Rhode Island Marriage Equality
As I walked up to the Rhode Island State House I took a minute to catch my breath. The building is beautiful. I marveled at how quiet it was outside. I was pretty much alone. I looked up at the building as I tried to steady myself. The quietness outside, the peace I felt, I knew would soon dissipate. I could hear the yelling from inside the building.
In fact, I had already spent hours inside, holding a sign, and singing with people on both sides of the marriage equality debate. For a minute, it wasn’t quite peaceable, but it wasn’t angry either. In fact, I laughed at a lady standing behind me holding a “Equal Marriage” who introduced herself to a man carrying a sign in opposition. They shook hands and she she said, “It’s a pleasure to be protesting with you today!” We sang patriotic songs, and the protesters sang along with us. They sang hymns, and we sang along with them. For a minute, for a very sweet minute, even though we disagreed, things were okay.
Sadly, it did not last. The screaming intensified. There soon began jabs and shouts of misconstrued Bible verses. There were condemnations to hell. I felt my heart start to squeeze. Being someone that hates crowds and contention anyways, I decided that it was a good time to ditch my laptop I’d been lugging around all day and feed the meter. I spent a minute in the stillness of the car, wondering what the hell I was doing there. I’m a straight, Mormon, mother of four kids. I can count the number of gay friends I have on one hand. Why on earth did I feel so strongly about this? It had cost me a lot. My faith, some of my friends, and it’s meddled with relationships with people I love most. Why haven’t I been able to just shove that feeling down…why have I felt so compelled to act? I have been dealing with a crazy spell of fatigue lately, too. I was so tired. I put my head back for a minute on the seat and thought about just. driving. home. Getting into bed. Cuddling up with my husband.
My husband. The man I married just months after I had turned 19. No one stopped us. There were no hoops to jump through, no “separate but equal” civil union for us. We were in love. We wanted to spend forever with each other. We got married. I love being married. I say that a lot. These last few moths have been trying, to say the least. Abby’s surgery and the news of further surgeries needed and her hearing loss being permanent. Lance was told he is to be furloughed at the end of April because of these budget cutbacks- he will have to stay home one day a week without pay. A fifth of our salary right out the window. I think about how much weight I carry around, how much worry weighs shoulders. My marriage takes that weight and divides it. It softens the blow of trials hurled at us. Along with that, my marriage intensifies joys. At the end of the day, when I am being swallowed up in Lance’s arms, I am calm. I am happy. I am grateful.
Thinking about that joy, I knew I had to go back in. How could I deny that to anyone? How could I not support more of the very thing in my life that makes me so happy?
I took a deep breath as I opened the large doors to the capital building. It took me a minute to get my bearings. The heavy doors muffled most of the sound. Things had gone from bad to worse. This is what I was greeted with:
Inside the rotunda the sound of the protests drowned out the efforts of the LGBT and supporters as they tried to sing songs. I heard the worst things said to these people. That they were evil. That they were trying to ruin society. The list goes on and on. At one point I burst into tears. A woman who was there with her partner came and wrapped her arms around me. I told her I was so sorry. That I was so sad that she had to deal with this. I sobbed about how wrong it is and she just hugged me and said, “It’s okay. It’s okay. Thank you for being here for me. Thank you for caring.” Me. She was worried about ME. I’m straight. I don’t have to deal with people telling me I’m an abomination because of how I was born. I watched as the supporters resolve started to crack a little because even when we tried to together sing as loud as we possibly could, “God bless America, land that I love…” we still could not be heard over the yells of “No! NO! NO!” of the protestors. We were so outnumbered.
The people who had come with their children had left some time before. I heard one mom talking to her daughter. Her daughter said, “I thought this was supposed to be a special day.” The mother, “It is a special day. But some people just weren’t being very nice.” The girl, “I don’t like it when people aren’t very nice.”
Eventually, things got too out of hand, and we were moved to a holding room upstairs. Exhausted and a little defeated, I found a seat next to some ladies who brightly spoke about their business, the years they’ve been together and how excited they were to just one day get married. We listened to the testimonies that were given on both sides. I watched as the supporters visibly cringed when they were compared to people who practice bestiality and pedophiles. The room exploded into cheers when Matthew, a 13 year old boy, gave an articulate and impassioned plea to let his parents get married.
After about 9 hours there, I was too tired to go on. I started to feel sick to my stomach and sent a text to David, the man I had been working with on my testimony. I went and met him, took a couple of pictures in front of the hearing. I apologized for not being able to stay, and he hugged me and thanked me over and over again for my support. He said they’d deliver my written testimony to the committee and that we’d be in contact. The people working there had been there since early that morning and were going on zero sleep. Yet, even at 11pm, they still met me with smiles on their faces.
The snow softly breezed around me as I walked to my car. In my mind, the song, “Hallelujah” played. The song speaks of David and Samson’s fall from grace. It speaks of sin and of love. Then…
You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah
In the end, many on both sides thought they were doing God’s work. I feel strongly that my life has brought me here. Maybe it’s having a marriage that I love so much. Maybe it’s having kids that aren’t always treated equally because of who they were when they were born. In the end, whether you hear me singing a holy or broken Hallelujah, know that I’m still singing it.
And know, that whatever side you are on with this issue, kindness lasts longer and goes much further than anger. I wonder how it would have been if the protestors just kept singing with us, and us with them. I know with a surety that in their efforts to protect marriage as they see it, they did nothing to bring people closer to the God they believe in. As I sobbed amidst the crowd, I kept thinking, “This is not the God I know. This is not the God that I was taught about. If it were, I would have nothing to do with him. But it’s not. The God I know is tender and loves everyone. The God I know cares for all of his children.” They did nothing to make the LGBT community feel loved and accepted. It didn’t have to be that way. It could have been kind. It could have been spiritual. The same testimonies could have been shared in front of the committee. No one would have had to compromise their beliefs. But no one would have had to leave there feeling so broken.
I got home and cried into my husband’s chest until I fell asleep. I fell asleep grateful for my marriage in a whole new way. It was so easy. We fell in love, we got married. The people I had spent the entire day only want the same. I want that for them, too.