San Francisco, CA (PRWEB) April 30, 2008 — In California, New York and Connecticut, the issue of whether same-sex couples can be married or merely joined in a civil union (www.nonacaspers.com) has shown up in the courts again. Even in states where civil unions afford gays and lesbians all the legal and civil rights as married heterosexual couples, the inability to use the word "marriage" does real damage. Nona Caspers, author of the award-winning collection (www.nonacaspers.com) of short stories "Heavier than Air," (www.nonacaspers.com) agrees.
"Although my partner of nine years and I have decided not to marry," Caspers says, "the fact is that gays and lesbians are full members of America. The only place they aren’t treated equally any more is under the law."
Not that Caspers thinks discrimination doesn’t exist. She grew up in rural Minnesota at a time when small-town America–and even big-town America–was less than welcoming to gays and lesbians. Although she hated to leave the place and people she loved, she eventually moved to San Francisco.
”The time for that has passed,” she claims. "We can’t all leave our families, friends and homeland for the same small neighborhood just to feel like we’re with people who understand. Besides, no one can afford city life anymore!"
Although Caspers uses humor to convey her meaning, the importance of her message is clear. Whenever she returns to Minnesota now, she and her partner are welcomed warmly…even though half her family voted for Bush.
"That doesn’t stop them from loving me," Caspers says. "I’m sure they’d prefer I bring home a man but they see us as human beings. People are more complex than politics. If the law reflected reality, everyone would be on board with gay and lesbian marriage (www.nonacaspers.com)."
Caspers sees the same dynamic working across the United States. Gays and lesbians no longer segregate themselves inside small city neighborhoods. They are the neighbors, coworkers, and fellow parents in suburban enclaves and rural towns. Her stories reflect this modern acceptance and integration so well, she actually had to talk a gay and lesbian bookstore into carrying her book.
"They didn’t recognize it as having content targeted to the gay and lesbian audience even though there are gay and lesbian characters," she laughs.
Nowadays, the author claims, so much is possible that the world is a very different place for gay and lesbian couples. Before they had few choices about how to live. Now they can live however they like, for the most part, but because their choices aren’t officially recognized, the couples end up in limbo. ”Civil unions and domestic partnerships,” she says, ”just aren’t the same.”
The battles being fought in court support her point. While granting gay and lesbian couples state tax benefits, health insurance for partners and other rights through civil unions, the government has been slow to apply the term "marriage." The battle has reached a head in New York, where same-sex couples (www.nonacaspers.com) legally married in Canada have had their unions recognized by New York’s courts. This despite the fact that the state’s highest court refused to legalize gay marriage just two years ago.
"Sometimes people read my stories, where rural characters simply accept a person’s decision about whom to love, and say, ‘that would never happen,’" Caspers continues. "But it does."
In Caspers’ stories, as in real life, people are who they are … and they struggle with the universal issues all people deal with in their lives. E-Cry is about a man whose wife leaves him for another woman. "Vegetative States" is about a lesbian couple hanging out at the hospital with the rest of the family while the aunt is in a coma. In "Mother," a rural mom tromps around the city apartment hunting with her lesbian daughter.
Some of the stories in "Heavier than Air" do deal with the tragedy of discrimination. The protagonist of "Country Girl" follows her heart, rather recklessly but passionately, and is shunned by her rural community. In "Alfalfa," an 18-year-old will go through with her heterosexual wedding despite the fact that she loves a woman. "Better to marry," her pastor claims, "than to burn."
But those stories are set in the 1970s. The America of today is a lifetime away from those years. While the struggle for acceptance does continue, the main problem for gays and lesbians is a government slow to take action. The 1996 Defense of Marriage act (www.nonacaspers.com), which defines marriage as a bond between a man and a woman, is one major obstacle.
States have gotten around the issue by allowing civil unions. In Connecticut, eight same-sex couples are challenging the state’s claim that the separate type of union is equal to marriage. Complaints range from feeling not quite married to an inability to fill out official forms properly. Many have found their own ties to their children challenged.
"But it’s not equal," Caspers says. "Sometimes when I return to the Midwest, I see these girls who think they can only be validated through marriage, and that there’s only one definition of marriage. They end up unhappy and so do their husbands! It’s a tragedy for everyone. We have to stop sending that message."
The constant need to explain a civil union imposes an unnecessary burden on gay and lesbian couples. Even in California, the 2000 law that defines marriage as only being between a man and a woman is being challenged. Despite the fact that the state’s domestic partnership (www.nonacaspers.com) laws grant couples nearly all the rights and responsibilities of heterosexual marriage, opponents say that calling any commitment a civil union is a form of second-class citizenship.
"If a same-sex couple lives in the mainstream as a married couple but the government calls them something different," Caspers asks, "are they actually different?"
Information on Nona Caspers and her books is available at www.nonacaspers.com. "Heavier Than Air" was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. It also won the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction from the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP).