Pass the champagne, brother - Justin Reedy

By this time next week I'll be hip-deep in preparations for my brother's wedding.

What's the lucky girl's name, you ask? Ummm ? Rob.

Before you drop the newspaper in your cereal bowl (or onto your plate of barbecue, as the case may be), let me explain.

My brother and his gay partner are having a union ceremony later this month n an event we're all sort of referring to as a wedding because it's easier to say than "union ceremony."

For all intents and purposes, they are having a wedding, with only one little problem. Well, make that a couple of problems. And they're sort of big.

Living on the Left Coast as they do, their lifestyle is generally more accepted where they live than, say, in south Georgia or west Texas. But since Gabriel and Rob live in Washington, not Vermont, they can't have a wedding recognized by their state as legally binding.

Some might say that's good, what with the marriage penalty on income taxes and the whole not-being-able-to-see-other-people thing you have after you get married. But there's a lot of benefits to marriage that people take for granted.

As a Canadian citizen who wants to work and live in the United States, Rob is in this country on a work visa. If he were marrying a nice WASPish girl like other boys his age, he would be able to get permanent residency in this country as the spouse of an American citizen. Not so with marrying Gabe, since being the gay partner of an American doesn't afford you any rights under our immigration laws.

Another perk of being gay n aside from being ostracized for being who you are, much like other minorities have been and still are n is that things such as health benefits and powers of attorney aren't always conferred on your partner. Some companies do recognize domestic partners for benefit purposes, but many still don't. And in many emergency situations, a partner won't be allowed to sit in on decisions or even be present in a hospital room.

(Incidentally, that's why my brother will end up living in the United Kingdom at some point, since that country is progressive enough to recognize such relationships for legal purposes.)

Things are changing in this country, though, as more and more people are becoming accepting and the government is starting to expand gay rights. But really, how sad is it that it's 2003 and the Supreme Court just recognized the rights of gays to have sex? A little behind on the times, people.

Outcries that gays aren't normal and shouldn't have the same rights as straights, or that overturning sodomy laws will lead to the destruction of marriage as an institution, are obviously founded in ignorance.

Are gay men different from straight men? Sure, but to varying degrees, and no more than some straights, who range from being sensitive and caring in relationships to being cold and aloof, or any number of other differences that make up a particular person.

But rather than focusing on differences between gay and straight couples, we should remember one of the most glaring similarities n they're in love. Watch Gabe and Rob together for a few minutes and tell me they're not.

As for destroying the institution of marriage, haven't straight couples done enough of that on their own? About half of all marriages end in divorce. You can get married in the nicest church on the highest hill or at a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas, and both are recognized equally.

How many longtime married couples do you know who despise each other but stay married for the sake of their family or their children's welfare? Doesn't that cheapen the institution of marriage?

Gay couples ought to be able to embarrass themselves and their families just like everyone else. And they should get the opportunity to experience stress the likes of which are never seen outside of planning and executing a wedding. (And I don't mean being a gay guy who works as a wedding planner.)

Flying in the face of law and society, Gabe and Rob will get to experience the nightmare of a wedding in all its splendor and glory n dozens of friends and family members flying and driving in from all points of the globe, vying for your attention as you prepare for one of the biggest days of your life. Buying (and/or cooking) food for those 18 trillion people as they visit your house before the wedding, attend the rehearsal dinner and then show up at the big shebang. Coming down from the stress long enough to stand still in front of a minister for five minutes. Smiling at getting a fondue pot from your Aunt Noreen. Saying thanks and goodbye to everyone when you really just want to collapse from exhaustion.

It's a good thing they'll have a couple of straight people around to explain how we cope with such stress: alcohol, and lots of it.

Justin Reedy covers county government for the News Daily. His column appears on Thursdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 281 or via e-mail at jreedy@news-daily.com.