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Friday, March 29, 2013

More Than A Day With Cake

This post was spurred by a facebook post from the wife of my oldest nephew. It has been a week where marriage equality has crossed the lips of so many Americans despite which side of the debate their words were on. Her post as follows:

Click Link AT Right For Link To Video

I agree with Erin, the news conference was kindly worded. At least more so than the LDS church had done before. I recall being handed church material as a young man that stated it would have been better I not been born than be a gay man or that it was OK to hit someone of the same gender if they flirted or showed interest in you. I recall being afraid to come out because the gay community was just a bunch or predatory, sex-occupied, soul-less creatures that were miserable minions of Satan. So, yes, it doesn't take much to be more kindly worded than that.

A common sentiment shared by the above post is that there is still somehow a belief of being respectful even while subjecting the "respected" group to live a subordinate or second-class life. "Your love isn't equal to my disrespect" just doesn't hold water.

There isn't anger in my next words. Truly it is bewilderment and even some pain. I am a little surprised to read my niece-in-laws views and "compassionate" opinions regarding who I am and who I love. Not so long ago my niece and nephew felt similar "compassionate" opinions on their love. My nephew married her outside of a temple sealing after returning home early for a mission. For those not LDS, a Mormon mission and Temple Marriage are the ultimate show of worthiness and proper living in "God's kingdom." As a man who didn't serve a mission I knew what he was going through. I knew the sting of words of "compassionate disappointment" the community can relay to men like him and I. Young men who didn't quite make the grade. While I don't know why he returned early, nor do I care, I know the assumptions so many LDS people make on your worth as a good Latter-Day Saint after not going or returning early. I recall their wedding and wedding planning. My family has an amazing knack, as do so many LDS families I know, for conveying disappointment, disapproval, and even holy anger while smiling and talking softly when someone doesn't appear to be making the righteous decisions drilled into our minds. Their marriage and early marital life was a disappointment to many in my family, regardless of the smiles they forced to show. I was not one of them.

Sure, I had concerns for them marrying so young as I had my own personal reservations for my marriage at such a naive time in my life. Feelings in my family were similar when I skipped a mission and proceeded to marry. Liz and I were fully aware of what they faced and we tried our best to not get wrapped up in the family drama and just support them. They even rented from us for a period of time. 

So, as they have felt the eye of disapproval in their own marriage, I am surprised at their only luke-warm compassion for who I am and there simple disregard to the legal rights of my future marriage to the man I love. It seems ignorantly hypocritical. I get the same feeling from so many of my family members. When you  have so many skeletons as they do in the closet I guess I can see where they would rather pretend I not exist. My skeleton came out and that surely scares them a little that I can be happy being who I am and living honestly. After all, we were taught such deviance from our LDS faith would surely bring us misery....I've never been more content with life and who I am.

The hope after a week like this is that people would see gays differently. One hope is that in my own life family would see my partner and I as family too. Another hope is people would see us as people.

It has been a rough road trying to get my partner here. Long distance relationships aren't simple. It would be one thing if he were finishing school, serving in the military, or otherwise temporarily unavailable to live with me. That would have a foreseeable end. It is an entirely different thing to live in the unknown. There is no end date or guaranteed time we will be together. His love buoys me up on rough days. It keeps me going, but our love has been relegated to a "respectable" dark corner as to not be seen or heard of in society.

Miriam-Webster Definitions:

Definition of COMPASSION

: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it


 noun \ri-ˈspekt\

Definition of RESPECT

: a relation or reference to a particular thing or situationrespect
 to an earlier plan>
: an act of giving particular attention : consideration
a : high or special regard : esteem
b : the quality or state of being esteemed
c plural : expressions of high or special regard or deferencerespect
My niece-in-law uses these two words in her explanation of how she feels about gay people. I would like to address each one.

Using the definition above it is impossible for her or her church to use compassion in their vocabulary yet still deny that same-sex couples should have the right to marry. The only way to truly have compassion is to alleviate the distress and support my right to legally marry the man I love. No, I am not saying they have to recognize my marriage religiously. They don't have to grant me permission to marry in their churches or temples. They have a fundamental right to religiously abstain from any doctrinal recognition of my marriage. That right ends at rites however. It isn't compassion to push their religious teachings into my home and into my love. Compassion is a nice word and sounds pc, but it is truly hollow if there is no true definitional feeling behind it.

I may be making the incorrect assumption on how she uses the word respect. Their are 3 definitions after all. However, I do feel confident that she isn't referring to either of the first 2. So, if she is referring to the third definition in any form the rest of her comments don't add up. Unless she is saying that the love between my partner and I is too perfect and amazing for marriage, she surely can't be respecting me while denying me "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Denying my family basic civil rights and protections is in no way giving special or high regard to our love.

There have been so many attempts to justify this discrimination in marriage law. There has been so many attempts to discredit homosexual relationships. Opponents of equality have cited everything from the bible to the safety of children. They've claimed it will diminish the value of marriage. They have even proclaimed that the very fabric of society will be torn to shreds if two men or two women are allowed share in marriage. As I misquote and forget who said it "why would gay people ever hurt fabric?"

The reality is that there is no basis to these claims. If there were, you would have heard those things brought up in the cases before the Supreme Court. They were absent. In lower court rulings experts against gay marriage have been discredited or admitted that there was no rational basis to deny marriage equality. 5 of 6 "experts" refused to show up to court after marriage equality attorneys took their depositions. They had nothing they could legally claim. If you listen this week in the court hearings you won't hear charges that gays molest children. You won't here specific research saying gay people can't be good parents. You really only hear that we don't produce children through sexual intimacy with each other. Yeah, and?

The reality is that gay parent families exist. I am one form and example of that. We are real and tangible. A recent birth made a gay friend a dad for the first time. I can't give proper description in his struggle to become a father, but I have seen a few of the steps and heard others from him. The process took over two years and 10's of thousands of dollars. It involved heartache and stress as potential surrogates came and went and tests and procedures were done. He persevered and the pain was worth it by the smile I see on his face. There is no way that this father is less qualified and loving than some broken condom or mistaken pregnancy (even within the bonds heterosexual of matrimony). This child has two men that have struggled and fought for years for the chance to love and raise this child. There is no way this child is disadvantaged from love. Gay families aren't a new concept. They have been around for years. They go through the exact same terrible two's, tweens, teens, etc. There is no reason to deny these already existent families protections, safety, and equality under the law. No reason.

Compassion, equality, respect. All nice words, but not specific enough to describe what their ideals mean to me. Let me end by bringing it home. There is no compassion, respect or equality for me when I lay my head on my pillow and can't look into the eyes of the one I love. There is none when I come home from work to an empty house. There is none when he has to be 8,000 miles away and waking up when I'm going to bed. None when I clutch my phone hoping the next notification is him saying the US Embassy issued him a visa. None when that ring is a picture of the denial letter. None when I try to console the person I love over a text. None as a cry and wish I could hold him and apologize for sending him to my countries embassy to be evaluated by the worth of his bank account and not the content of his character. There is no compassion or respect when I try to explain to my sons why people are keeping he and I apart. How do you explain to a child that the one you love and want in your family is blocked joining birthday parties and Saturday pancake breakfasts by some archaic, ill-informed law? How do you teach your children the value of marriage, commitment, sacrifice, and love when your denied it?

Equal marriage isn't about another day of cake and parties. It isn't about tuxedos or two wedding dresses. It isn't about flowers, invitations, gifts or even the honeymoon. It is about love, about commitment, about sacrifice. It is about walks on the beach or just down the street. It is about working hard. It is about soccer Saturdays and swimming lessons. It is about homework and not drinking from the milk carton. And, it is about holding the old wrinkled hands of the one you love as they move on from this life. It isn't just a made up excuse to eat cake. The reality is that after all the costs of immigration just trying to be together we may  not even be able to afford cake. 

There are movies with an empty seat, grocery shopping, reaching that itch in the middle of your back, reading bedtime stories, singing songs, breaking up brotherly fights, social gatherings, cooking, doing homework etc that are done alone when the person I love wants to be there. How many times have I looked over in bed just wishing I could watch him breathe as he sleeps? They talk about protecting families, but how is my family protected when it is denied the chance for two loving parents to live in the home? Why should Skype be the only way they get to see each other? Why should my children have to try to understand politics that keep us apart?

In the eyes of the federal government my love and I are strangers with no relationship of value. Our commitment to grow old together means nothing to the embassy. Why must that be?

I am not asking you to change your religious beliefs or let me participate in your relationship with your god.

I ask you to re-think what compassion and respect truly mean. Your family and my family can exist in society. Emphasizing the value of marriage and family by protecting all those that wish for it will only strengthen the fabric of our country. It will only reinforce the importance of this basic structure of society.

My arms ache at night. Not from over doing it at the gym or any medical condition. They ache because I long to hold the man I love and kiss him goodnight. I long to look him in the eyes every morning and be grateful for one more day with him. They ache to walk down that aisle and place a ring on his finger. My arms ache in hopes to hold grand-babies together side-by-side. They ache for the chance to walk hand in hand into our senior years. They long to love and be loved

There is so much more I could say and so many more experiences I could share, but nothing changes if you refuse to open your eyes and try on the glasses of empathy. Are you willing to take a step back and really see who I am? Who we are? Brace yourself learning true compassion and respect will be more amazing than you could imagine.

A Week Of Love

It has been one of those amazing weeks to be alive. Despite my best efforts to do homework, or anything else for that matter, I have been glued to social media, news programs, and the hearings themselves.

March 26th and 27th represent the culmination of lifetimes of being a silenced community. 5 years earlier we had learned to use our voice. I was a newly out gay man the fall of 2008 when President Obama was elected and Prop 8 in California passed. As momentous as having our first black president elected and his much more progressive outlook on gays, it was overshadowed by voters in California siding with misinformation brought to them with the monetary backing of a church, and church members, that I used to belong to. It was one of the first times since coming out where I felt the pains of what being a minority felt like. I spent most of that post-election November day in shock. Only months earlier I had come out, and despite the issues of an ugly divorce, I was feeling truly alive and happy. I was seeing the world in technicolor for the first time. I had learned to accept and love myself. There were no more days spent self-loathing, self-hating, and straining under "eternal damnation" to be something I wasn't.

Facebook was in its infancy, but it was a new, powerful tool for getting the word out. A rally was planned. The anger towards a church and culture that told me I was worthless for 27 years was re-kindled. I would not be silent any longer. It was the dawn of a new day in our equal rights struggle. Too many had felt the sting of rejection from a culture that preached love but practiced fear and judgement. After watching gay Californians taste the sweetness of equality we saw them forced backed to the bitter cup of second class. Enough was enough. As I drove up to Temple Square and LDS church headquarters I heard KSL report that the gathering of Prop 8 protesters was merely just a few hundred. I nervously approached this brave, new, publicly "out" me moment. I learned quickly that the church-owned "news" radio was far from accurate.  It was estimated that there were 3-5000 of us who were silent no more. I had never felt anything like this before. A new chapter had begun in American history and I was lucky to be a part. I knew that losing on Prop 8 had sounded the alarm of a sleeping giant. The door of our closets had been ripped off and we would never go back in. The American people would have to see the faces of a previously hidden community. They would have to regurgitate their internal homophobia in front of real, tangible people and many would see the poison in their words. They would see the soul of people they once thought soul-less.

We gained momentum with every step. A few steps back but many more forward. Other states opened their arms and let equal love in. Don't Ask Don't Tell was tossed away as an archaic policy of a past misguided congress. Courts heard case after case and saw they misguided and hollow arguments of homophobia. They sided with us and kept siding with us. Finally these two days were ours. No more steps, we were at the top. Love again was at the Supreme Court. This time it was my love, our love on trial....finally.

I attended a vigil on the eve of our 1st day in court. It was great to see so many familiar and new faces gathered to celebrate love and put our energy into hope. Hope that an even brighter day finally lay ahead.

The facebook phenom began again. The Human Rights Campaign replaced their usual blue background and yellow equal sign with one of red on red to honor our fight for equal love under the law. Profile pictures began changing to this red equality sign. Soon my news feed was filled with red. It was simply beautiful. There was an energy felt spreading throughout the internet. Of course there were us familiars showing our support, but there were so many more new allies "coming out" in support of our love. By Tuesday night I was standing at the Utah State Capital with hundreds of other GLBTQ family members and our allies in red. We gathered to counter protest a group of people who believed they were celebrating marriage and honoring it by reaffirming that only one man and one woman were fit enough to love each other. Those for marriage equality surrounded this event and outnumbered the "traditional" folks 2-1 easily. It wasn't a night of fighting or anger, but a night of showing these people we have faces and families. We peacefully stood around them and heard some of the usual rhetoric, but I also noticed some speakers sounded more neutral than I would have expected. I can only hope that seeing our faces and humanity had some effect. It was a magical night and one filled with energy, and pride for the dignity and love within our gay community. Even the same LDS church-owned news system treated us with respect not normally afforded my community. Even here in Utah we have a chance for a brighter, more equal day sometime soon.

While it would be premature to say what decision these 9 judges will rule on these two cases, I do believe it is safe to say it matters little. If the rulings somehow are against us or so narrow they only help a few, it isn't over. We stand on the right side of history and every day more and more Americans stand with us. It would be a small setback, but only short lived. Momentum and love is on our side and there will be more and more states voting to recognize equal love.

Prop 8 was the darkest night before the brightest dawn. I am thrilled to be poised to watch this sunrise.