On this day I celebrate 20 years of marriage. July 8th, 2000, I had the privilege of marrying the man I love, Robert (Bob) Temple. I emphasize the word privilege, because in the disability community marriage is a privilege not a right.
Looking back on my wedding day, I have to say it was one of the happiest days of my life. It was a day where I truly felt the beauty of being a bride. My parents, family, and friends worked so hard to make it special and beautiful. We were married at Grace Lutheran Church in Palo Alto where the congregation worked to build a ramp so I could wheel up the aisle (the ramp stayed a permanent fixture, so other parishioners continued to have equal access).
Like many brides, I envisioned a long beautiful train. However, trains aren’t really possible when you’re sitting in a wheelchair. Thanks to my mom and her creative friends, they realized the fabric from the train of my wedding dress could be used to turn my wheelchair into a Cinderella coach. I forwent the typical bouquet because I wanted to enjoy my flowers the entire day. Unlike other brides who carry them and then have to place them down, my flowers hung over my wheelchair handlebars. I truly felt like a princess.
The entire day was as if I was floating on Cloud nine. Bob and I were able to share our love with our family and friends. We were legally able to join in a union together. Marriage affords us benefits not available to single individuals. One of the most important things is being able to have my husband with me at the hospital. For many people with disabilities, even if they name someone as their Power of Attorney, or there is Living Will, they still may be denied access in a hospital.
For those of you who may not understand the predicament, it is highly complex. Ableism hinders people with disabilities to experience this inalienable right at a systemic level. Infused in this struggle are the entrenched beliefs people with disabilities need to be protected. Over the past few years, several advocacy groups have worked hard to protest disability marriage inequality by meeting with local state and federal legislatures. And while we appreciate being listened to, action to make changes to these stifling policies continue to be nonexistent.
To this day, laws exist in the states of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, Minnesota and Michigan which state people with intellectual disabilities, mental disabilities, and epilepsy shall not be able to marry. While these laws may not be actively enforced, they are still on the record and have never been appealed. These types of laws further drive the systemic structure to make people with disabilities less than those without disabilities. The government employs many different ways to stifle whether people with disabilities are able to marry or not.
Additionally, when a person with a disability marries the government expects them to become the responsibility of their partner. If you didn’t know, being disabled is typically highly expensive. There are many people with disabilities who survive based on programs such as SSI, SSDI, Medicare, Medicaid, Section 8, Welfare, and food stamps. These programs provide housing, food, and basic care to millions of people with disabilities. There is a huge catch. In order to be part of these programs, individuals with disabilities must live at or below poverty level. The minute they start earning money, benefits are cut. The problem is people don’t earn enough to cover their housing, food, and basic needs let alone cover the expenses to pay for personal assistance.
When forced with the dilemma to choose between your basic needs being met and marrying your partner, it’s a no-brainer. Living comes first in this dilemma, causing many individuals to be unable to marry those they love. This system is structured for the couple to fail. If they choose to get married, the financial burden alone can be insurmountable. This type of structure perpetuates the belief people with disabilities are not able to love, be sexual, or raise a family. When we talk about civil liberties and marriage equality, we as a society need to be demanding for people with disabilities to have the choice of marriage.
The act of being loved, confessing love, and navigating marriage is proven to increase one’s mental health and longevity. When we feel loved, depression and anxiety decrease. Marriage is a symbol of unity and considered to be part of healthy developmental growth. There is inherent value placed on marriage itself. We need to use our psychological science to disrupt the system and create marriage equality for all. Everyone deserves to have their magical day be recognized in the eyes of the law.