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Hopeful that Arkansas embraces equality

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COURTHOUSE WEDDING: For Madison (left) and Nicole Fuentez at the the Pulaski County Courthouse on May 12 image
  • Brian Chilson
  • COURTHOUSE WEDDING: For Madison (left) and Nicole Fuentez at the the Pulaski County Courthouse on May 12.

Recently Arkansas saw a whirlwind of same sex couples rushing to courthouses around the state in an effort to enter into the bonds of matrimony with their significant other. Afraid that the courts would stay the issuance of marriage licenses, couples have had to hurry their weddings with little or no time to bring together their family and friends.

I personally know many of these couples. My heart is filled with joy at their happiness. It's a cultural tradition we were taught in childhood — that you will meet that special someone, fall in love and one day marry them. But then we grew up and discovered that if the special someone we met and fell in love with was of the same gender, then it didn't really mean us.

When we came to understand this, it was a painful discovery on multiple fronts. Not only could we not engage in the marriage ceremonies that were reminiscent of those we had grown up seeing all of our lives, we were also be being denied all of the legal rights associated with marriage. It meant that the 1,138 civil laws that are attached to marriage are not for us; it meant that we couldn't be listed as joint parents when we have children as a couple. It meant that we couldn't access the benefits of marriage that are provided for many employees and their spouses. It meant that we needed complicated and expensive legal documents to protect our property and family in the event one of us fell ill or, worse yet, died, and it meant that despite paying the same tax dollars, we would be denied full civil and human rights.

Being denied the rights of marriage reinforces all of the rhetoric of homophobia that has made too many of our fellow Arkansans believe that it is OK to harm us with law, words and deed. Throughout our lives we are bullied in school and even into our adult years. It is more than likely that a great many of us will suffer some form of physical harm to ourselves and/or our property. Some of us will be disowned, kicked out of our homes, and far too many of us will not make it through.

The inequities that LGBTQ people face in Arkansas, as well as many other parts of the country, don't stop with marriage. We are vulnerable regarding employment, housing and accessing public accommodations because we are not included in the civil rights laws of this nation, nor this state. If we are any combination of people of color, poor, transgender, immigrant, youth or elderly, then our disenfranchisement as LGBTQ people is compounded by institutional oppression that squeezes our lives even harder.

The mistreatment of the LGBTQ community has been deeply rooted in political gain by those who have cloaked their avarice in scripture and holy water. They have tried to render us as an "other" — to be feared and denied equality. The reality is that the only real fear is that which LGBTQ people endure. Fear is an integral part of our lives, sometimes front and center, other times lurking in the background because you never know when someone will target you with word, law or deed. Yet despite these many struggles and barriers, we live our lives with courage and hope, for it takes fortitude to live in a world that denies you at every turn. We continue to fall in love, create our families and live and work in our communities.

As I watch the events unfolding around marriage equality, my heart feels as if it will burst from all of the happiness. Couples, some with their children, laughing and smiling, saying "I do." Tears pouring freely because at last they are able to wed, gaining all of the emotional and practical well-being that this brings to their family.

The courts will have another go before it's all finalized in regard to marriage equality. To be sure there will sadly be those who will continue to vilify us and actively seek to deny our access to equality, using our lives and families as political footballs.

However, I am hopeful, as Arkansas bends, however grudgingly, toward the end of the moral arc of justice, that our equality is within reach. It is long past the time for Arkansas to embrace all of its residents and remove the multiple barriers to full inclusion. And we as a state will ultimately be the better for it. Because we in the LGBTQ community are, as we have ever been, your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. We too are Arkansas.

Randi M. Romo is executive director of the Center for Artistic Revolution.

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