Edie and Thea–marriage and disability

by janeeatonhamilton

Edie and Thea, a movie still

A lot of you know I was one of the litigants who sued Canada’s federal government in 2000 for the right to marry my queer, long-term partner. I’m not a big booster of marriage in general, given its roots in female ownership, and some of its current reflections of same, but I found it offensive that a group of people had been systematically excluded from a civic right available to the rest of the population. I worked with lawyers barb findlay and Kathleen Lahey toward our ultimate success June 8, 2003 and was fortunate to be sitting in the Supreme Court of Canada when Beverly McLaughlin’s court changed our constitution to reflect the new, inclusive law.

Until 2003, you didn’t have the right in Canada, if you were queer, to decide whether or not to marry. We’ve had the right to make up our own minds about marriage for 14 years less a week now.

Heterosexuals changed their minds about us, recognizing our humanity because they recognized the similarity of our vows. Hets spoke marriage and so we began to have a dialogue toward reconciliation and safety.

Why that matters, still, is that we can’t be entirely safe without allies. We can’t fight the battles ahead, which I fear may start grim and devolve, without having each other’s strength and courage to lean on. There are a lot of incidents mentioned in the news now where a straight person stopped an attack we couldn’t stop.

While recognizing that marriage is a flawed institution that evolves in contemporary but still flawed ways, I believe that, all in all, marriage has nevertheless been a great plus for my community. Yes, we got corporatized and gawd knows our Pride marches got taken over by big business and the various arms of the military. But we can stop participating in where that’s gone. We can make our own community Pride again, particularly in support of BLM. We can wrest Pride away from the forces which overtook it and say, again goddammit, This is ours.

People in the community still diss the litigants for ruining queer culture (many of the people who lobbed this charge at us then took advantage of equality to get married themselves). But I watched the magic of visibility unfold as I attended a rash of friends’ weddings, then witnessed for couples from Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, the US, New Zealand, the UK, France, countries in Africa and more.

One of the couples who availed themselves of Canada’s changing marriage laws was Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, a longterm couple from the US, memorialized in an eponymous movie. I wanted to mention them not because their love was long, or solemnized at its end by marriage, but actually because Thea, one of the two, was from her forties disabled, using various canes and then a wheelchair, and the movie was filmed entirely from this later vantage point, making it a study of love and disability, valuable for people with disabilities and the people who love/care for them.

People may know that I am in and out of wheelchairs, and utilize scooters and walkers. I have thought a lot about whether my disability is a burden (my wife left our marriage declaring that life with disabled me was “1/4 of a life”) and I have decided that no, it isn’t. That the part of me that believes it is is the shamed part that the able-bodied seek to disempower, who finds different to be lesser. I am not lesser. I am not less intelligent. I am not less kick-ass. I am not less talented and skilled as a writer.

I am just not always able to get to the podium, is all, because you able-bodied people insist on repeatedly making that a hard thing for we disabled people. Even today this happened again, for readers and audience in Toronto, though replacing the inaccessible venue only took two hours in the end. (But does the new choice have a safe enough ramp? “Nothing without us,” is part of CripCanLit’s pledge. Please invite us into the discussion before you choose your venues.) Read Nine Phrases Allies Can Say When Called Out Instead of Getting Defensive.

But not to get distracted. My point here is that the person who gave my ex-wife 1/4 of a marriage–if indeed that’s what I had–was not me, but in fact the woman who perceived it as such. Witness how Edie handled it instead.

The movie Edie and Thea shows how to love completely and endearingly while loving someone seriously disabled. And I admired it, and the two of them and the filmmakers, for giving all of us a template on how to do this.