The adorable boys who melted everyone’s hearts yesterday at City Hall

San Francisco became the city of love again yesterday when the 9th Circuit lifted its stay on same-sex marriage. Weddings began almost immediately at SF City Hall and continued into the evening.

These adorable boys were handing flowers to every newlywed couple they saw.

Because love is love. So simple even adults know it when they see it.

The 53.7% Factor: Conversations on a Long Train Ride to a (Gay) Wedding

When I tell you I live in San Francisco, you may think being gay here is just a done deal.  And most of the time, you might be right: I don’t worry about who I am or whether I am or seem “out” to anyone else. My wonderful wife and child and I can simply exist.

Then I remember the irony of the train ride on the evening of Tuesday, November 4, 2008. A group of us took the F-Market train from the No On Prop 8 headquarters down to the democratic campaign headquarters at the St. Francis hotel, all decked out in our No On Prop 8 shirts, carrying No On Prop 8 signs and generally excited though uncertain about what was to be a long roller-coaster night of heartbreak ahead.

We were taunted on the train.  A group of kids were seething slurs at us, and the slurs were not at all pretty.  We were, basically, publicly humiliated.

It’s true so much has changed even just since then. Five years later we’ve not yet seen the repeal of Prop 8, but other states have managed to overcome the barrier to popular vote for the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.  We feel the tide turning.  But we still have a long ride ahead.

Last week we took the Amtrak Coast Starlight up to Seattle and back for Loret and Aimee’s beautiful wedding on Saturday, April 6.  The thing about these long rides on Amtrak trains is that you’re not just traveling – you’re dining, watching movies, squeezing through tight corridors, and generally hanging out with a bunch of people you don’t know.  For an entire day.

When you go into the dining car for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, unless you’re a party of four already, you’re placed together with others who fill the table.  Each time, you try to have conversations.

“Where did you get on the train?”
“Where are you headed?”
“Oh you’re going to a wedding – how wonderful!”
“Is your daughter going to be in the wedding?”
“Who’s getting married?”

Conversations with strangers are wonderful – even when one is badly slept and unshowered on a rocking train.  Conversations about our gay families though – even in 2013 – are still risky.  Here’s what it’s like:

“Who’s getting married?”

All in a split second, you consider the 2012 election result that approved same-sex marriage in the state to which the train is heading, stick the fact in your back pocket that 53.7% approved the marriage you’re going to witness, and by proxy your own marriage, and come up with the figure that roughly 1 in every two you meet, were they Washington voters and did they vote in this particular election, are going to be thusly supportive of the conversation you’re about to consider having.

And you try to evaluate: which one is this?

Not everybody gets this opportunity to have their relationship status a subject of national debate.  Usually this is considered a good thing – a matter of privacy – but we’re global citizens, sharing the same world, the same country, the same dining car table – and marriage is nothing if not about a societal conversation and recognition.

I don’t always succeed in taking the opportunity to represent who I am, even in the face of a 53.7% chance of being met with frank approval.

On the train, I failed at the first meal, with the couple from Imperial County in California.  Somewhere my mind made a judgment from within the context of the 2008 Prop 8 verdict of their home county, and I answered the dining questions vaguely, for which I felt like a deceptive and bad global traveler.

The rest of the conversations would go differently.  With the mom and her kid, who seemed almost mirror images of my daughter and me and were returning to their home city near Seattle — with them we talked freely, and I thanked them for approving R74 – even though I had no idea how they actually voted.  They reacted supportively – almost like this wedding thing is just a given.

Then there’s an entire other end of the spectrum.  My wife Leanne was practically jumped upon by a self-professed conservative Republican who wanted to apologize for his party and wish us well whatever the hell we wanted to do. Eventually for Leanne it became a matter of choice NOT to keep talking to this fine fellow — she had other things to do on the train, after all.

What a difference indeed the five years – the ten years – the knowing of one out of every two – makes. I should represent like every other person who is alive today can, but I get this extra chance – to represent in the face of a flying social issue.  I do try, and not always very well.

The flip-side of the 53.7% factor is the 46.3% factor.  For this good reason and many better ones, conversations on our journey, still risky, are more and more important, rewarding, and hopeful — every day.

Prop 8 Trial Closing Arguments: What really separates you from me?

Charles Cooper and Judge Vaughn Walker: view from the overflow2 room

Charles Cooper and Judge Vaughn Walker: view from the overflow2 room

My wife and I arrived at the Federal Building an hour before the closing arguments began at 10am, but by then we were already number 30 in a line waiting to get into the overflow room. We were told the overflow room was full and only press could reserve passes. By 10am, the line to get in looked to be 150 people at least – and luckily they had opened an additional two overflow rooms.

So we had plenty of time while standing in line to talk to people around us.  Though we were mostly too full of nerves to talk, we did meet one really nice guy behind us in line and talked about the trial, and about how my wife and I wish we could just invite the people who don’t want us to marry over for cocktails so we could really talk to each other and see how we are alike and how we are different. He told us he’d also be honored to have us over to visit him and his wife.

We finally all got in to overflow room nr. 2 and Leanne and I tweeted the entire way till the trial concluded at 4pm.  (There were brief breaks — we rode the elevator UP with David Boies; we rode the elevator UP with Cleve Jones and Dustin Lance Black; we got to talk to the many great NCLR folks there… we felt starstruck).

Charles Cooper - speaking after intro from Andy Pugno (to his right) and before Ron Prentice (to his left)

Charles Cooper - speaking at press conference after intro from Andy Pugno (to his right) and before Ron Prentice (to his left)

There’s obviously much of record there and much to say about what Olson and Cooper and Walker said during the trial — and there’ll be much written elsewhere, now and for a long while to come — but to me the most amazing thing happened after the trial so I want to write this now.

Thanks to Marriage Equality USA’s Molly Mckay, we got into the press conference right after the trial. We immediately met the smiling man we had shared the “nr. 30” spot in line with before the trial, and he gave us a big hug.  I then asked him what his interest was in being there — “I work at the California Family Council and with Ron Prentice at Protect Marriage,” he said.  To my other side was Kate Kendell, tireless and amazing director of NCLR, and to this side was “the enemy.” And we were already friends.  It was an amazing and bizarre moment.

Olson: "Our clients - they're not plaintiffs, they're human beings who stand for everyone"

Olson: "Our clients - they're not plaintiffs, they're human beings who stand for everyone"

As I listened to “his side” talk at the press conference about the wrongs people like us were doing to people like my daughter, I kept receiving pictures on my cell phone of my daughter, who was at that moment twirling with a friend in the playground in the brilliant light. And he and my wife and I kept talking about our families, and re-extended the invitations to visit. We shared pictures of beautiful family. I thought about the truly thin line that separates “our side” from “their side” and what in the end we are really fighting for.  I felt like the future is a bright light toward which we run, and one day none of this will matter anymore.  We’ll be beyond.

When shall we learn what should be clear as day

We cannot choose what we are free to love

W.H. Auden

Charla Bansley, would you say that to my face?

my daughter -- climbing to new heights

my daughter -- climbing to new heights

My daughter, like many young kids, finds transitions difficult. Now that she’s been in Kindergarten for one month, things are getting better for her. We were thrilled when she was awarded “Community Leader of the Week” at her school last week, for exercising all of the school’s five “be’s” and in particular for being a good listener. Here are the five “be’s:”

  • Be Safe
  • Be Respectful
  • Be Responsible
  • Be a Listener
  • Be a Learner

It warms our hearts endlessly that she has achieved so much in so short a time. Her moms are especially proud of her earning the award for listening. We could all stand to listen a little closer, so I’m paying attention to my daughter for tips here.

I’m particularly interested today, as the Maine Yes on 1 folks release their “It’s everything to do with schools” ad (see Julia Rosen’s post from today for a good summary of it), in the quality of Being Respectful.

In the ad, Charla Bansley re-introduces the Wirthlin family clip from last year’s California Prop 8 ad. The Wirthlins are the ones who warn us of gay marriage being taught in schools. They even took this to court. In the court’s ruling, from a post over at Dirigo Blue, is the following:

An exodus from class when issues of homosexuality or same-sex marriage are to be discussed could send the message that gays, lesbians, and the children of same-sex parents are inferior and, therefore, have a damaging effect on those students. … It might also undermine the defendants’ efforts to educate the remaining other students to understand and respect differences in sexual orientation.

This is what’s really going on here. The Wirthlins and Charla Bansley have no respect for me and my wife, and want us nowhere near their children. Charla Bansley goes a step further in this word-for-word quote, as Julia Rosen reports:

Public display of psychosis and we have dealt with it by redefining decency down so as to explain away and make normal what a more civilized, and ordered, and healthy society would label deviant and the result has been a stunning failure.

Not only do you not want us around, Charla Bansley, but you find that we are psychotic, deviant, indecent, AND a stunning failure.  Really Ms. Bansley?  If you met me, would you say that to my face? Would you say that to my five-year-old girl?

In reality, Charla Bansley, the Wirthlin family, dear people of Maine (and California): If you vote to pass Question 1 just as California voted last fall to pass Proposition 8, we are not going to disappear. And furthermore, if we met you while we were dropping our kid off at school, we’d have a smile for you — maybe even a hug, especially if you were having a hard drop-off — just like for the rest of the parents we meet.  I am delighted that my child is at a school that teaches respect and inclusion, and I would be happy to teach my child to respect your child even if they are different in any or many ways.

I just want to close with this, if I have your attention: If you can’t treat us with respect in return, would you please at least not teach your children to hurt us, or to ask us to die, or otherwise bully us? Kindergarten can be hard enough as it is (and it looks like some of us could stand a refresher on the curriculum of being respectful).

PS: Take a look at last year’s California ad side-by-side with today’s Maine ad:

Today’s Apology for Clearcutting

Lucy in the Treehouse

Lucy in the Treehouse

Here’s another thing I have to apologize for because of my marriage: Clear-cut forests.

Back in October 2008 (before California’s Proposition 8 was passed to forbid same-sex marriage) my wife, Leanne, made a list of all the terrible things our marriage was likely to cause, including loss of freedom of religion and Armageddon. Recently I learned we’re causing this new terrible thing: clearcutting. Therefore, I’d like to apologize today for that.

I love forests; I prize our lush green woods; I greatly value the Earth and all people and life on it, and I try to teach my daughter the same.  Therefore, I’m really sorry that my marriage with Leanne is responsible for these new barren fields (and probably, therefore, our collective demise).

On the other hand, I would like to thank Maine Senator Larry Bliss, who in fact does NOT see it this way:

Rev. Emrich looks at marriage equality in Maine and sees “acres of clear-cut land.” I look at marriage equality, and I see thousands of Maine couples whose lives are more secure, whose children have more protections under the law and whose rights are assured to love each other and to have the law acknowledge and honor their partnerships.

Thank you indeed, Sen. Bliss, for this excellent article and thanks to Pam’s House Blend for pointing the way to it today.

And now let’s be serious. I have a feeling that most people are not fully evolved in their opinions about this like Rev. Emrich or like Sen. Bliss. I have a feeling that for many people the question of same-sex people marrying — which might seem new and scary to some, especially if you’re told it will cause so much terror — is not so (ahem) clear-cut.  I have a feeling that plenty of people are stuck in between, listening and reading, and trying to figure out how to make sense of all of this.  If you are one of these people, I invite you — in fact, I welcome you — to come to the table with us, sit down, and talk.

We’re probably not as scary and not as horrible as all that.

New Ways of Organizing: Lessons in Online Activism from Prop 8

We witnessed a building of tremendous momentum — particularly online — around and immediately after the passage of Proposition 8 last year in California. This momentum built worldwide, despite the local nature of the proposition. In the wake of Prop 8, civil rights and LGBT organizations as well as nonprofits in general may questioning their role in online organizing. In the extreme case, organizations may be asking themselves: Are we becoming irrelevant?

This was exactly the question posited in last week’s panel at CompassPoint Nonprofit Day in San Francisco:  New Ways of Organizing: Lessons Learned from the Proposition 8 Battle (download the slides).

I had the privilege of participating on the panel, moderated by CompassPoint’s Sierra Catcott, and was joined by Greg Rae and Kristina Loring from the @NoOnProp8 campaign, and Charlie Bufalino, a marriage equality activist who currently canvasses for EQCA.

It was a great panel and I’m thrilled I had the opportunity to participate. My only wish is that we had enough time to take more questions. About 40-50 people attended the session and I could tell there was a lot of interest and a lot of questions left unaddressed. Please chime in in the comments if you have any follow-ups or questions!

In the end, though I don’t believe organizations and leaders become at all irrelevant, there can be little doubt of the power of online activism.  To me, the key lies in bridging the gap between “organizationlessness” and organization. If you’re a nonprofit — or any — organization wondering about building an online presence, my advice would be don’t wonder: begin today, and try to integrate it with your cause.

Thanks again to CompassPoint and Sierra for the opportunity!

The best way to protect and raise kids…

… is in a loving and committed family.

If you have a minute, take a look at the first ad released today in the Maine fight for marriage equality:

As Joe Mirabella in Seattle writes in today’s post Equality Maine released first television ad today to protect marriage equality

The same forces that ran the Yes on 8 campaign that eventually changed the constitution in California to exclude gays and lesbians from marriage have focused all they have on Maine.

And Washington’s under threat too, as Mirabella points out:

Washingtonians eagerly await the final results of the referendum 71 petition verification process to see if the domestic partnership expansion bill will face voters this fall.

Advocates for equality made tremendous progress in protecting safe and loving families across the country during this last year, and conservatives are out to do everything they can to try to repeal all the relief families — like mine — have felt about our new legal protections. Yet as Mirabella’s comments underscore, this fight is not about just whether to use the word “marriage” for loving couples in committed relationships — or to use some other word.  Seems some folks just don’t want us to be together at all, and are not stopping at anything to try to drive that home.

In the meantime, kudos to the real people from all types of different families that came together to get the word out above.  You honor all loving families.