When Keith Olbermann decided to join Twitter and do a Twitter segment, he picked out a tweet of mine to be his very first Tweet of the Day. I wish I could say it was memorable, or profound, or inspired, but it wasn’t. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party were raging at the time, and I encouraged Keith to work the words “Paliban” and “Teahadists” into his show. The real value of being his first Tweet of the Day was that Keith followed me. I was his 69th follow in fact, and since he didn’t yet have his hundreds of thousands to tweet with, we exchanged a few DMs.
Keith was going through the last days of his dad’s end of life struggle at that time, and my own family was facing the decision of putting my mother in a home for Alzheimer’s patients. I told Keith I hoped I would be half as effective an advocate for my mother as he had been for his dad. Beyond his kind words of empathy and encouragement, Keith answered me with some practical advice. He said, “Most importantly, make sure she gets visitors. At least twice a week,” Keith said, “more if possible. They take better care of the patients when they have visitors.”
I thought about Keith’s advice when I heard the news that the new Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, will not defend the 2009 law that sets up a registry for same sex couples who wish to have their partner at their bedside. My very first reaction was to think of Keith’s advice and say: No! They shouldn’t be alone! Then I thought of my 86 year old dad, and how he spends hour after hour sitting with my mother, holding her hand, hoping to be there at a moment in her confusion when she knows who he is, and they can say “I love you” to each other one more time.
Somewhere in Wisconsin there is a couple just like my parents who have loved and protected and honored each other for a lifetime, but he will not be allowed to sit next to his partner’s bed waiting for that moment of clarity. He’s not making sure the nursing staff isn’t abusive. He’s not there to let someone know his partner is hungry, or needs an extra blanket. He’s not going to be there in the middle of the night when his cherished one’s spirit slips away. He’s not going to be there because Scott Walker has decided Wisconsin benefits by keeping apart people uniquely able to give comfort to one another in these last terrible, difficult days of their lives.
There is a theory in governance that all people are born completely free, but that governments must restrict some of these freedoms so humans can live together in relative peace. Good governments restrict only the freedoms that harm society. Murder. Theft. High credit card rates. (Just a suggestion.) So ask yourself, how does restricting the ability of two loving people to be together in sickness harm society in any way? There must be an answer to this question in the mind of Governor Walker, but I have yet to hear him express it.
The situation in Wisconsin points out very clearly why there should be a Federal right to marriage. Not civil unions, “separate but equal”, though different from state to state. Not legal agreements and power of attorney statements. Marriage. One word. One concept. One condition: two loving, consenting adults bonded into a family. Government has no reason to restrict the right to comfort, to nurture and to stand by until their last breath, the person we choose to love.