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Charleston-area couple appearing in ACLU video
10Couples.org puts human face on marriage for same-sex couples

by Mark Smith and Paul Eagan

Mark McKinney and Steve Lepre.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has teamed up with the Emmy-award winning production company Public Interest to launch a video campaign on the new web site, www.10Couples.org. The purpose of the site is to put a human face on the issue of marriage for same-sex couples and to reach a wider audience using new media tools. Campaign partners include the Equality Federation, Freedom to Marry, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

“We are taking advantage of web technology to get our messages out about the importance of marriage for same-sex couples,” says Dave Isser, head of production for Public Interest.
“Using short videos posted on 10couples.org and on YouTube, we will be able to reach a wide audience and talk to them about the vital protections that marriage provides. People can comment on these videos and forward them to friends. It’s a great jumping-off point for a meaningful conversation about same-sex couples and marriage.”

The site, which features 10 short streaming videos of real couples telling their stories, aims to show Americans that denying marriage protections to gay and lesbian couples and their families is unfair and harmful. Viewers are invited into the homes of ten ordinary couples whose lives demonstrate why marriage is necessary for themselves and their families. In the process, they draw attention to the many protections reserved in America exclusively for people able to marry.

Currently, 26 states have amendments in their constitutions permanently barring same-sex couples from marriage. Many of these amendments prohibit many other forms of legal protections for the families of same-sex couples as well.

“When people realize what it means when lesbian and gay couples are shut out of legal protection for their families, they understand that it’s unfair to continue to treat committed couples as legal strangers,” added Coles.

Chaleston-area residents Mark McKinney and Steve Lepre were victims of inadequate legal protection when Lepre faced serious illness and an unsympathetic nurse refused to follow McKinney’s instructions regarding his ailing partner.

It was 1998 and Lepre had a dissecting aneurism in his intestines,” McKinney recalls. “He was very sick and they were having difficulty determining what was wrong with him at first. When they finally diagnosed the issue there were seven to 10 doctors involved and they were never able to determine the cause. He became a case study.”

The seriousness of Lepre’s illness was underscored by the treatment he received from a nurse during a particularly painful period.

“Steve doesn’t remember a lot of this because he was in such pain,” says McKinney. “On day five he was yelling at the top of his lungs that he was ready to go home. At that same time a nurse entered the room and informed me that they were going to get him ready to leave.
“It was clear he was not in the right frame of mind and was extremely ill. He wouldn’t have survived. She made it clear that they were not going to honor my request to keep him in the hospital.”

Even though the couple had signed legal documents stipulating that they were in charge of medical decisions for one another in the event of such an emergency — the nurse indicated she was not legally bound to recognize the agreement.

“I can’t be sure of course — but I think homophobia played a part in this. I think the nurse, who was doing this, might have been doing it on purpose.”

After some quick footwork and several phone calls, McKinney was able to get Lepre’s doctors to overrule the nurse’s attempt to have him removed from the hospital.

“This happened, even though we did have medical power of attorney,” says Lepre. “It was an awful ordeal. I just hope this video campaign wakes some people up. We’ve gotta stop dividing this country up.

“I think as the word gets out, more committed couples will start stepping out. We don’t have a huge community of longterm couples as examples to look up too. I hope we have more standing up and saying, ‘hey, we’re here and our life is no different from yours.’
About Mark and Steve

Mark McKinney, 36, grew up in Rock Hill. A former meterologist for a Charleston television station, he and his partner now operate a video production company called Sunhead Productions.

Steve Lepre, 46 is originally from Patterson, N.J. Before becoming involved with Sunhead, he operated a local theater — that’s where he and McKinney met 15 years ago.
How they got involved with the ACLU ad campaign

“We have been activists in this state for the past four years,” says McKinney. “We’re very outspoken. I suppose somewhere along the way they saw our testimony or they saw some stuff on Daily KOS. After the ACLU called us, LA cameraman Rotini Rainwater came to our house. We spent three hours with him, talking and leading our lives.”
info: www.10couples.org

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