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.

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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