My partner and I have been together nearly eight years. We’ve never had a ceremony, but that didn’t stop us from getting a dog, buying a house together, welcoming our first child 18 months ago. We’re each other’s biggest fans and we’re in this for the long-haul, for better or worse. A piece of paper, or the hundreds of state and federal rights associated with it, won’t change that. All the same, this proposed marriage amendment matters to us. A lot. For a thousand reasons — personal, financial, and philosophical — we’ll be voting “No” in November.
I was asked recently, “How will you feel if the amendment passes?” It seemed like a silly question at the time. But the truth is, I hadn’t really let myself think about it yet. In that moment, with the question hanging in the air, I felt it: an almost literal punch to the gut. Airless lungs, stinging eyes, a rock rising in my throat. For a moment.
I composed myself, said something more-or-less deflective about “moving on” and “keeping up the fight” and “viewing the long arc of history.” But to be perfectly honest, that’s not the full truth.
If this amendment passes — after all the work, the money, the hard questions asked and answered, the risks taken, the eyes opened, the stories shared — it will be a moment of profound and visceral sadness for me, my partner, and for many in our state. It will mean that the essential commitments, needs, and realities of our family — the same as any two-parent family — are not recognized by over half of our fellow voting citizens.
As I write this, on a Friday night after a long week, I can hear our daughter on the baby monitor, talking herself to sleep in her crib. She hoots to imagined owls, calls to invisible kitty cats, and babbles about the discoveries of her day. She is “Hah-ppy Ivy,” 18 months old, and all she knows in her world is love: from two adoring parents; from four doting grandparents who weren’t sure they’d ever have a grandbaby to spoil; from weekday caregivers who are more like a second family; from the real and honorary “aunts and uncles” who are all collectively invested in her future; from the neighbors up and down our street who have quietly but firmly built a protective orange “Vote No” boundary around us.
Because of this, I have hope for her, and for us in the long haul. But part of me wishes I could inhabit that preconscious 20-month noggin on Nov. 7 No matter which way the vote goes, she’ll still get fed, and loved, and read to, and let loose in a sea of books and blocks. She won’t have to wonder if the supermarket cart-pushers or the distant relatives or the radio announcers or the teachers or the work colleagues filled in the “yes” bubble on their ballots.
But we — her parents — do. This ballot measure is profoundly personal to us. Beyond the rights, privileges, and responsibilities we still won’t have under law no matter which side prevails, it says so much about the state we love and live in. I know many of my fellow citizens struggle genuinely with this issue, whether through lack of exposure to real GLBT people, or a narrow reading of scripture, or forgetting that life in a religious plurality means that we are all sometimes bound by civil laws that do not privilege our particular faith. But faced with the prospect of a change to our state’s founding document that was designed to protect, not to limit citizens’ freedoms, I can’t help but feel a profound disappointment. Without constant vigilance, that disappointment could all too easily lapse into the disdain, stereotypes and inhumanity that too many GLBT people face in their daily lives. That’s not what I expect from myself, or from the state I am proud to call home.
This past Easter, we were lucky enough to join other Minnesota families in Washington, D.C., to participate in the Annual White House Easter Egg Roll. That in itself was an amazing experience, but I hope our first family will forgive us if the highlight of the weekend was elsewhere. At the MLK Memorial, we took a moment to read some of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most important words. The quote that sticks with me most comes from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
If this amendment passes — if my fellow citizens decide that one singular interpretation of religious principles or (dis)comfort level trump the basic civil rights and freedoms of thousands of Minnesotans — the loss will be the rending of that garment of mutuality.
If ever there was a time for recognizing one another’s humanity, and the shared principles that bind us to one another in community, it is now. You may not love like me, but chances are the way we live isn’t so different. No matter what, I will raise my children to respect yours, and hope that by the time they are in charge, the fabric of mutuality will be mended.
Erin Keyes lives in St. Louis Park with her partner and daughter.
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