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The best thing you’ll read today.

17 Aug

In April of last year, I got a call from my friends at Freedom to Marry. They frequently ask me to come take photos for their events and this time they had a special request.

They were going to be interviewing an elderly gay couple that had been together for 60 years and couldn’t be married. They wanted me to come take some portraits of the couple while they were being interviewed.

This adorable elderly couple spoke at length about their war stories (and I mean literally – both men served in World War II). As they were both singers and voice teachers, they also treated us to a couple songs.

I’d write more of their beautiful story for you, but it’s been done – by the New York Times. Check it out.

The purpose of us going there was to get their story out. This was a few months before New York would pass the marriage equality law and Richard & John didn’t want to leave the state to get married. Their romance was a New York romance and they believed they should have the right to tie the knot in the state they called home.

Well, last Friday after 62 years, Richard Mace and John Dorr were married. In New York. We want to congratulate the happy couple whose only advice to me was to “Never go to bed angry.”

You can watch the Freedom to Marry video that was shot that day here:

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7 Ways to Change Minds on Marriage

27 Jul

Coming out is a tough thing to do. It’s tough for everyone involved for the most part. Of course there are those rare occurrences where a kid popped out of his mother’s vagina and POOF! Everyone knew and everyone was okay with it. But for everyone else, it’s a journey. For both those who are coming out and those who are hearing it for the first time.

The same is true for those who are coming around on marriage equality – it’s a process. Just look at President Obama. He was able to model for the whole world that it’s okay to evolve on this issue. We have to take into consideration that for generations, we’ve been told that it’s not okay to be gay and it’s even less okay for two men or two women to be married. The idea for older generations is sometimes simply inconceivable. So, just like programming a VCR setting up a DVD player learning how to text, it takes some of us a little longer to figure it all out.

So here are some helpful hints on how to have a conversation with someone who may not be 100% on your side about marriage equality.

1. Respect their position – They’ve probably had that position for a long time, and as outlined above it takes time to work through those ideas. Whether their opinion is based on their religious beliefs or tradition or anything else really, it’s a position they’ve had for a long time. Maybe they haven’t had a lot of time or opportunity to even consciously think about marriage as something other than what they’ve always known. So give them the same respect you would expect in return.

2. Don’t attack. – This one’s difficult. Sometimes you’ve heard the same anti-gay, anti-intellectual and amoral arguments a hundred times before. But you have to remember that in many cases, the person you’re talking to is expressing these feelings and thoughts for the first time. If you come out swinging, you can bet they won’t be changing their mind anytime soon. And things may get heated when you least expect it. Wind it back by talking abou

3. Don’t get stuck in the Bible. – For generations, the Bible has been used as an excuse for someone’s bigoted beliefs. While you and I know that marriage between two men or two women was never mentioned in the Bible, and that “Traditional Biblical Marriage” never once allowed for the consent of the woman/women, and that the same book that says “man shall not lie with man,” also condemns eating shellfish, playing football and wearing polyester, these argument will ALWAYS turn contentious. If you wind up in a conversation that goes there, ask politely if you can change the subject to what love, commitment and family means.

4. Don’t say “Gay Marriage.” – Language around this issue is a touchy subject. But at the end of the day, we’re not looking for something different from what our straight friends and families have. We want marriage. We want marriage equality. We want marriage for all. As the now-famous facebook meme goes:

“It’s very dear to me, the issue of gay marriage, or as I like to call it, “marriage.” You know, because I had lunch this afternoon, not gay lunch. And I parked my car. I didn’t gay park it.” – Liz Feldman

5. Make it about Commitment instead of Equality. – Rights, Equality and all those other lovely things we’re striving for are great words that engage and energize LGBT people and our activist friends. But to others outside the movement, they aren’t something most have had to fight for, so they don’t think of them in the same terms you and I do. What most people do understand are words like “commitment,” “love,” and “family.” So instead of using words that aren’t as easy to grasp, use words that we can all identify with. Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and her colleagues at Third Way have done some extensive research in this area and here’s what they found:

When asked why “couples like you” might want to get married, they overwhelmingly said “to publicly acknowledge their love and commitment to each other.” But when asked why gay couples might want to get married, just as many people said “for rights and benefits, like tax advantages, hospital visitation, or sharing a spouse’s pension.” Over 3/5ths of those who thought gay couples wanted to marry for rights and benefits opposed allowing them to do so, but more than 3/5ths of those who thought gay couples wanted to marry for commitment supported it.

6. Don’t make comparisons. – We really love likening our struggle to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. We love talking about the similarities our movement has with the fights of the past. Funny thing is, this only causes people to spend time thinking about how our movements differ as opposed to our intent to find similarities.Keep them thinking about why this is important to YOU.

7. Don’t get stuck in the mud. – In your discussion, you won’t always come to a conclusion or life-changing realization on every topic. But we all know that we sometimes get to points so frustrating that if we don’t track back, the chat will be done. If you hit a sticking point where clearly you’re not seeing eye to eye, agree to disagree and move on to the next part of your discussion.

These are of course just a few hints to help make your conversation a little easier. If you have other ideas about how to approach a conversation like this, please put them in the comments! Thanks again to Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, Third Way and Freedom to Marry for the excellent research which backs up much of these recommendations.

Ten States* Where I Can Get Married?!?

25 Jan

There is a whole lot going on around marriage equality in this country right now and it seemed like as good a time as any to review what’s going on! As of right now, as I’m planning my wedding, there are 7 places I can get married. Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont (gotta love New England), Iowa, New York and Washington D.C.. While 7 weddings would be fun, wouldn’t 10 be funner?

Washington State: Our friends in the northwest are poised to become the 7th state to legalize marriage equality! The measure was proposed by Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire and immediately, we began counting the votes. In the past few weeks, it was seeming more and more likely as we counted. Then after several undecideds had taken a stand on the right side of history, we stood just one vote shy before stating conclusively that we could win this. Then Democratic Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, after having taken time to listen to her constituents and consider her own beliefs and values, she announced that she would be supporting the bill.

“For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman,” Ms. Haugen said in a statement. “That is what I believe, to this day. But this issue isn’t about just what I believe. It’s about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It’s about whether everyone has the same opportunities for love and companionship and family and security that I have enjoyed.”

A vote there has not yet been scheduled, but when it passes, opponents are expected to challenge it with a voter referendum in the fall.

Maryland: The Free State has grappled with marriage on several occasions before. In 2004, a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU and Equality Maryland on behalf of 10 gay and lesbian couples. The suit claimed that the anti-gay marriage law on the books was unconstitutional because it discriminated based on sex. The judge found in favor of the plaintiffs, but her decision was immediately taken to appeals, where it was overturned.

Anti-gay legislators spent the next few years going crazy, trying to pass additional amendments to the constitution to make sure the discrimination was enshrined in their laws. They even went so far as to have the judge who first found in favor of the plaintiffs impeached for her decision.

Then last year, a new marriage equality bill was widely expected to pass. With Catholic Governor Martin O’Malley announcing he would sign it into law, things looked good. The Senate (which was seen as the biggest hurdle) passed the measure and then it was sent to the House. That’s when the religious groups and the out-of-state National Organization “for” Marriage jumped in and began lobbying legislators to vote against it. The bill was sent back to committee as it was clear it would not pass if brought for a vote.

This month, a new bill which contains the most explicit religious protections of any in the nation, was introduced by the Governor. Keep your fingers crossed!

New Jersey: Having moved from New Jersey to DC just this past year, I have particular interest in this race. You see – when anti-gay Republican Governor Chris Christie was elected, it was made clear that NJ would not be seeing marriage equality anytime soon. Christie made an election promise that he would veto any marriage equality bill that landed on his desk.

In recent weeks though, as discussions of a marriage equality bill made their way around, Christie seemed to hedge. There were some thoughts that he might let the bill pass without actually signing it. There’s a rule that says if it sits on his desk for 30 days without him signing it, then it becomes a law. But just in time for the debate to start, Christie announced he would stick with his homophobic decision to veto the bill should it be given to him.

But then this happened. State Senator Steve Sweeney was asked by a reporter why they were still going through with a debate and vote if the Governor had already promised a veto? What followed was one of the most poignant and clear arguments I’ve ever heard from a legislator:

Reporter:Senator Sweeney, would you comment on this veto promise of the Governor as to what the point is of even going through this exercise?Senator Sweeney: The point of going through a fight for civil rights? Are you kidding me? For standing up for people to give them the same rights? I’m offended by that.

The Governor’s a governor. He’s got his opinion. But there are many Republicans — because I’ve spoken to them — that want to vote for this bill. Now, if the Governor wants to stifle and silence his colleagues that’s one thing, but he’s not going to stifle or silence us. Someone has to stand up for equality and fairness.

You know, I apologized in the past, but I’m telling you right now, I’m fighting to get this done. And if we have to go for an override we’ll work every angle we possibly have to. But right now it’s about getting it onto his desk.

And it’s offensive for anyone to think, why bother if the Governor doesn’t want to do it. Well guess what? He’s wrong on this one.

You know his announcement today was to try to put a damper on what we’re trying to do. It’s not happening. We’re not walking away, we’re not backing down, we’re not giving up. This is about civil rights, period.”

* – About the asterisk – While Washington D.C. is not technically a state, it is still a US locale where I can get married. Some of you may not realize that D.C. has no representation in the Congress or Senate, which means we are fighting the same thing the U.S. fought in the American Revolution. We still pay local and federal taxes but have no representation. For more information on this, visit DC Vote.

PHOTOS: DOMA Repeal’s First Senate Hearings

20 Jul

photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com

This morning, i had the distinct honor of joining the Family Equality Council at the very first Senate hearings on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was signed into law in 1996. This was my first time attending a Senate hearing and I wanted to walk you through what happened and my impressions along the way.

There was a long line of people waiting to get in to the hearing room, but luckily, we had reserved seats and were able to head in first. Looking around the room as it filled up was a who’s who in the LGBT rights movement – Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign, Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, Rea Carey from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and many other important names and faces in our movement.

Seated in the first row, in front of us were representatives from those who oppose equality for LGBT people. Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, Austin Nimmocks of the Alliance Defense Fund and Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Chairman Leahy (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Chairman Leahy quickly called the hearings to order and the first panel spoke to their experiences with DOMA. The panel was made up of House members primarily speaking about their constituents. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights legend – made several references to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as the comparisons between the Black Civil Rights movement and the LGBT Civil Rights movement today. he referred to DOMA as a “stain on our democracy.” He wrapped up by saying “These are our brothers and sisters, we cannot turn our back on them; we must join hands and work to create a more perfect union.

Over the course of the rest of the testimonies, I found myself listening more intently to the reasoning of those who stand against equality than those telling our stories. I think this is just because I’ve heard a lot of our stories in person (and even told a few), but to hear bigots spread lies in front of the US Senate was an experience I will never forget.

Rep. Steve King (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Rep. Steve King, the only anti-gay member of the first panel reiterated statements we’ve heard before. He spoke of the number of states where anti-gay referendums were passed, where the rights of a minority were voted on by the majority. He said that marriage equality would “demean” the institution of marriage. Also stated that same sex marriage would eventually lead to marriage between family members. And he wrapped things up by saying no court has ever found DOMA to be unconstitutional – he apparently never heard of the 14 times it has been in court and has been found to be unconstitutional.

The next panel featured non-members of Congress and was the first to tell first-person accounts of how DOMA has negatively affected our families. The primary focus of testimony from our side was on healthcare and tax law – many cited that same-sex married partners are frequently left out of hospital visitation protection and that the federal tax laws do not protect legally married same-sex couple and their families.

Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery complained about traditional marriage being destroyed. He kept referring to “mountains of evidence” that state children are better off with opposite-sex parents. I can’t help but note that while we tell our stories about how we are hurt by this bigoted law, during the entire hearing, no one mentioned how straight families are hurt by gays getting married. Minnery went on to complain about 8th graders who were “forced” to deal with the fact that gay people exist.

Now comes the good part. The members of Senate are now allowed to question members of the panel. The first question came from Chairman Leahy. He asked Minnery to answer a simple question. After Minnery’s claims that children are far better off with opposite-sex parents and that his most important reason for being there was to protect children, Leahy asked if children of same-sex parents are better off for not receiving the same benefits that children of opposite-sex parents? He needed to explain the question 4 times before Minnery finally agreed that DOMA is indeed hurting children of same-sex parents.

Sen. Al Franken (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Following that, Al Franken asked for a specific example from Minnery’s “mountains of evidence” claiming that children of opposite-sex parents are better off than those of same-sex parents…in Minnery’s written testimony, he cited a study by the Department of Health and Human Services. Franken pulled out the study and let’s just say my favorite sentence of the day was – “I….checked the study out.” and instead of paraphrasing the whole thing here, please watch – and please keep in mind that ti’s fairly verboten for the audience to laugh, applaud, etc during these hearings:

 

So there was that.

Ed Whelan, who believes polyamory is a "project of the Left" (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

The next panel came in, which featured the aforementioned Solmonese,  Wolfson, Nimmocks and Whelan. The information that came out during these testimonies were for the most part, things we have heard before from both sides…and then came Ed Whelan. This was the only time all morning where there was an audible laugh from the audience at the testimony of a panelist. His full testimony (which does not include random quips he made like the one I’m about to reference) can be found here. After referring to the terms polyamory or polygamy at least nine times in five minutes, he then referred to polyamory as “a current project of the Left.” Because ya know…multiple partners are never mentioned in the Bible or the Book of Mormon…we just made it up. I think it was Dan Savage actually who invented it (apologies for the snark, it was just a bit much to listen to).

Another interesting thing to note from Whelan’s testimony is that he claimed heterosexual taxpayers would be forced to “subsidize” same-sex marriages because of having equal protection under tax law. It astounds me that he doesn’t seem to see the irony that LGBT folk have been subsidizing heterosexual marriages since the government first got in the business of giving tax credits to married couples.

New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer wrapped things up with a strongly-worded statement in support of the Respect for Marriage Act.

Sen. Charles Schumer (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

In closing, I’m very excited to attend another hearing like this. To see this at work and to see bigots called-out for their lies for the whole nation to see was empowering to say the least. I should also note that there were only two anti-gay Senators in attendance at this hearing – Sens. Grassley and Hatch (who didn’t say a word at the hearing). There were eight pro-equality Senators (Chairman Leahy, Sens. Feinstein, Franken, Schumer, Whitehouse, Klobuchar, Coons and Blumenthal) in attendance with one of our biggest champions (Sen Kirsten Gillibrand) sitting in the audience. If this was really so important to their constituents, don’t you think more Republicans would have shown up?

Enjoy some photos from today and thanks for following @TalkEquality on Twitter!

For an excellent blow-by-blow account of today’s hearing, check out Adam Bink’s Prop8TrialTracker.


HRC's Joe Solmonese (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

 

A family in support of DOMA repeal (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

 

Sen. Chris Coons (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

 

Sen. Durbin (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Sen. Chuck Grassley (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Sen. Feinstein (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

 

Rep. Nadler (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)