Thursday, May 30, 2013

Marriage: In the Nick of Time

This is where the rubber of relationship meets the road of life.

As the Minnesota legislature was debating the merits of a law that would extend the rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples in our state in the early weeks of May, Göran and I were experiencing a painful personal trial. It wasn't something I could talk about at the time, even though the nature of our trial made the debate in the legislature weirdly, intensely relevant to us.

Göran was experiencing a series of distressing health problems that -- we learned early on -- were pointing toward kidney failure.  I've been spending significant time in the past month caring for Göran through intense fevers and flu-like symptoms, running him to labs for blood tests, and running him to doctors for a series of evaluations and consultations.  Yesterday his kidney doctor delivered the verdict.  Yes, his kidney is failing.

Most people can survive the loss of a kidney, because most people come with two, and one is apparently enough to live a long, healthy, normal life on.  But Göran has only one kidney, because the other was removed when he was an infant due to a congenital kidney problem.  So now the clock is ticking.

Unlike me (!) Göran is an intensely private person.  If he had his druthers, we would face this alone with a small circle of family. Last night, we decided to go much more public than that, partly because we realized that this was big, and that we needed the broadest possible support network of friends and family. Already we are overwhelmed and grateful for an outpouring of love and prayers in the last twenty-four hours, and even a number of courageous, loving individuals who have come forward offering to be screened as potential kidney donors.

It takes a village.  Not just to raise a child, but to care for every member of that village.  And every village is made up of a network of relationships: people who care for each other in a variety of ways.  Villages are organized in overlapping concentric circles of immediate family, then friends and extended kin, and then the larger community (the village), and finally the meta-community (the state).

One could even argue that the history of America -- of any nation -- is the history of its villages, its communities.  One of the central story-lines in American history has been about how those bonds of village and kinship have successively been torn apart and broken down by processes of migration and expansion, by war, slavery and displacement; only to be rebuilt in a variety of ways on diverse foundations.  The Mormon part of that American story built its families and villages on the foundations of "eternal family" and "Zion."

Göran has needed me to be there as his primary support and caregiver, and he will need me more than ever in coming months...  Just as I needed to lean on him last year after my bike accident and brain surgery.

I plan to be the first to be screened as a potential kidney donor.  If my kidney is not a match, or if I am not deemed healthy enough to be able to do without a kidney, we will have to turn to family, friend and kinship networks.  If we are unable to identify a suitable donor in those networks, we will have to turn to the national network of deceased donors (typically a 5-year wait, our doctor tells us).

I woke up this morning, thinking, We have a lot of work to do.  I have phone calls to make to begin the process of transplant referral and support.  I'll need to talk to doctors and specialists, and Göran and I have a lot of decisions to make together.

And it occurred to me: What if some of those concentric circles of support, instead of working with us, were working against us? What if doctors and referral networks refused to talk to me, for example, because I could not be recognized as his legal spouse? His first line of defense, his immediate family (me!) would be excluded rather than empowered in the process of helping care for and heal him.

In the anxious weeks we experienced in late April and early May, as we awaited calls from doctors and the results of tests, wondering what it would all mean, I remember watching the Minnesota house and senate debates on same-sex marriage with a special earnestness.

I remember thinking.  Maybe we will be married...  In the nick of time. And the Senate voted, and the Governor signed, and we are married.  Just in time.

Gay Americans and gay families are and have always been a part of the American village.  But many thousands of us won't be married in time.  It's time America fixed that.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Still Here: Division in the Aftermath

Yesterday at 5:00 p.m., Governor Mark Dayton signed into law the bill that would enfranchise thousands of Minnesota families headed by gay and lesbian couples.  Six thousand supporters were gathered in front of the Capitol building to cheer him on.  But not everybody is cheering the passage of this law.

It would be easy to dismiss the opposition now.  After more than two decades of feeling like I was a second class citizen, after eight years of experiencing genuine fear at the possibility of being forcibly separated from my spouse, to finally have full legal equality and recognition for our relationship is overwhelming. Göran and I are still exchanging hugs, expressing disbelief that this has finally happened. We are beyond joy.

Yet, there are people today expressing grief at our joy.  I still wrestle to understand their grief, since I can't see how our enfranchisement takes anything at all away from them.  Their families are still safe -- they have always been safe.  Now that my family is finally safe, why wouldn't they rejoice with me?

The Pioneer Press published a photograph of Done Lee of Eagan, Minnesota setting up a mock tombstone in front of the state Capitol reading, "RIP MARRIAGE 2013."  "This is throwing out marriage" he was quoted as saying.  Some protesters who showed up at the Capitol during the Senate debates carried signs: "Proud Father of a God-Approved Family" and "Proud Mother of a God-Approved Family."  Sen. Dan Hall of Burnsville, Minnesota compared division within the state over this issue to the American Civil War. Hyperbolic, of course. But it certainly speaks to the level of frustration and grief that opponents of the new law feel.

The Pioneer Press quoted another opponent of marriage for gay and lesbian couples, Judy Shea, who acknowledged the difficulty of this issue.  She told of her disagreement with a brother, saying, "It's really hard to be on the other side, to have family members that are in pain and speaking differently about this. It's not comfortable." However, she continued, "Many people who think it's wrong would say they weren't really sure how to explain it. But we have to be prepared to explain ourselves. ... This will continue."

It has been the frequent inarticulateness of the opposition that has most frustrated me in the past. Part of me has always really wanted to understand.  Occasionally during the Amendment 1 campaign last year, I would ask an opponent of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples to explain why they felt the way they did. Sometimes, just before loudly slamming the receiver down on the phone, they would explode, "I don't want to talk about it!"

I found that if I could coax people into talking about it by patiently asking open-ended questions, they would occasionally talk themselves out of it. Talking about it not uncommonly led to the recognition that gay people want and need family just like everyone else, and there didn't seem to be good reasons for denying it to them.

These encounters left me with the impression that often the opposition was inarticulate because they were, bottom line, irrational. They couldn't speak about their reasons for opposing marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples because, bottom line, they had no reasons apart from fear and misconceptions about what it meant to be gay, and lack of empathy for the fact that gay people might want families just like they do.

Not all opponents were inarticulate or seemingly irrational. I did have plenty of conversations with folks who would insist that they had nothing against gay people, but they simply couldn't support same-sex marriage because of their reading of biblical texts about the nature of marriage, or other deeply held beliefs.  They could even acknowledge that others didn't read those same texts the same way they did and didn't share those beliefs.  These more articulate individuals commonly voiced the fear that they would be perceived as "bigots" because of their religious convictions.

In those circumstances, I assured them that I did not regard them as bigots, and I expressed my own conviction that there had to be some way to coexist in the same society even while holding differing beliefs.  Couldn't reasonable people find some way forward that would allow gay men and lesbians to form stable bonds, and protect their relationships and families, and be treated with the same respect that heterosexuals expect?  Isn't the fostering of stable family units in the best interests of everyone, gay and straight?  Did establishing those kinds of supports and protections for gay and lesbian individuals really have to be seen as conflicting with the needs of heterosexual couples and their families?

At the last minute, in the Minnesota House debate over the marriage bill, Republicans offered a "civil unions" compromise.  It was too late for that. The opposition has often seemed so completely lacking in empathy or concern over the impact that their fervor to "defend marriage" would have on real people, like me and my husband Göran, or my friend Daniel who is forcibly separated from his partner because of citizenship issues (like I could have been from mine). I'm sure that seeming lack of empathy has helped, ultimately, to propel the cause of same-sex marriage rights forward.

I do expect that with time, increasing numbers of Americans -- in Minnesota and everywhere else -- will accept marriage rights for all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, and move on to other pressing issues.  But I also acknowledge that there may always be individuals who dissent from this view.

I recognize that folks who disagree with me on this issue are not going away.  But then, I'm not going away either.

Conversation is perhaps more necessary than ever.  Perhaps one reason the opposition was so inarticulate in the days before Amendment 1 failed is because they had it their way, and they didn't see any need to expend energy to reach out to those who differed with them.  Perhaps it would be a mistake for same-sex marriage supporters to make the same mistake once we "win" and get things "our" way.

Bridging gaps and building a deeper kind social unity and awareness will ultimately also be in everybody's best interests.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Everything Made Right

I'm so proud of my state right now.

About two years ago, after a Republican dominated Minnesota legislature put an anti-gay-marriage amendment on the ballot, Grant Stevensen, the pastor of Spirit of Truth Faith Community, said to himself, "This can't be happening in Minnesota."  And he did something about it.  He helped organize communities of faith in Minnesota to foster conversations about marriage.  I worked closely with Grant for a good part of last year, helping to foster conversations on this topic among members of the Latter-day Saint community in Minnesota.  Grant must be pleased right now.

What is amazing to me is that less than a year after Minnesota rejected that ballot measure, our legislature has passed a bill that will recognize the marriages of gay couples in Minnesota.  I never expected it to happen so fast.

History is full of ironies.  One is that the conservatives who forced that anti-gay-marriage ballot measure on Minnesotans sparked one of the most broadly based, widest-ranging grass-roots campaigns in the history of the state.  Tens of thousands of volunteers got on the phone and talked to perfect strangers, or talked in person to neighbors, friends, family, fellow parishioners and co-workers about marriage and about gay families.  Over a million conversations were counted by the campaign.  Probably many more took place.

The result? At the start of the campaign, a narrow majority of Minnesotans said they were opposed to granting full marriage rights to gay couples.  At the end of the campaign, enough Minnesotans had changed their minds to defeat the amendment.

Lots of Minnesotans were mad at the conservative legislature for doing nothing, basically, but putting two negative amendments on the ballot.  So when they tossed out the anti-marriage amendment, they tossed out the rascals who inflicted it on us and replaced them with a solid Democratic majority.  That Democratic majority today delivered to us the passage of HF 1054 and SF 925, "Marriage between two persons provided for...."  Governor Mark Dayton has promised to sign it into law tomorrow.

It will go into effect August 1, 2013 -- 18 days before Göran's and my 21st anniversary.


On November 5, 2008, I was walking down the Skyway in downtown Minneapolis, fighting back tears of pain and anger.  It wasn't until fairly late in the day that enough election results in California had come back to confirm beyond reasonable doubt that Prop 8 had passed.  I wondered what it would mean for Göran's and my marriage, which we'd held on July 25, 2008 in Riverside, California, surrounded by my entire immediate family, and witnessed by our 16-year-old foster son Glen.

I was angry.  But piercing through the anger was the still, small voice of the Spirit telling me: "Don't be angry. Don't be afraid. Everything will be well. Everything will be made right."

I realized today how very literally that message from the Spirit has proven to be true.  In the vote in Minnesota today, everything is being made right.

Prop 8 turned out to be what the Spirit -- through that peace-shattering election result -- promised me it would be: a turning point.  A blessing in disguise.

Because of Prop 8, literally millions of conversations have been taking place, among Mormons and among Americans of all faiths.

We're still waiting on the Supreme Court ruling that will tell us whether Prop 8 ultimately stands or falls.  But regardless of that ruling, it seems to me that a watershed has been passed.  Gay couples in California will be able to marry, perhaps sooner than they think, one way or another.

Marriage came to me and my husband here in Minnesota, much sooner than I ever would have dreamed one year ago.


My husband Göran is home from work today, under the weather.

He was sleeping when the flood of exuberant messages started piling up in my Facebook feed, announcing the election results.

I went into the bedroom and kissed him gently on the forehead.

"It passed," I said.

He woke up and smiled.  "We're legal now?" he asked.

"Not quite yet.  The governor is signing it tomorrow.  And it doesn't go into effect until August 1.  But, yes, we'll be legal soon enough."

"Good."  He kissed me and went back to sleep.

For right now, that's celebration enough for me.

That, and thinking about our son Glen's upcoming wedding to his fiancé Will in September 2014.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Surrogate Parenting in the Bible - and What It Might Mean for Gay Families

For all the modern-day controversy that the topic of surrogate motherhood has generated, it is right in the Bible, in the book of Genesis.  We see the first example in the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, in Genesis 16.  It comes back with a vengeance in the story of Jacob and his competing wives Leah and Rachel.  Rachel, who appears to be barren, offers Jacob her handmaid Bilhah, "That I may ... have children by her" (v. 3).  After Bilhah gives birth to a son, Rachel names him Dan, and declares, "God... hath given me a son" (v. 6).

The Bible also allows for surrogate fatherhood.  The principle of Levirate marriage, described in Deuteronomy 25: 5-6, mandated that when a man died without issue, one of his brothers should take his wife (or wives) and raise up children in his brother's name.  The principle seems to have been understood before it was codified in the Mosaic law, as we see in Genesis 38:8, where Judah orders his son Onan to give children to his deceased son Er.  Onan's sin -- the one for which God notoriously smote him -- was his deliberate denial of posthumous children to Er by interrupting the act of procreation with Er's wife Tamar and "spilling his seed upon the ground" (Genesis 38:9).  Denying a brother offspring and a name appears to have been considered a very serious offense in the eyes of God.

From a Latter-day Saint perspective, the evidence of a clear biblical mandate for surrogate parenting is very interesting, if only because of the broader vicarious principle within our theology.  Latter-day Saints see "saving our dead" as one of God's core commandments to the Church.  That is why as a routine aspect of our service to God, we are baptized, confirmed, endowed, married and sealed in the temple on behalf of our dead ancestors, performing vicariously (or as "surrogates") for them ordinances which they (being dead) can no longer perform for themselves.  In Genesis and Deuteronomy, we see the vicarious principle extended not merely to the performance of ordinances on behalf of the dead, but to the provision of offspring to those who are otherwise unable to have offspring of their own.

I love the vicarious principle.  It teaches, first of all, that we are all interconnected.  We are all one.  The Doctrine of the Atonement is, by the way, an example of the vicarious principle -- perhaps the supreme example.  The One who was able to bear the burden of our sins, bore it for us, on our behalf.  Many have called the Atonement a "mystery" because they could not understand how justice could ever be served by having one person suffer for the sins of another.  But it is less of a mystery in the framework of the vicarious principle.  Apparently one who is worthy may voluntarily suffer on behalf of another who has sinned.  And Latter-day Saints, by referring to those who perform vicarious temple ordinance work as "saviors in Mount Zion," in essence acknowledge that our vicarious ordinance work and the Atonement of Christ operate under the same principle.

One reason Latter-day Saints often argue that same-sex marriages cannot possibly be considered valid by God is because same-sex couples cannot have biological children of their own.  Establishing families and having children is seen as a core element of God's plan for all of us.  One reason I am fascinated by the principle of vicarious/surrogate parenting as it appears in the Bible is that it so clearly teaches how, from a divine perspective, lineage need not be biological.

Biological procreation necessarily brings children into the world.  The union of a sperm and an egg is the only way I know of to create human children.  But biological procreation is not how families are created or lineages are established.  The building of families and the establishment of lineages takes place through covenants lovingly and freely entered into and fostered and renewed through sacrificial love.

The vicarious principle teaches that we are all one flesh, and that by virtue of our oneness, we have obligations to each other.  In the biblical principle of vicarious parenting I see God telling us that we have an obligation to help others establish families and lineages in their own name.  Shouldn't gay and lesbian couples who are seeking to build families for themselves receive the loving support of their heterosexual brothers and sisters?

In doing so, do we not more fully affirm the humanity of all of us?