True Parent 5
My family was legally recognized in Mississippi the day the Mormons came to our door. They were two teens in starched white shirts, with name tags and holy books, wanting to talk about religion. I smiled at the irony (and their perfect timing), and said, “Boys, have you heard the good news?”
It reminded me of another encounter, a decade earlier, in the Portland office of Mormon US Senator Gordon Smith. My husband Bob and I, along with our two adopted boys Dominic and Jack, had recently joined friends Steve and Eric and their kids to celebrate their marriage in Multnomah County—one of the few places in the country that was living up to our nation’s often ignored guarantee of equality under the law.
Senator Smith had just announced his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment—a GOP proposal to selectively deny me and Bob, Eric and Steve, and many others access to a fundamental civil protection. This inspired Bob and I to march with both our boys (Jack in my arms) to Smith’s downtown office, where we asked to speak with the senator.
I wanted Smith to see us standing before him as actual people. To let him know that human beings—not animals, or abstractions—would be hurt by being treated like second class citizens. My boys were three and five, and I didn’t want them growing up in a country where our family was at a legal disadvantage. I wanted Smith to really see us. Because it’s too easy to dismiss people when you don’t know them, and when you haven’t made a personal connection.
That desire to see people, and to be seen and recognized as human like everyone else—in my case as a husband, a father, and a valued member of my community—has motivated me for years... but particularly after Bob and I became parents.
While Senator Smith wouldn’t meet with us personally, we did speak with one of his chief aides, Kerry Tymchuk. We introduced ourselves, and asked why the senator was targeting our families with a constitutional amendment singling out some Americans for unequal treatment. We noted that marriage was defined by the US Supreme Court as a “basic civil right” in 1967, when the Justices struck down abhorrent (though popular) laws banning interracial unions. As our kids played on the office floor, this is the first question Tymchuk asked in response: “So tell me this: How does gay marriage differ from polygamy?”
The weirdness of that moment still knocks me flat.
I just looked at him and said, “Well, it’s math. We’re talking about two people. Marriage involves two people. With polygamy you’re talking about, um, more....”
We once attended a wedding at the Duesenberg Auto Museum in Indiana, where one of Bob’s relatives was getting married. There were multiple references to Jesus, historic cars were lined up in striking burgundy, orange, and green, and the groom sported a lush, pelt-worthy mullet. That “holy” union didn’t last (the mullet was abusive), but a few weeks later we received an email from one of my husband’s 17-year-old cousins. He was gay, closeted, and incredibly happy and empowered to see two men with their kids, treated well by his parents, relatives, and friends.
Another time I remember taking my boys to Peninsula Park, and seeing a “Yes on 36” sticker in an apartment window. Measure 36 was the successful ballot initiative, funded by the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, the Mormons, and the Albina Ministerial Alliance, which restricted marriage to straight couples for almost a decade, until it was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge last year. A woman opened the apartment door, and I introduced myself, Dominic, and Jack, and asked her how she could vote to legally diminish the rights of another family. We were neighbors, and human beings, just like her. These were my kids.
She could not even look us in the eye, and walked off, muttering, “My pastor tells me I have to vote for it.”
The Massachusetts Supreme Court was the first to decide in favor of marriage equality in 2002, and in response The Oregonian published an editorial advocating a “go-slow” approach, with an appalling line about how gays and lesbians should remain satisfied with our newfound role in public entertainment (they actually referenced a then-popular TV show, Will & Grace). Naturally, I called and asked to meet the author.
I sat down with the late editorial page editor Bob Caldwell for over an hour, showing him pictures of my family hiking, exploring OMSI, and visiting elephants at the zoo. I made a connection, and felt like Caldwell knew he was speaking with a fellow human being—a fellow father, another husband. But then he said something like this: “Bill, as a Catholic, I just can’t get away from the fact that marriage is a sacrament.”
The most important lesson we’ve tried to teach our boys is this essential insight from Shakespeare: Sometimes a person “doth protest too much.” When someone holds an intense, peculiar view that’s at odds with facts and reality, like a Catholic editor with a secret, an unmarried Archbishop railing against coupled lesbians, a public relations flack for a Mormon senator, or even my kids when they yell, “I didn’t do it!”, you know they’re likely hiding something embarrassing, or unpleasant. The hypocrisy is often breathtaking.
Back to the evangelizing Mormons at my front door: They hadn’t heard the news out of Mississippi, because they weren’t allowed to watch the news. I told them there’s an incredible world out there—one more amazing and exciting than whatever nonsense they were being fed about the Angel Moroni or seer stones. They should be asking why and how, testing things for themselves, requiring evidence for extraordinary beliefs and prejudices, and meeting with people who, according to their religion, are worth less. “We’re not worth less,” I said. “I’m just a married dad whose teenagers find him annoying. I’m another real person, just like you.”
And if you ask me, that’s good news, too.