How Does Marriage Affect the Gay Nuclear Career ?

Illinois is a nuclear state. It houses 11 nuclear reactors, many power utilities, Argonne National Lab, Fermilab, the NRC Region III office, and the American Nuclear Society headquarters, among other things. Today, the Illinois State Senate passed marriage equality legislation. Though passing this bill through the House of Representatives will be a challenge, this is a step toward marriage equality. For many nuclear engineers with careers in Illinois,  it is a step toward career equality as well.

Nuclear engineering careers are particularly sensitive to marriage issues. We are often in nomadic careers like the Navy, academia, or the national laboratories. Since the spousal hire negotiations in these situations become vastly simpler with a marriage certificate to staple to the agreement, unmarried couples (or at least their careers) suffer.

Furthermore, some of us are folks with security clearances. Since 1975, it’s no longer the case that you can explicitly be denied a security clearance based on sexuality, but security clearances can still be denied if there is some suspicion that the subject is not completely “out.” A marriage certificate would be an undeniable proof of “outness” and could do away with security clearance discrimination for good.

However you feel about the meaning of marriage, it is a pervasive legal institution in our society. Legal ramifications of marriage or non-marriage include everything from gym membership fees to hospital visitation rights to adoption eligibility to estate taxes. For the nuclear engineer, it affects all of those things and more.

Perhaps this discussion merely demonstrates that the government shouldn’t have anything to do with marriage. Perhaps the legal marriage institution breaks the separation of church and state. Whatever your opinion, the government has chosen to be in the business of marriage. If it wants to be involved in categorizing the personal lives of US citizens, it had best do so fairly.

As early as late March, the US Supreme Court might declare DOMA unconstitutional and federally recognize same-sex marriage. These are not decisions that will fully clear the path of queer nuclear engineers. But, they’re a good place to start.

Listening : Macklemore – Same Love