While their relationship was never recognized in law, and possibly not by some members of their family and community, they were very much a couple, though maybe not one as common as those they served to protect on a daily basis.
While Frances and Sandy chose to live a quiet, unassuming life – be it out of either fear of, or respect for, their community – it is nice to see this community coming together to acknowledge that many people make sacrifices to protect the safety of our families and friends, be they straight or gay, and they deserve our respect. The individual religious choices each of us makes for ourselves should not influence how we treat one another in the public square, where people of many faiths and beliefs come together.
Relationships such as theirs deserve to be protected because they make our community stronger, not weaker. Frances and Sandy would not have weakened the institution of marriage, and they would not have destroyed it – but instead they serve as an example of why marriage is still an important institution for our society.
While we agree with local radio show host Austin Rhodes that “gay folks need the same protection under law that married people have,” we disagree that this legal protection can truly come in a separate but equal institution called legal domestic partnerships. There is nothing religious about the word “marriage” when a straight couple marries at City Hall, two atheists marry at a seaside resort or a convicted felon marries his prison pen pal.
Instead, in Georgia and South Carolina it means they are straight. Marriage is an institution of commitment, born in love and recognized by society. We don’t need two institutions – straight marriage and gay domestic partnerships – to recognize our families. Officer Williams lost her wife; she did not lose a housemate.
(The writer is public relations director for Augusta Pride.)