account of Tom's and my relationship and the events of his death, and a plea to couples of all sexual orientations to protect themselves against similar discrimination. I received unimaginable support, from celebrities and citizens all over the globe, but I also heard plenty of criticism, rants of disgust and even death threats.

The American dream, to me, at least, is the idea that all humans must live in equality and should be able to think and say whatever they desire. I vehemently agree with this. You are entitled to think I will burn in hell for loving another man. You have every right to think that homosexuality is perverted. You can protest and picket, bully and boycott all you want, but it won't change two very important facts: Homosexuality is not a choice, and every person has the right to marry whomever he or she loves. Tom and I tried to pray the gay away. We tried to ignore our feelings and our natural attractions, to fight biology and live by society's "norms." But it just isn't possible.

I hurt each and every day because the man I loved died. But I hurt more knowing that he and I were denied basic human rights that should be guaranteed to couples like us by the state (and the church should have nothing to do with it). Marriage is about more than the rings, the dancing and the cake. It is about publicly and lawfully showing someone that you love them, that you want to take care of them and that you want to be responsible for them. Some state governments permit civil unions and domestic partnerships, and this is progress, for which I am grateful. But these menial entitlements are not recognized on a federal level. Civil unions and domestic partnerships do not provide nearly as many rights and protections that marriages do.

This November I hope that everyone in this country, especially those within the four states that are voting on marriage equality (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington), will put themselves in the proverbial shoes of others and cast a vote for equality, tolerance and the right to love. Your vote isn't just about you, and it's not just about me. It's about all of us.

We are all in this together -- equally. There is no freedom until we are equal.