Eric Hartley: Still waiting for ‘the real thing’

Posted by Eric Hartley on

"While many gay or lesbian couples from Maryland got married in Washington, D.C. after that city legalized equality marriage last year, Barry Kessler and David Hankey have waited.

"The Arnold couple was a bit wary of a D.C. marriage. The Maryland attorney general says the state can recognize out-of-state marriages, but what if it didn't for some reason?

"But the real reason they're waiting is less legal and more profound: They want 'the real thing,' as Hankey put it.

"Sure, driving down Route 50 is more convenient than flying to Massachusetts or Iowa. But it presents the same problem: Why should you have to leave your home simply to marry the person you love?

"'I think that I have the right, as a lifelong Marylander, to be married in my home state,' said Hankey, an Arnold native whose family has been here for 300 years.

"This could be the year. Legislators say a bill to honor the freedom to marry has a better chance this year than it ever has.

"If it passes before the General Assembly session closes in April, Hankey and Kessler will start planning a wedding. They envision a simple ceremony on their lawn, where Hankey's brother married his wife.

"I profiled their family in 2007 ( after Maryland's top court upheld a law banning marriage equality. Today, their lives are much the same. They sit down for dinner seven nights a week with their children, 12-year-old Helen and 10-year-old Michael, and they attend worship services regularly.

"They don't have a television in the home. The kids often see their grandmother and uncle, Hankey's mom and brother, who live nearby. Both sides of the family gather for Thanksgiving.

"Helen and Michael call Hankey 'Daddy.' Kessler is 'Abba,' Hebrew for Daddy. The two married as best they could, exchanging rings in New York's Central Park, before having kids. (The children were borne by a friend.)

"As Kessler jokes, if it's not 'Leave it to Beaver,' it's close. Forget for a moment that there are two daddies, and you'll agree that few families are as traditional.

... "Hankey, a 54-year-old lawyer, and Kessler, 52, who does freelance writing and curating for museums, met when both lived in Baltimore.

"Their life is filled with friends and family. They know they're lucky to live in a state like Maryland, where they have almost no problems living as a gay couple.

"But it stings to know their family is considered somehow lesser.

"If you don't know Barry Kessler and David Hankey, their relationship doesn't affect your family. Whether they have no legal ties or they have a civil union or they are legally married, what difference does it make to you?

"No church will be forced to marry gay couples, despite the fear-mongering of Anne Arundel's own Del. Don Dwyer. Sponsors smartly and rightly included protections and titled the bill the 'Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act.'

"Kessler has done volunteer work, including phone calls and poll-watching, for Equality Maryland, a group supporting marriage equality.

... "Their son, Michael, had an ear-tube procedure scheduled for Friday. They're planning Helen's bat mitzvah now. (Kessler is Jewish, but the family also incorporates Hankey's Catholic faith, for example by having a 'Kosher for Passover Easter' meal every year. But no hot cross buns - they're leavened.)

"For many lawmakers wavering on the issue, hearing from real people like this can make the difference, said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland.

"It's easy to deny rights to an abstract interest group, but harder when it's Barry and David. A poll recently showed a slim majority of Marylanders now in favor of the freedom to marry.

"Like Hankey and Kessler, who met in 1985, some of the couples working with Equality Maryland have been together 20 or 30 years - or more.

"They've waited long enough."

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