Disability, Marriage, and Facebook

Since I’m addicted to Facebook, I’m going to write about something that is going on there.  There is a picture going around from the Special Miracles Facebook site.  This site shares positive stories and information relating to people with Ds.  One of the pictures recently shared was of a couple, both of whom have Ds, who had a commitment ceremony.  According to the attached blurb, “Jeanne Waters and Charles Wisner of Frederick, are not your average bride and groom. They both have Down syndrome, and because of their developmental disabilities are unable to marry.”  You can click on their picture to see the Facebook post.  Some stories are truly just feel good stories.  Read, feel good, move on.  I’m thinking that this particular story isn’t one of those.

Jeanne Waters and Charles Wisner of Frederick, MD.

Jeanne Waters and Charles Wisner of Frederick, MD.

I’ve been seeing the picture shared around Facebook, and I have to wonder, what is going on behind the scenes?  What does it mean for this couple, for the Ds community, for society at large, that they had a commitment ceremony in lieu of a state-sanctioned, legal marriage?

An instructor at the job center where the couple met says, “They could get married, but I don’t think they could carry on a household.”  Then the story goes on to say that the center wanted to do something to honor their relationship.  No mention of Waters and Wisner wanting the ceremony themselves.  Apparently what started out as a simple celebration of their relationship turned into a full-blown ceremony.  White dress and suit, ceremony, first dance.  Everything but the legal married status.  The story goes on to say that at some point, the bride asked to sit down and the Reverend presiding over the ceremony assured her it was “almost done”.

Hmm… I have some questions.

  1. Why does the story say that developmentally disabled adults can’t get married?  A person who has a developmental disability is still a thinking, feeling individual.  All consenting adults have a right to get married, and people with Ds do get married.  They even get divorced (gasp).
  2. Did this couple even want to get married?  From the text accompanying the picture, it sounds like it was everyone but the couple’s idea to get married.  If they are happy with it, then I’m happy for them, but I do wonder.
  3. If they did want to get married, why are they “unable to carry on a household”?  If they are already receiving supports in their individual living situations, why couldn’t those same supports help them live a fulfilling life as a married couple?  Were they like this couple, who were denied the right to live together as a married couple?  (The couple in the news story were legally married, and their families are suing for discrimination.)
  4. Is the reason they didn’t legally marry about benefits?  I’m not an expert, as LP is only a few months old, but understand that some couples don’t marry because they don’t want to risk their supports and medical care.  This seems very wrong to me, as living in a mutually consensual, loving relationship seems like something that we should support as a society for all people.
  5. The pictures of the Special Miracles FB page got over 3,000 likes, and nearly 1,000 shares.  Does that mean that this story sparked nearly 1,000 conversations on the topic of marriage and disability?

I’m thinking the answer to my last question is no.  I’m thinking that most people didn’t even realize that there is a story behind that picture.  A complicated one.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad that there are positive images out there of people with Ds doing things that had been unheard of just a couple of decades ago.  Let’s be happy that this couple has been together for 25 years.  They have succeeded at creating a lasting, loving relationship, and that is more than many can say.  Let’s not leave it at that, though.  This story brings up a lot of questions for me about the very nature of marriage, its purpose, its symbolism.  It is further complicated by money, our definition of family, and our notions of independence.  Let’s discuss while we share this couple’s story, so that when the time comes for the next generation, things may be a little less complicated.

2 Comments on “Disability, Marriage, and Facebook”

  1. I so agree with you on this one. I’m sure most people just saw two people with Down syndrome getting married, said “aw isn’t that cute, good for them’ and moved on–not really reading the full article. I take this kind of thing personally you know? What do you mean they can’t keep a household? How many Americans struggle daily to make ends meet–yet because they are not smacked with a label of disability at birth it’s OK. Ugh it just frustrates me. I want our sons to be able to marry the person they fall in love with—with no problems, no feel good stories.

    • jisun says:

      I have a hard time not taking it personally as well, Crystal. I really don’t know the couple and don’t want to take away from their happy moment, but the way that story was written, it just filled my head with question marks. I am sure I’m guilty of passing on stories on FB without really thinking about them, this was a reminder for me to be more mindful.

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