One of the most sensitive and divisive issues for many people today is the idea of gay marriage. I'm curious about how people would see the issue if we set aside everything from the debate except for this: what's fair and just, and what's not. There are 1,138 rights guaranteed to a man and a woman through the institution of marriage in the United States, but let's take a look at just four of them by imagining this as an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Cue Twilight Zone theme music.
Fade in on Rod Serling, who stands in the foreground of a Las Vegas casino, holding a cigarette in his crossed hands, as he says...
"Witness, if you will, four players at a blackjack table, gambling their money in a simple game of cards. They don't know it yet, but just 12 short hours from now, the stakes will get much higher, and each of their lives will change in an instant, an instant that will seem like forever... in the Twilight Zone."
Theme music swells. Camera tilts up to the usual galaxy of stars.
Here we are at a blackjack table, where we meet Mark and Sharon, complete strangers, both in their 50s, both single, and both getting plastered on tequila shooters while flirting with each other. Then there's Randy and Joe (might as well make us the gay couple in this episode). We're cheering, because Joe was just dealt 21. We are in Las Vegas for the night celebrating our 30th anniversary of being together, hoping for many more, and still very much in love.
While Mark and Sharon each toss back their fifth shooter, he turns to her and says, "Here's a really crazy idea: Why don't we go down the street to the Chapel of the Bells and get ourselves married?!" Sharon throws her arms around Mark with delight, so they grab their winnings, and off they go. That gives me an idea. I turn to Joe and say, "Why don't we go down to that chapel and have another ceremony and renew our vows?" (We had a wedding ceremony in 1988, decades before gay marriage was even up for debate.) Joe throws his arms around me with delight, so we grab our winnings and also head off to the Chapel of the Bells.
Over at the chapel, an Elvis impersonator concludes the holy matrimony of Mark and Sharon with a really bad rendition of "Love Me Tender," and off they go. We start to take our place before the altar (with lots of chasing LED lights), but Elvis turns to us and says, "Sorry, boys, two dudes can't get married in Nevada." Before I could start singing "Don't Be Cruel," he closes the chapel doors on us.
It's the next day now. Two cars are seen driving through the desert on Highway I-15, about 10 miles outside Las Vegas. Mark and Sharon are in the first car, and by a twist of fate, Joe and I are in the car right behind them.
Interior of Mark's Porsche Carrera. Sharon tells her husband of 12 hours about her life: married twice and divorced twice, no kids, some problem when she was younger that prevented her from bearing children. Mark also has no children -- never wanted any -- and never wanted to get married, he says with special emphasis. Clearly Mark regrets last night, and Sharon can sense it. She turns to ice but then warms right back up when Mark tells her that he has a substantial portfolio, including a nice home in Malibu.
The newlyweds' conversation is suddenly broken as Sharon lets out a bloodcurdling scream. Mark's Porsche slams into the back of a truck at 70 miles per hour. Joe tries to brake in time, but we slam into their car. Sharon miraculously escapes with only a few bruises and cuts. Same with Joe. Mark and I aren't so lucky, and we're both airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital in critical condition.
Suspenseful music swells. Cut to commercial.
The story continues at the hospital ER waiting room. Joe is franticly pacing back and forth. He pleads with a nurse to let him in to see me, but because he's not a relative, and because we didn't think to bring our Durable Power of Attorney documents along on the trip, he has to sit there in the waiting room until someone from Legal is found. Moments later, I take my last breath.
Sharon is also there in the waiting room and approaches the same nurse: "I must see my husband Mike before he dies!" The nurse looks at the chart and says, "The patient's name is Mark." Sharon looks at the marriage license in her hand and says, "I mean my husband Mark!" The nurse rushes Sharon in to see her husband.
Cut to Mark, who is barely conscious, as Sharon rushes to his side.
Mark struggles to speak: "Shannon, my darling."
"It's Sharon," she sobs as one of her fake eyelashes falls off.
Mark continues: "Sharon, Shannon, whoever the hell you are, I leave everything that I have to you, my darling wife, including the house in Malibu. I have another $1 million stashed away in cash, and it's hidden in the...." Mark dies.
Sharon is dragged away by security as she screams and yells, "In the what?! In the what, Marvin, you sonofabitch?!"
It's now six months later. In the distance is the home that Joe and I built together. A U-Haul truck is heading down the driveway with Joe behind the wheel. The camera holds on the foreclosure sign as he drives away.
Joe did everything he could to cover the mortgage, but after he shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay off the inheritance taxes and the lawyers, there was nothing left to help cover the payments, so he lost the house. He should have been able to use my Social Security money to pay the taxes or help with the mortgage payments, but because we were never allowed to get legally married, the federal government kept every dollar I paid in, and Joe got zippo. In the end, Joe and I were nothing more than business partners who owned some real estate together. Our 30 years together didn't even count enough for Joe to be allowed to see me before I died.
That same day, along the coast in Malibu, the waves hit the shore as the camera pans to Sharon sitting on the deck of Mark's ocean-front home. She discovered where the $1 million in cash was stashed away, and because she was legally Mark's wife, she didn't have to pay a penny in inheritance taxes on any of his estate.
Cut to a closeup of Sharon opening up an envelope that holds Mark's monthly Social Security check, made out to the wife of the dearly departed. Camera pulls out as Sharon sings, "Luck be a lady tonight."
Final scene: Joe is driving the U-Haul truck along the Pacific Coast Highway. As he passes by Mark's house -- now Sharon's -- the camera holds on Rod Serling, who is standing at the front door as he says...
"Exit Mr. Joe Timko, whose entire life changed on a dime. And a dime is about all he has left. Now the question comes to mind: Where is this place where two strangers can meet in the night and, in one brief moment, with one simple, eight-letter word, "marriage," instantly receive more than 1,000 rights as husband and wife, while those very same rights are denied to another couple who have been together for 30 years? Where else could this place be but the Twilight Zone?"
Cue theme music. Roll credits. Fade to black.
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