Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The right to marry: denied so many for too long

Few tales thrill me as much as romance between the cognitively impaired.   

Decades before disability rudely invaded my life, I used to volunteer once a week at a New York institution for the blind. In the group of teens to which  I was assigned - they were blind as well as cognitively impaired -  was one very demonstrative couple. This was the 1970's and the teacher was a hippie, so naturally the relationship was nurtured to the hilt. The girl was short, chubby and white; her boyfriend was tall, handsome and black. Unadulterated testimony to love's blindness. I still vividly recall them happily snuggled together on one of the sofas in the "classroom" (it was the 70's!)

Then several years ago I learned about a Downs couple in their thirties engaged to be married in my community. I quickly arranged an interview with them and the groom's mother, was invited to and attended the wedding and passionately wrote a piece about the  experience for a local paper. Two years later I visited them in their apartment and wrote a sequel. 

My son obviously knows me well because he just sent me this link from the New York Times without even a subject line. Both the story and writing are gripping.  So enjoy!

The readers' comments were also worth reading; this one in particular. I just can't get that Oliver Wendel Homes Jr. quote out of my head. I hope he was the last of our contemptible justices.
But the punch to the gut came at the very end of the article when we learned that the Justice of the Peace got Lori’s name wrong during the vows. To me it seemed symbolic of all the injustices endured by people with intellectual disabilities; from institutions that used to warehouse this population in filth, to laws preventing them from marrying or even having sex, to laws allowing for their forced serialization - which happened to 65,000 people. Virginia’s forced serialization law was upheld by the US Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell and never overturned. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. writing for the 8-1 majority infamously said, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

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