Cook: Benefits of being in love

Cook: Benefits of being in love

November 12th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Lt. Corliss Cooper has been swept off her feet.

"I'm in love," the Chattanooga police officer said.

They met three years ago in Alton Park. Immediately, Cooper knew she'd found her soul mate. First comes love, then comes marriage: This Monday, at 3 p.m., Cooper and her fiancee will exchange rings and vows. Their wedding colors are white and black; it'll be a courthouse wedding. Cooper's still trying to decide on a photographer.

"I'm nervous. I'm excited," she said. "I've got this constant grin."

It's a destination wedding in Washington, D.C. When they return to Chattanooga, Cooper would like to begin filling out the paperwork that would add her new spouse to the benefits plan the city offers its employees.

Just as I would for my wife. Just as you would for yours.

"You're married, right? You've got benefits for your wife, right?" she said. "Then why shouldn't I have benefits for mine?"

Lt. Cooper is gay; she's marrying another woman.

"She [can] feel my heart beating through my chest. Through my vest. That's what she does to me," she said. "It's the same thing everybody experiences."

Miles away in Washington, they will pledge their life to one another as, back home, our city tries to find its way out of a crucial debate: will Chattanooga's City Council pass legislation that would give equal benefits to domestic partners -- same and opposite sex -- of city employees?

"I pay taxes. She pays taxes. We have a home together," Cooper said. "What's the big deal about who I fell in love with?"

Well, lieutenant, the big deal is this:

"It's a crime against nature," said one man at City Council last week.

"The basic building block of our society is basically destroyed," said another man. "That's the reason our society is going down the drain."

"Communism," said a third man.

"Wickedness," said a fourth.

It's become the single biggest issue this council, or perhaps any other in years past, has dealt with. The benefits plan would provide health and medical benefits to the domestic partner of a city employee who can prove -- through names on a lease, power of attorney, joint bank account and other ways -- that they're living in an intimate and committed relationship.

The first vote is tonight.

"It's fairly standard," said Councilman Chris Anderson, who authored the legislation after studying more than 100 other cities and businesses that offer similar benefits.

Yet it has become ground zero for social, political and religious tensions: packed crowds that have caught the fire marshal's attention, shouting citizens, armed guards.

"I don't see why people get so offended by who makes me happy," Cooper said.

In her story, so much exists. The double-edged discrimination of being black and gay in Chattanooga. A family that's always supported her. Others who don't. Her belief in a God that loves her. Her experiences traveling to enough cities to recognize the difference between places that are gay friendly and those that are not.

"This city is growing. It's ready to grow," she said. "People don't realize that the times are changing."

She's heard from other officers who are frustrated by what they see as a double standard of a City Council that may expand benefits and a City Hall that may restructure their pension.

"That's apples and oranges," said Cooper, who's been a Chattanooga officer for 26 years. "You can't penalize people because you think something's going to be taken away from you."

Cooper's wedding reminds us that her love is just like any heterosexual love: it is patient and kind. It protects, trusts and perseveres. It endures.

Love is the building block of society; the antidote to wickedness. Love. Not the gender of her spouse.

"It's awesome to be accepted unconditionally," she added.

Hear that, City Council?

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.