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Marriage in Maine Dispatch II

April 22, 2009

As mentioned last night, there was a hearing on two pieces of legislation today in Maine.  One, LD 1020 was for marriage equality, and the other, LD 1018 was for expanded civil unions.  I had expected to only hear snippets from those who attended, but using the links I shared earlier, I was able to listen in while working.

Before I recap a bit, I do want to say that I think that regardless of the outcome, this was a great day for Maine and the 3,000 people who attended.  I hated and was hurt and offended by what some of these people said.  However, the fact that this is a conversation being had in public is worth a lot.  Instead of this being a whispered conversation between people who already agree and don’t have to really think about what they’re saying, this forced both sides to articulate their position.

This resulted in the pro-equality crowd (which by all reports I’ve heard was a significant majority) really standing up and showing the face of what a law does to people who just want to live their lives.  It also forced those who oppose equality to articulate (or in some cases just ramble) the true ugliness of many of their reasoning.

I don’t think that everyone who went today to oppose marriage equality was a bigot, but I think if they could walk out of that room without having been moved by the faces and stories that were shared, then they certainly don’t believe in the loving God they proclaim.  And if they can walk out of that room and not see the larger impact than they are either emotionally dead, a bigot, or have some deep-seated issue that is more about them than me.

While my attention was obviously limited, I was struck by a few themes.

First is the shortsightedness of many of their arguments.  Attacking families that are anything except two biological parents won’t win you allies.  Screaming won’t will you allies.  Quoting the most extreme pieces of the bible and inaccurately portraying it won’t win you allies.  And what is important to remember here is that the very practical real world goal (in a strictly strategic and political sense) was to convince the committee to vote against the bills.  As an aside, I was really inpressed by Hannah Pingree, Dennis Damon (the marriage bill’s sponsor), and another legislator whose name I didn’t catch (please let me know if you know who spoke after Speaker Pingree!).

The difference in tone between sides was remarkable.  The speakers for equality focused on their own stories and showed what discrimination does.  It was ministers, mothers, fathers, friends and families of gay men and women.  The most moving stories, however, were from those most affected by this inequity—gay couples and their children.  I hope to post some audio clips, but to hear an 8th grader whose parents are lesbians explain why it matters to him and his moms was truly moving. Equally moving, was the Ella Warner, a 9-year-old who told the committee that,

It breaks my heart that my godmother … can’t get married like my parents.

There were also countless stories of people whose partners had passed away and rather than being able to grieve like anyone would want, they also had to fight for the rights to make the decisions that are required in that situation.  The overwhelming message I heard there was that no matter how many legal contracts are put into place for these situations, they never fully work out.  One man spoke about losing his partner years ago and the fights he had to deal with for the basic services like having a funeral home pick up the body.  This man then said that he hoped he wouldn’t have to go through this again if his current partner of six years lost his battle with cancer.  There were stories of fathers who wanted to protect their gay daughters and mothers who feared for their gay sons.  Stories of fear and stories of acceptance that were impossible to be unmoved by.

The arguments made by those who opposed marriage equality were repetitive and impersonal.  A few were intellectually honest, but then you had claims like these (I wish these were exaggerations—but they are near quotes):

  • Gay marriages will cause the entire concept of parenting to disappear (that one is from a legislator!).
  • Gay marriages (and single parents) result in more children becoming confused and ending up in jail.
  • Without two parents of opposite genders, a child can’t be raised to their full potential (though I would argue that part of my full potential—as the child of two heterosexuals, of course—is to find a partner and raise a child).

The rest were versions of the same speech that God doesn’t hate gay people, just when they act on the way he made them and the love that they’ve found.  (Ok, they said he hated the sin, but close enough).

Finally (for this post) several ministers spoke on behalf of marriage equality from a range of churches.  Among these was Bob Dorr, the former minister of my family’s church and someone I have unyielding respect for.  Bob’s written testimony is below, but he and the other religious leaders on the pro-equality side stood up today and represented a perspective that often goes unnoticed.  He’s a man of faith who clearly understands that religion tells people to love, not discriminate.  Religious freedom is about giving churches the right to marry who they want, not limiting their freedom to marry whomever they like.

When counseling the families of a child who is attracted to someone of the same gender, I see behavior that range from disowning the child to those who worry about the safety of their child.  The reason for the pain caused by the revelation of the gender orientation information they received comes from the negative laws of our society.  Laws that identify individuals as being different promote abuse.

The full text of Bob’s testimony is below.  I’ll be posting more later, including the perspectives of people in the room and some (at least) audio clips that really struck me.

To the Committee Hearing LD 1020

4-22-09

I am Robert E Dorr and I am in favor of passage of LD 1020.

Reason:

I have been a counselor doing couples and individual counseling for over twenty-five years.  In the course of my journey I have had the privilege to counsel mothers and fathers of young men or women who realized that they were attracted to same gendered individuals.

When counseling the families of a child who is attracted to someone of the same gender, I see behavior that range from disowning the child to those who worry about the safety of their child.  The reason for the pain caused by the revelation of the gender orientation information they received comes from the negative laws of our society.  Laws that identify individuals as being different promote abuse.

Out of the many feeling that parents have, the most powerful feeling is that the child is now in danger of being hurt or killed by some one who sees gays or lesbians as fair game for ridicule and abuse.  That fear is grounded in our history of maiming and sometime murdering gay individuals.  The fear is there because our society has set up a system where we segregate out the gay individual as being not worthy of the same rights and privileges that other segments of our society have.

Every law that segregates out a segment of society and labels them puts that segment in a very vulnerable place.  We saw it with the laws discounting the rights of African Americans which led to lynching, separate facilities from restaurants to toilet, and keeping them in the back of the bus.  We saw it with the laws that said women were not worthy of the same rights as men.  They couldn’t vote, they were considered by the courts as chattel of their husbands, and they were considered to be not worthy of opportunity in the work place.  For years we have seen it in the way we are treating the folks in the gay/lesbian community.  This is not a debate about marriage, this is a debate about rights, or the lack thereof, and how we see those denied rights.

Churches, parents, schools and communities take segregationist laws and teach them to children in a negative way.  This leads a child to believe that the segregated community is evil, it is to be shunned and, yes, even abused.  In the book. “The Killing of Steven Jones,” that profile is played out to the letter.  The book, “The Killing of Stevens Jones” was set in a southern town, but the killing really took place in Bangor, Maine where a young gay man was attacked by other young men because he was gay.  He was beaten and thrown off a bridge to his death.  The young men who killed Steven Jones were taught to hate gays by their fathers, and minister in very subtle ways.

Last night as I watched the news an ad came on sponsored by the opponents of LD 1020 and it showed concerned parents saying, “If this bill passes, they will start teaching homosexuality in the schools.  That goes against our standards.  They won’t even have to ask the parent.”  This ad promotes fear and negative attitudes about individuals of the gay community.  It promotes segregation, and the lack of understanding.

So the campaign is on to teach kids that they don’t talk about or with gay individuals.  Keep them out of sight and out of mind.  Just as the Clinton Administration had a policy of don’t ask and don’t tell for our military.

Laws promote societal attitudes about segments of our society.  LD 1020, if passed, would take some of the stigma off the gay community that has been put there by the law as it stands.

We have enough destructive attitudes in our society today without continuing a law that not only discriminates, but promotes a negative attitudes and fear toward individuals.

Please, let’s refocus this state and stop singling out the members of the gay community and putting them in harms way.  Please pass this bill.

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