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Not If, But When


Like Aly’s post this morning, this afternoon’s post is also about trying to survive the horrible politics of anti-LGBTQ legislation, this time in Colorado. Kelsey’s post comes to a different conclusion than Aly’s and the two together are a powerful statement of just how much work we have yet to do and how powerfully important it is for us to roll up our sleeves and do it.

Not If, But When | A Practical Wedding

Last summer, my girlfriend and I attended a lot of weddings. We went to weddings all over the country. We went to weddings for friends one of us had grown up with, and friends one of us had gone to college with, and friends that we had gone to grad school with. And it started to get a little sad, especially for my partner. To her, and I suppose to us, it was starting to feel like we had to endlessly look in the window at something our family, our partnership was being denied. We loved celebrating with our friends on all of these important days, but it was getting harder and harder to throw off the feeling of being less than.

Earlier this year, after we’d talked more about our feelings on Weddingpalooza 2011, moved in together, and started discussing when we’d like to do something about formalizing our commitment to each other with our own rocking party; it came to our attention that a bill to institute civil unions was being introduced to the Colorado state legislature. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to work through some of the feelings of helplessness that I had started accumulating. Supporting the people who were putting this bill through congress was something I could do! Holding up my family as an example of whom this bill would benefit was something I could give; it was a way I could hope to change one of the things weighing on my partner and me!

We jumped in, as wholeheartedly as work schedules would allow. I attended hearings at the capitol where proponents of civil unions offered brave, occasionally funny, occasionally heart-wrenching accounts of what these individuals and families had already overcome and how state recognized civil unions would help them protect their families in the future. We brought our dog with us to rallies in downtown Denver. We wrote letters to our representatives, and we attended trainings on the lobbying process. We followed the bill through each committee it passed, watching as one representative after another who was not expected to support the bill changed his or her mind as they came to really see the people who so needed the protections civil unions would offer. And being surrounded by support and hearing from so many people who really thought that doing this would be righting an injustice against families like mine started to change how we were looking at things. We started to feel like we mattered, and that anyone making us feel like we were less than was absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

After the bill had cleared the state Senate and moved with approval through the various committees in the House, hope started creeping through our whole community. The bill had the support and the votes it needed to win a full vote in the House of Representatives, and the Governor had backed the bill all along—when it came to a vote, we would be successful!

From there, most everyone knows what happened. The Speaker of the House, Rep. McNulty, was opposed to the bill, and with the help of his supporters, filibustered other legislation, and finally called a two hour recess on the last day of the legislative session until the clock ran out and the civil unions bill died, simply because it was blocked from a full vote. We were home, after falling asleep while waiting until midnight to hear what the outcome would be, and we lay in bed, in the dark, holding hands as we discussed the news and our disappointment in it.

The public outcry against this abuse of power was huge (and heartening, as we went about picking ourselves up from the emotional low of the previous evening). The governor made the unprecedented step of calling a special legislative session, in part to give the civil unions bill the fair run it deserved. And so, that Monday afternoon found my girlfriend and I wedged into a packed room as the bill was introduced before a house committee it would have to pass through, one final time.

The structure was the same as the other hearings had been. Nine representatives first heard testimony from the supporters of civil unions. Local political luminaries, LGBT rights activists, speakers on behalf of the governor’s office, the former mayor of Denver, and supportive clergy, in addition to the couples, families, and individuals who came to share their own stories again. I watched my girlfriend smile at the sweet stories, I clapped with her and half of the people in the gallery at well-made arguments, before the chairman of the committee could reprimand us all. I leaned against her as we listened to the testimony from all the people standing against the bill—all the people in their white “Protect Marriage: Stop Civil Unions” shirts and their Bible ties—some of whom had even brought their children in their own small shirts. Children who were way too young to understand what we were there to discuss and who we worried for how much hatred they were internalizing so early.

After the two-plus hours of testimony had concluded, it was time for the committee to vote. Most members of the committee chose to say a few words about why they would cast the votes they would. One woman on the committee was moved to tears as she spoke of how proud she was to vote yes on the bill. Another woman spoke of her traditional, country childhood, and how pleased she was to expand her definition of “family” with her “yes” vote. Two of the younger members of the committee spoke of gay members of their own families they would support with their votes for civil unions. My partner and I, and so many of the men and women around us, were smiling with tears in our eyes at their words.

Finally, the chairman of the committee began to speak his piece. He mentioned his own gay son. He remarked on the number of people who felt so strongly about the bill on both sides. And then, as we stood in the packed room, hardly breathing while we all waited to hear this man’s vote on something that would affect so many of our lives, the chairman said in a patronizing, faux-jovial tone, “And everyone should have a gay friend. I mean the gay community knows how to throw a party!” He paused, then went on: “However, with all that being said, I believe Colorado voters have already decided this issue—and my vote today will be a no.” And after that reduction of my family and our community down to party throwing skills to inspire old, straight, white guys, the other four men on the committee followed the chairman’s lead and rejected the bill, five votes to four.

We walked out of the capitol together, in our red, wrinkled, smelly (the special session came too quickly for us to finish laundry), too-large, “One Love, Equality” shirts. We held hands and discussed what we wanted to do about dinner as we headed for our car. We talked a little about how frustrated, and disappointed, and sad we were. It was awful to see so clearly how the fate of a whole lot of people had been unfairly decided by a very small number of intolerant men.

We pulled up in front of our house, and my girlfriend kissed me. “I’m glad we were there, though,” she said. I agreed. We needed to see the people out there fighting for us, and we needed to see the families who had much more to lose than our childless selves did, so we could see who needed us to fight for them. And we needed to see who is against us and how they are making their points. Eventually, we’re going to be successful in achieving equality for LGBT families. And whether we wait until that happens, or we decide to have our own wedding sooner than that, it’s going to be quite the party. Nobody throws a party like the gays, after all.

Photo from Kelsey’s personal collection

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  • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

    How amazing you were able to be there for that– though it didn’t pass, and I wish it had, how amazing that you were there to fight for equal rights.

    (We got married anyway, in a state with no legal rights, recognition or protection, and it was the best decision we’ve ever made.)

  • Florence

    I’m so angry against those intolerant people… who are they to decide what love and family is???
    You should be very proud of yourself for standing up for your rights. I truly hope you’ll win soon.

    • Liz

      I hope we ALL win soon.

      Marriage equality is a victory (on some small scale) for society. (Which is absolutely no way to take away from the profound personal impacts of marriage equality).

  • Catherine

    It breaks my heart that there is still such strong prejudice in the world. I have many gay friends, and to tell them that they are not leggally allowed to be happy in their own skin and love another person is so wrong and sad. Who are these people to say they have the right to decide the fate of someone else’s happiness.

    I like to think of Ellen Degeneres and her wife, Portia. To see the two of them together is one of the most romantic things I have ever seen. These two women love eachother so much.

    There are far too many straight couples that get maried for all the wrong reasons and probably shouldn’t get married in the first place – but somehow they are allowed to – instead of two people who happen to be of the same sex who just want to grow old together, raise a family and live happily ever after?

    It just doesn’t make any sense! And then, to go to my Catholic church every week and hear a 12 year read the petitions – “For our bill makers and Congress, that they realize the truth and santity of marriage the way God intended and protect it from a corrupted society, we pray to the Lord.” So much for loving one another and not passing judgement……..

    Rant not nearly over, I could be here all day.

  • Heather

    I was having a self indulgent pity party that my family haven’t been so supportive of my wedding plans of late….

    Then you kicked my butt and I realized what an awesome privilege it is to be able to get legally married at all, let alone to not have to face so much intolerance and judgment on the state of my relationship. I’m the UK and the issue of giving civil partnerships ‘married’ status is one up for debate at the moment. It’s the same old story, the religious right claiming gay marriage inflicts upon its rights.

    I’m sorry you’re struggling in this unjust place you have been put into. I will do what I can to join you in campaigning on this issue.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    “[W]e needed to see who is against us and how they are making their points”

    That line strikes me so much. Because that’s bravery there, staring down the faces of people who are fighting against your rights, and learning what rhetoric they use so you can better fight it later.

  • SarahToo

    As a Canadian living in Ontario, where marriage equality has been legal since 2003, I sometimes take it for granted…until reading an article like yours that reminds me of how the fight for equal rights is still ongoing for way too many people. I hope with all my heart that your organizing efforts will meet with success sooner, rather than later, and urge you not to feel discouraged by the –often frustrating and bureaucratic– process of fighting for the rights that we all deserve. It’s encouraging to hear about your experience of how the legislative process in Colorado strengthened the sense of community for the GLBTQ community (and supporters) in your state, and I hope that your communities can keep building on that momentum.

    With love and in solidarity,
    – Sarah

    • Kelsey

      Love and solidarity back to you :)

  • http://somewhatbookish.wordpress.com Carrie

    I feel like today’s theme is “states where I have relatives that suffered disappointing marriage equality developments this year”. Good for you for getting politically involved. I have great hopes for Colorado that a civil unions bill will pass in the near future.

    • DanEllie

      In my case, it’s states where I live/have lived being intolerant. When I lived in CO, I worked against the legistlation there, and when I moved to NC, I worked against Amendment 1. My partner and I stayed up late monitoring the bigoted antics of the CO legislature even after we knew Amendment 1 had passed. It was a heartbreaking day, though the days after helped show the support this issue has in the highest places – the President and the governors of both states came out in support of the community, but unfortunately not in time to make a difference.

    • Kelsey

      Me too for civil unions in the near future! It’s scary to see so much support, yet see the future of the actual legislation in the hands of just a few powerful people

  • Laurel

    There were a couple of Colorado legislators with gay kids (4ish, I think) who voted against civil unions. I feel so bad for their kids, and so angry at the condescending ‘gay people for entertainment’ thing. At the same time, hard as it is to deal with, this is progress. It’s progress that feels like he has to pretend he’s personally accepting and this is just about politics or democracy or something, you know? Not if, but when.

    • Kelsey

      Ugh- that was such a hard part of it all! I felt so awful for all of those sons and daughters.

  • Ambi

    As someone who works in state politics and legislation, I think it is often way too easy for us to forget the real people whose lives can be dramatically affected by our decisions. I know from experience that (as with any job, I guess) the extremely touching personal stories can get lost behind statistics, policy, budget, and political concerns – and honestly, we just start thinking in the abstract too much. Just as I assume emergency room doctors and police officers get desensitized to the trauma they see around them, I think legislators sometimes become desensitized to the real human beings they are legislating. While I am definitely not a legislator, I work in this arena and see this every day. Your post shocked me out of that mindset. I have always been a huge supporter of full marraige equality, so for me it wasn’t so much that the subject matter of your post was an eye-opener, it was your description of the legislative process and how much it impacted your family. I wish more elected officials read APW . . .

    • Kelsey

      Ahhhh!!! I wish they did too! I want them to see us, I feel like they were so desensitized by the end of it all… I guess we all were, but it just was too important not to listen!

    • Class of 1980

      Ambi, I like your post for your capacity to have your eyes opened … but frankly, I have zero patience or sympathy for any legislator who forgets that laws affect real people.

  • Another Meg

    I knew I was going to cry at my desk. It absolutely breaks my heart to know that while I’m busy planning my own wedding, my happily ever after and circle of legal protection for our baby family, that not everyone can have this. It’s also so very heartening to be here and read how families of all kinds are fighting for equality.
    We are tenacious; we will fight until we win.
    Not if, but when.
    Kind of want a t-shirt that says that.

    • Kelsey

      Me too to the t-shirt!

  • ruth

    I’m sitting in my office sniffling over your eloquent essay. Not if, but when indeed!

  • http://blindirishpirate.blogspot.com Blind Irish Pirate

    You sure handled the last disappointment with some grace. I probably would have thrown something after the chairmen said something so demeaning. WTF, dude.

    • Kelsey

      Not ‘like’ but love! WTF indeed…

  • Julie

    I am proud to call you my future wife. I love you, Kelsey.

  • Michelle Thrush

    Kelsey is my niece and very proud<3

    • Kelsey

      <3

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  • carrie

    I didn’t comment yesterday b/c I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t know what to say except that I stand with you, and am proud to take a stand with you and so many others.

  • http://www.moodeous.com Kristy aka Moodeous Photo

    Kelsey, soooo glad to hear this story shared today.

    I remember the elation as I watched Governor Hickenlooper call the special session, then the hope as it spread among us all, the rallies, and finally the anger as we watched it get voted down in special session. Next year we fight again!

    Were you at the Self Evident Truths shoot here in Denver at XBar? Trying to figure out if we’ve met and our paths have crossed. If not, they should!!! :)