Last night was my third session volunteering at Minnesotans United for All Families talking to people on the phone about the proposed amendment that would ban me and my husband from being legally married in our own state.
It was a rough night. A lot of folks I spoke to were gruff and impatient. One guy I spoke to engaged in an extended rant about how the fact that individuals of the same sex wanting to be in committed relationships disgusted him. I asked him if he knew any gay people, and he said he had nieces and nephews who were gay. I asked him if he had ever spoken to them about this issue and he said he hadn't and he didn't want to. I said, "It sounds like you think people choose to be gay." He said he didn't know, and he didn't want to know, and he didn't care to discuss it. I told him I was gay, and I told him about my relationship of 18 years with my husband, and I told him that all I hoped for was the same thing anybody hopes for: love, respect, and law that protects my family on the same basis that it protects anybody else's. I suppose the fact that I had been willing to listen to his views opened him up to listen to mine with patience. (And I acknowledge it took patience on his part!) I thanked him for taking the time to talk, and we ended the discussion amicably. Still, his harsh words had taken a toll on me. There were quite a few other conversations like that, many where I was hung up on after even harsher words. And by the end of the night, I was exhausted!
After the phone sessions, we reconvened as a group and debriefed. "This was a rough night for me," I confessed to the group. Fortunately, every night has not been like that one, and I don't anticipate most future nights will be either. "Still," I told the group, "I'm glad we're doing this. I feel very good."
I am glad that in this campaign we are focusing on the substantive issue of gay folks and their families. The question is whether or not to pass an amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay and lesbian couples from getting married. Marriage is already prohibited for gay and lesbian couples in Minnesota, which passed a "Defense of Marriage Act" in 1997 -- shortly after my husband and I decided to buy our house together. Passage or failure of this amendment will have no immediate impact on my legal rights. And the campaign could have chosen to focus on legalistic finery such as whether we really need an amendment to ban something that's already illegal.
Instead we are talking about marriage, and what it really means. When I ask people, "What does marriage mean to you?" They talk about things like "commitment." In fact, "commitment" is probably the number one response I get from people when I ask that question -- regardless of their attitude toward gay and lesbian people or their personal experience with marriage. That gives me a chance to talk about the fact that that's what marriage means to me too. This isn't about "changing" marriage.
When I ask people why they object to the idea of gay people getting married, the two most frequent responses are they believe homosexuality is unnatural, or they believe their religion is opposed to it. Of course there is nothing unnatural about me or the love I share with my husband. And I believe that if people search deep within their hearts they will realize that their religion demands treating others like they themselves would like to be treated. And I don't think any of the people I've spoken with -- even the ones who have told me stories about unhappy marriages and divorces -- would like an amendment to the constitution banning their marriages.
My religion taught me that if I lacked wisdom, that I should ask God, and God would "give liberally" and "not upbraid" for asking. (Yes, my religion -- and the Epistle of James, chapter 1, verse 5 -- teaches me that God is that kind of loving, generous being!) And the things that people in my Church said and taught about homosexuality just never seemed to actually make sense in light of my experience of my own homosexuality. That disconnect, that contradiction, seemed enough of a problem, enough of a "lack of wisdom" to permit me to seek greater light and knowledge from God himself -- from the person who made me, who knows my inmost parts, who understands me completely and who loves me unconditionally.
I have witnessed a similar journey on the part of my fellow Latter-day Saints. Those who have known me and loved me have recognized that the pat teachings, the packaged answers about what homosexuality was supposed to be didn't jive with what they knew it actually was in the lives of real people. In my life.
I think ultimately, at its best, religion doesn't ever give us packaged answers to life's difficult questions. Rather, it gives us a set of tools to wrestle with those questions ourselves and to find answers that make sense in the light of Love. And I believe that Saints who avail themselves of those tools will be surprised by what they learn.
Last night was difficult. But I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. And I will go back again and again and keep making those phone calls. And I encourage others to get involved, to do what I did. Because as difficult and as painful as this situation is for many of us -- and I acknowledge it is difficult and painful for people on both sides of this political question, this constitutional amendment -- this situation is a gift. It is a gift to every single one of us, because it gives us an opportunity to learn lessons about the nature of love, the nature of justice, and the nature of brotherhood and sisterhood. Regardless of how the vote ultimately goes, this particular challenge, this issue in this place and in this time is our chance to learn about the depth and breadth of God's love for us all, his children, and how we each need to work to manifest that love.
That we may come into an ever deeper understanding of that love is my prayer each and every time I pick up the phone to have one more conversation about a difficult topic. It may be difficult, but this is a conversation we need to have.