Despite the worry, uncertainty and sleepless night it causes, I read every response to my essays and posts. I do this not because I’m a masochist (or rather, not entirely) but because I often learn something from thoughtful people who write in with a different point of view.
When last Friday’s blog post was published on Salon, the feedback was more than tripled. There were warm notes, which were satisfying to read. Plus a spate crammed with hate, venom and frustration that I tried to ignore. But there were also a handful of negative comments with real, viable arguments in them. The one that struck me (it appeared on Salon, not this site) read:
I will also add that you are very blessed to live in a state that funds the kind of artist program which gives your son an outlet for his abilities, and an identity as an adult. Many states have no such programs, and parents who raise their children in such locales probably find it harder to access to all kinds of resources for their child’s development.
Whoever wrote this was right, and it’s something I should have mentioned in the piece. Minnesota funds extraordinary programs for people of all kinds and levels of need. The one that employs my son, Interact, is the only professional arts organization in the world for people with disabilities. This organization is a wonder that needed exactly the right environment: generous patrons, boundless imagination, and a profound respect for every human. I am grateful every day.
I’ve moved away from Minnesota five times, but I’ve always come back. It’s family and friends that draw me, of course. But even more important is the culture: We have monster libraries that fight to keep their doors open 7 days a week, parks and trails in the middle of the city, award-winning organizations for runaway kids, community-minded police, social service programs that feed the homeless and—famously—wash their feet. Trust me, these things are rare.
When I lived in Seattle and saw the hungry and mentally ill lining the streets, I was alarmed. I questioned the policies that led to this, including Washington’s zero state income tax. Never, I told myself, would such a thing happen in my home town. We Minnesotans treat each other with dignity, no matter what our differences. We’re elastic, constantly restructuring and rethinking, ready to extend our tax dollars and casserole dinners to others no matter how unfamiliar their language, customs, behavior, religion or face.
Eventually, my husband and I drifted back to Minneapolis, yearning for sunlight and that open, inclusive climate. Then this blight of a ballot measure appeared:
“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?”
And all I could think was: What the hell? This is not my state.
Here’s the part that really rankles me. Gay marriage is not currently legal in Minnesota. (A shameful fact that I was—full disclosure—already volunteering* my time to help correct.) The new Same-Sex Marriage Amendment is a move on the part of some lawmakers and religious groups to “further protect” the definition of marriage. It’s the first step toward taking the existing lack of a civil right and turning it into a crime.
To my mind, this has echoes of Virginia in 1959, when the Lovings (a white husband and his black wife, married in neighboring Washington, D.C.) were rousted from their bed by police and charged with violation of the state’s Racial Integrity Act.
Of course, no one’s talking about rounding up Minnesota’s same-sex couples and tossing them in jail. But we are talking about denying people access to something that is only good—for them and for society. What earthly purpose can this measure possibly serve? It will keep people who are genuinely in love from forming more stable unions, inheriting automatically in the case of one’s sudden death, and making critical medical decisions on each other’s behalf. It will interfere with many of the most basic activities of modern life: raising a family, owning real estate, getting insurance together, picking up a sick child from school.
At its heart, this measure seems designed to marginalize and divide, making an overtly wholesome impulse—to join with one other person and form a covenant of respect and love—into something wrong and perverse. In that way, it reeks of the miscegenation law that snared the Lovings.
It was just 11 years ago that our state court struck down a sodomy law that had been on the books since the 1800′s. True, few people were pulled from their homes, cars and offices for engaging in oral or anal sex. But the prohibition against sodomy had been cited by landlords and employers as legal rationale for refusing gay tenants and employees: Because lesbian and gay couples must, inevitably, resort to oral or anal if they’re to have any sex at all (the reasoning went), they were lawbreakers. And that was grounds to be turned down for an apartment, a house loan or a job.
Every bit of evidence says that gay and lesbian married couples will strengthen our communities. They will become more rooted as homeowners, PTO participants and small business owners. They will take care of each other in sickness and old age, freeing up social security and Medicare funds. From a conservative, fiscal perspective (which describes mine, by the way) if you plot gay marriage on the spreadsheet it’s a win.
But this new measure, if it passes, threatens to set us back to the bad old days when outright prejudice could be cloaked in the law. A time when certain people’s pure commitment to each other was construed as perverse—assigned a dirty, ugly name.
Today, when I tell someone that I’m from MInnesota, I’m ashamed. Meanwhile, Washington, the state I abjured for its lack of mental health funding, will begin recognizing gay marriage on June 7 of this year.
I’m a big proponent of marriage, as the title of my forthcoming book implies. Even despite the spectacular failure of my first attempt, I believe the monogamous union of two people is something fine and worthy of community support.
There is no doubt in my mind that my children would be better off if I’d stayed married to their father…which is why I stuck with him through 12 erratic years of hardcore addiction. Second best is the arrangement we have now, where I am deeply committed and married to their stepfather. John is careful to stay on his side of the line; he is not their “dad.” But he is the man who attends their open houses, carries their medical insurance, and pays their college tuition and bills. He’s the other number on their emergency cards. He is the adult—in addition to mom—who will always and forever be there.
Yet, marriage as an institution made no more sense for John and me in 2006 than it does for two people of the same gender. We did not plan on having biological children. We each had a house and career. We married not because we fit the traditional model but because it bound us in a way we wanted to be obligated. We are thankful every day for our late-in-life marriage. The word means something sacred to us.
I tell you all this because I hope it will provide context around what I’m about to say: If the anti-gay marriage amendment passes in November, my husband and I have agreed to divorce—renouncing our Minnesota marriage licence—and remarry in Iowa, which in ’09 became the second state in the U.S. to sanction gay marriage, later the same day.
An empty gesture? Perhaps. Inconvenient? Absolutely. Also sad. We’ll set our anniversary back more than six years. There will be roughly $1,000 in legal fees, so far as we can figure, to draw up powers of attorney for our various insurance policies and accounts. If one of us is killed in a car crash on I-90 as we drive south, the other one is doomed to endless probate of our will.
But these are risks and costs we’re willing to undertake. Because frankly, the idea of tainting our marriage with a “defense” that demeans other people’s relationships…it simply isn’t Minnesotan. And it certainly isn’t the way we want to live.
*If you feel as I do, please join me in volunteering for MInnesotans United For All Families.