Friday, November 8, 2013

For My Wife... (2008): Tragedy Begets Strength

For My Wife... (2008)
dir: David Rothmiller

For My Wife... isn't subtle. It's an emotional roller coaster on a hot bed topic that has had the national spotlight for 17 years now. For My Wife... is an essential vital story that gets to the heart of the gay marriage debate.

For My Wife... opens with a tragedy. During a particularly torrential downpour in Seattle, Kate Fleming drowned in her basement. She was in her office, when a piece of the wall of the basement fell, blocking her office door, and the basement flooded. She couldn't escape. The firefighters had to use a chainsaw to cut through the floor of the bedroom she shared with her partner of 9 years, Charlene Strong.

Kate Fleming was taken to the hospital and put on life support. Her partner, Charlene Strong, was not allowed to make life decisions for her. She was told that "next of kin" or "family" had to be present to make the decisions to take Kate off life support. Charlene Strong was not allowed to say anything about the health care.

Later, during funeral arrangements, Charlene Strong was told she couldn't make arrangements for Kate Fleming.  And, finally, she was told by the funeral director that Kate's ashes could only be given to Kate's mother. Charlene had a whole litany of paperwork from their lawyer saying she was the partner, but she was dismissed outright.

Now, the casual reader might be thinking, "was this a relationship that was held in contempt of the family?  Maybe Kate's mother didn't approve?"  But, that was not the case. Kate's mother is seen in the video with Charlene visiting Kate's resting place. This was merely the the workers at the hospital, and at the funeral parlor, telling Charlene that she did not count as family.

Most people would back down from this. It's devastating to lose your partner, and then be told that you don't count. I know several people who lost their partners in the 90s, and they had to fight with their partners' families who did NOT approve of the relationship. It has to be just as bad as being told you don't count when you are approved by the family.

Thankfully, Charlene Strong did not back down. She contacted Joe McDermott, and within a couple months of her loss, she went and testified before the Washington State Senate for the rights of domestic partnership. Here in Washington State, we had a gay rights slow roll out. We started with domestic partnership which gave us a few rights, like hospital visitation. And, then gave a few more to registered partners. And, finally, we gave ourselves gay marriage.

Charlene Strong was one of the primary voices in Phase 1 of the roll out. She went before the committee and testified her story about her loss of Kate Fleming, and the emotional and legal turmoil that she went through as a result of not having the same rights as a straight married couple would have. She had been the partner for 9 years, which I really cannot stress enough. A decade is a long-ass time.

For My Wife... documents this testimony and arguments in the state house and state senate. And, it gives special note to a speech given by Senator Rosa Franklin, an older African-American woman, who gave an amazing, heartfelt, and emotional speech in support of domestic partnership. She was slow, mannered, and passionate. Unfortunately, Rothmiller didn't have enough confidence in the power of the speech and added treacly piano music to hammer home that this is landmark. But, this speech was one of the best speeches given in support of gay rights that has really been given.

And, For My Wife... continues on, showing Charlene Strong standing next to President Obama, as he signed an order to bestow hospital rights to same-sex couples. It also has a stupid song montage of Charlene traveling. And, it also has her earning a GLAAD award, where we get some rather inane chatter, including Kathy Fucking Griffin telling her co-host that she's gayer than he is.  Yeah, this adds nothing but putting Kathy Fucking Griffin in a movie that has nothing to do with her.

For My Wife... came out on DVD in 2009.  It's a short movie, clocking in at just over 60 minutes, and at the times mentioned can feel slightly excessive.  However, the movie is incomplete. It ends on the note that says that the story isn't over, especially for gay rights, which is really what this movie is about. As the movie was being made, another incident had occurred, that of Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond. A Lacey, WA couple were vacationing with their three adopted kids in Florida when Lisa sufferred a brain hemorrage, and died. But, in the hospital, Janice and the children were barred from visiting Lisa as she died, because Janice was a lesbian. Even though she had all the proper paperwork such as power of attorney, and had the papers faxed to the hospital, it wasn't enough.

Fortunately, progress has been, and is still being made. Since the movie came out, Washington State extended marriage rights to same-sex couples through both legislation and voter initiative. By 2012, Obama had decided that his administration was no longer going to enforce DOMA, the bill from Clinton's era which explicitly defined marriage between one man and one woman. In June of this year, the department of justice struck down DOMA. And, it deferred California's Prop 8 back to the lower courts, basically saying that the earlier declaration of it being unconstitutional was just for that state.

The fight isn't over. In the US, only 14 states extend marital benefits to same sex couples. We're still fighting tooth and nail for the rights to survivorship and health visitation. We're fighting against people who think we're not right in the eyes of God, and that should be all the reason they need. We're fighting against churches who want to dictate the lives of everybody, whether they are members of that particular denomination or not.

And, the fight doesn't stop in the US. We're fighting against oppression worldwide. We're still fighting in Russia against Putin's laws. We're fighting for rights in Brazil, and for rights throughout Europe. For rights in the Middle East.

But, this movie isn't about the global fight.

For My Wife... is about one woman's loss, and the strength she found to help change her own state. And, for that, we are thankful.

Required viewing.

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