We own a home together. We helped each other through school. Yet we're still vulnerable.
Related Gully Coverage
Suyin (standing), Sarah, Zenzali. Bob Pileggi
'I didn't know girls fought'
JULY 18, 2002. Sarah Lael, 39, and Suyin Lael, 42, are suing the state of New Jersey, along with six other lesbian or gay couples, demanding the right to marry. Sarah, a children's speech therapist, and Suyin, a trainer of people who work with the developmentally disabled, have been together for 12 years. They live in Franklin Park with their four-year old daughter, Zenzali. The national civil rights group, Lambda Legal, which helped file the historic lawsuit on June 26, is representing the plaintiffs. The New Jersey Supreme Court, reputedly one of the most liberal in the country, will have the last word. THE GULLY caught up with Sarah and Suyin last week.
THE GULLY: Why did you become a plaintiff in this lawsuit?
SUYIN: What compelled me was our daughter. She came home from school one day and had been told that we couldn't get married, that two women couldn't get married, and that really surprised her. We present ourselves as married, and think of ourselves that way, so that was rather painful.
SARAH: There are lots and lots of reasons. Most revolve around the fact that we lead our lives every day as if we're married. We own a home together. We helped each other through school. Yet we're still vulnerable. If Su's in the hospital, they'll say to me, Who are you? So it's important in big ways and small ways.
Why do you, personally, want to get married?
SUYIN: I personally want to get married because I love Sarah. I'm committed to her. We have a daughter. And I feel we have just as much right to get married as anyone else. I believe that when two people fall in love they should be able to get married.
SARAH: For me, it's because I love Su, and I really want to make a pledge and a commitment to her. I've already made it, but I want the social recognition of being married.
Does religion play any part in your desire to get married?
SUYIN: I feel that we are already married before God, so I feel we are already spiritually married. Now I just want it to be legally recognized.
SARAH: It's not something I'm horribly worried about. If I wanted to get married in a church right now, I could in a number of churches, but in our culture that doesn't carry the same weight. You still don't get legal recognition or health coverage. We actually made the decision not to get married in a church.
A huge percentage of straight marriages in this country fail. Why do you think that is?
SUYIN: I have no idea, but one thing that aggravates me, is that if you're heterosexual, you can meet someone one week and be married the next without really knowing each other. As for Sarah and I, we've had to make a commitment in our hearts.
Given that so many marriages fail, how do you plan to overcome the odds?
SUYIN: I think we've already overcome the odds. We've been together 12 years. And we know straight people that have been married separated and divorced more than once in the time we've known each other.
Have you thought about the possibility that if you win the right to marry, there be downsides for gay people? For example, that it may not just be a liberation, but a burden that gay people may then feel as pressured to get married as straight people do?
SARAH: People need access to the whole range of choices and mistakes, just as a personal choice I'm talking about. I just want to be able to make that choice and have it legally recognized.
Does your daughter know you're involved in this lawsuit?
SUYIN: Yes. She's only four. And we've talked to her about it in the way she can understand, that we're in a fight so that we can get married, and be recognized.
What was her reaction?
SUYIN: She said, "I didn't know girls fought."
What was the reaction of your family and friends? Do people at work know?
SARAH: I'm in a work in environment where I'm the only out lesbian, and, if anything, they were all surprised that we can't get married. I mean, when we talk about our lives, the things that worry us, what we have to do, what I talk about isn't very different than what they talk about. Having a child brought us into contact with a very straight environment, birthday parties, day schools.
SUYIN: My family knows, and people at work know. They bring me news clippings all the time. People have been supportive.
If you win, when will you get married?
SARAH: As soon as we can get our friends and relatives together!
For Sweeping Gay Marriage Lawsuit in New Jersey Aims for U.S. History by the national civil rights group, Lambda Legal.
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