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by Josh Goller
With recent news headlines and political discourse so often highlighting the worst that humanity has to offer, it can be easy to forget that 2015 was also a landmark year for social justice. Momentum for marriage equality had been building for years, and one by one, state bans on same-sex marriages fell. The Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling last June finally solidified marriage as a liberty available to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation.
A generation from now, marriage equality will likely seem as common sense as the Civil Rights movement. Yet, it remains difficult to overstate just how profound a seismic shift our culture has undergone in such a short time. Only a few decades ago, homosexuality was virtually unspeakable outside of metropolitan areas. In 1982, at an infamous press conference, Ronald Reagan’s press secretary and a roomful of reporters openly laughed about homosexuality and AIDS. In the ’90s, the debate about whether gays should be allowed to fight for their country was slapped with the band-aid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In 1997, a major celebrity coming out of the closet was still so uncommon that Ellen DeGeneres appeared on “Oprah” (and the cover of “Time” magazine) to do so and was met with considerable backlash by mainstream America. Even as recently as the mid-2000s, nearly 60 percent of Americans opposed the right to marriage for same sex couples.
Though many Oregonians pride themselves on being ahead of the curve when it comes to social issues, our state largely followed national trends in bristling at the idea that the solemn commitments of two people of the same sex should be recognized by the state as marriage. In the spring of 2004, Multnomah County began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, and in the ensuing weeks over 3,000 such couples were legally wed. After a state judge halted the weddings, Oregon voters later passed Measure 36, amending the state constitution to define marriage as for straight people only. Ultimately, over 3,000 couples had their legal unions voided in the eyes of the state.
A decade later, the marriage equality landscape has changed completely. Before the federal ruling to recognize same-sex marriage earlier this year, Oregon’s state ban was struck down in May 2014. Not only could gay couples wed in progressive Portland, but in the farthest reaches of the frontier counties. With the subsequent federal ruling in place, marriage equality is now the law of the land. But that hasn’t silenced the rhetoric from those factions of our country who oppose the rights of gays and lesbians. In fact, in the months following the Supreme Court ruling, it seemed to give them a louder voice, one that often cited religious conviction as a justification for bigotry. Based on the headlines, and the vitriol spouted from behind some podiums, you’d think religion and homosexuality were mutually exclusive. One church in particular has led the charge in proving that wrong.
Gays and God
On the corner of N.E. 24th and Broadway, you’ll find a stately historic church. Beneath its towering steeple are majestic stained glass windows, vibrant foliage and a peace pole out front. It’s the Portland branch of the Metropolitan Community Church, which was founded in 1968 by Reverend Troy Perry in Los Angeles when he put an ad in a newspaper asking for gays or lesbians to join him in worship. Perry was once a Pentecostal preacher who was removed from his denomination when his own homosexuality came to light. His initial newspaper ad drew around a dozen people, and the fledgling church took off from there, with new churches popping up in various cities, including Portland in the late ’70s.
In many ways, the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) spearheaded the marriage equality movement in the decades before such a term was even widely used. Upon its founding, the church nearly immediately began marrying gay couples in what they termed “holy unions,” and MCC was active in filing federal suits in an effort to have these unions federally recognized as equal to marriage, and afforded the same rights.
Local family law attorney Kimberly S. Brown became a member of Portland’s MCC in 1989, and soon thereafter she met her partner, Gail, within the congregation. The two entered into a holy union at the church in June of 1990 and have been members ever since. Whereas even today many other Christian denominations undergo a great deal of hand-wringing about whether to even accept homosexuals into their congregation, Brown describes the early days of MCC as “one of the only places where gays and lesbians could go to be fully and authentically ‘out,’ and where you could be ordained and buried and baptized regardless of who you are.”
Portland’s MCC has been one of the longest-serving gay and lesbian organizations in the state of Oregon. During the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s, it was one of the few places where victims of the disease could have funerals performed, because many mainline churches refused. MCC also holds communion every Sunday, because they want to ensure that anyone who has been denied that rite at another church can have access.
Right To Marry
In addition to entering into a holy union at their church in 1990, Kimberly and Gail were one of the 3,000 couples who were legally married during that brief period of tenuous legality in 2004. Having their marriage nullified less than a year later was “terribly powerful,” to Kimberly. “To have this sacred rite yanked out — basically having it given to us and then stolen away — it was almost like being denied communion.” Like many other couples, they ultimately decided they wouldn’t get legally married again until it was federally-recognized benefit, so they didn’t “rush to get married” even after Oregon’s same-sex marriage ban was overturned.
In the wake of the federal ruling, they haven’t chosen to get legally married yet, and Kimberly cites that from her perspective there’s a bit of a taint on the institution after having their marriage license pulled back in 2004.
“We have been married,” said Kimberly, “In every marriage there’s a licensing and a solemnization. In every state, you need to have the solemnization ceremony … and we’ve had that solemnization, we’ve had that part at MCC.” As Kimberly puts it, gays and lesbians “didn’t fight for the right to be married, we fought for the right to marry,” if desired. After all, coupling has evolved over the years, with many couples (gay or straight) choosing to simply live together. “We’ve asked ourselves,” Kimberly said, “If we were to live the rest of our lives not legally married, would that change our relationship? The state stamp of approval is not going to change our commitment.”
The Next Frontier
The Obergefell v. Hodges ruling feels like the finish line, and in some ways it is. Given the virtual finality of Supreme Court rulings, marriage equality is assured to remain a part of American life. Each step in the process was important, from a church like MCC rising up and serving gays and lesbians to cultural moments like the coming-out of Ellen DeGeneres or popularity of TV shows like “Will & Grace,” which introduced likeable and relatable gay characters to households that otherwise didn’t have access to such figures. As the social climate allowed for more gays and lesbians to come out, the more people realized that gay people are, in fact, just people.
That doesn’t mean the work is done. According to Brown, despite the stunning advancements in society’s acceptance of homosexuality, the next step is simply the full inclusion of all people. She points out how racial tensions have risen in recent years, with black men particularly at risk of violence against them. Meanwhile, though same-sex marriage may be legal, some states have recently rolled back equal rights protections in the workplace. As Brown puts it, there are still gays and lesbians who “get married on Saturday and fired on Monday.” And one of the biggest issues within the LGBTQ community remains transgendered rights, with many people still having to fear for their lives.
More than anything, the past few decades have shown how great a change we as a society can enact. We’ve gone from a place where simple acknowledgment of one’s homosexuality could put that person’s life in danger to a point where marriage equality is not only celebrated but is also the law of the land. With that in mind, and even conceding that there are significantly entrenched ills throughout society that have no easy answers, it’s clear to see that, in the long run, the future is bright.
Josh Goller grew up in the Midwest and now works in Portland as a benefits planner, writer and editor.
Jamie and Adrienne
by Christine Couvillon
Like many couples over the last two decades, Jaime and Adrienne met through a dating site; they connected in 2006. “I saw Jaime’s picture,” Adrienne recalls, “and she was just gorgeous, with this red hair, and I thought, ‘She’ll never go out with me.’ And then I saw that she liked nerds.” Adrienne, who works in the software industry and admits to spending many of her teen years with her nose buried in “Dungeons and Dragons” books, realized she had a chance. The two quickly fell in love, moving in together after only a month and a half. The next year, they entered into a domestic partnership — at the time, the closest they could come to being fully married. Less than a decade later, they’re celebrating their first anniversary as a legally married couple.
By their count, Jaime and Adrienne have three anniversaries: the first on the day they officially became domestic partners, the second on the day of their unofficial wedding ceremony and the third on the day that they were legally married. Marriage laws have changed rapidly during their relationship, most markedly with the June 2015 Supreme Court decision that guarantees homosexual couples the right to marry. As they waited for the results, Adrienne, with her “policy nerd” background, never wavered in her faith that the Supreme Court would hand down the right decision. “I had done the math,” she explained. “Then there’s the legal logic of it. Ruling against gay marriage would overturn Loving v. Virginia.” The decision for this case, which made it illegal for states to ban interracial marriage, is based on the principle that marriage is one of the most basic human rights. As Adrienne continued to explain, “There’s no way to interpret Loving v. Virginia other than to say that marriage is a matter of ultimate privacy, and the state cannot say that these two people who are legally entitled to be married can’t do it.” Jaime, on the other hand, was cautiously optimistic. “I thought that it was going to go our way, but in the last few years, the Supreme Court has made a few decisions that I thought were just insane. What if there’s a Supreme Court decision that says our marriages are not valid?”
Jaime may have had a point with her worries when you consider that the Loving decision was handed down unanimously, while Obergefell v. Hodges was a close five to four decision. Within the last half-century, the conversation about gay marriage has become highly political and divisive. Much of this is rooted in long-held personal attitudes about homosexuality that are slow to change. Both Jaime and Adrienne recalled stories from the last few years about coworkers who were unsupportive of the openness of their relationship — even other lesbians. “My first job in Portland, I talked about my girlfriend at work,” Jaime recounted. “I started hearing from coworkers about how I ‘needed to stop doing that.’ The other lesbian who worked there was very uncomfortable that I was being all ‘out and about’ with it.” Adrienne had a similar experience with her supervisor, but, like Jaime, she refused to stop talking about her girlfriend. “It took me a long time and it cost me a lot to get to a point where I’m comfortable with the fact that I’m a woman who loves a woman,” Adrienne explained, “and I’m not going to be ashamed of it, and I’m not going to hide it.”
Adrienne, who was discharged from the military for her sexuality, has endured many obstacles to fully realize her identity. Throughout her career in the software industry, she has worked to gain equal recognition for gay and lesbian employees’ partners under company health insurance. She has watched attitudes about LGBT people change around her. Now, she and Jaime attend company holiday parties together and can freely refer to one another as “my wife” without fear of reproach. Indeed, her employer, New Relic, celebrated the Supreme Court decision by painting their website with a rainbow flag and proclaiming, “Life’s too short for bigotry.” Adrienne remains confident that attitudes about homosexuality will continue to improve. She looks to her own family’s past to bolster this hope. Her father fought for a country that wouldn’t allow him to vote because of his race, but there have been incredible strides in both the law and society that have gone a long way toward changing the country’s attitudes toward race.
When it comes down to it, however, no one person’s opinions can dampen the happiness that Jaime and Adrienne’s marriage has brought them. “It’s really just an issue of basic fairness,” Jaime pointed out. “I defy anyone to find something that is in my parent’s almost fifty-year marriage that is lacking here,” Adrienne added. “This is a marriage. It’s tying our fates together.”
Christine Couvillon is a freelance writer. You can find more of her writing on her blog at christinemachine.wordpress.com
Will and Matty
by Megan Jablonski
Matty and Will are like many other couples living the fabled American Dream. They are in a loving, committed relationship and have an adorable 2-year-old son named Dustin. The family recently moved out of their small home in Portland and into a spacious suburban home. They now have an immense backyard and are making plans to put a garden in this spring, with all of Dustin’s favorite fruits and veggies. They have been warmly welcomed into their new community and are looking forward to the future. Matty and Will are loving the acceptance their family has experienced. The acknowledgement is especially important, because it was denied to them for so long. Will and Matty are gay, and before June 26, 2015, the government considered their union invalid, which almost prevented their family from happening.
Will met Matty nine years ago on a support website for LGBT people who had been raised with faith backgrounds in Christian households. Will was from a Mennonite family and Matty was raised in the Church of the Nazarene—faiths that view homosexuality as a sin. Matty remembers feeling very much alone and afraid during his youth in Yakima, Washington.
“I didn’t know any other gay people. I mean, I was terrified,” he recalls.
Matty went on to attend a strict religious college after high school. There, he had many friends who were against gay rights. His identical twin brother also worked in a ministry practicing reparative therapy for several years. Even after graduating and relocating to Portland, Matty was still afraid to post about his sexual orientation and support for marriage equality on his social media pages for fear of the vitriol it would invite from family and friends.
Eventually Matty reached out to others in the LGBT community via the Internet. He was visiting the support website and commenting on a forum about the television show “The Amazing Race” when Will replied. The two hit it off, and after several months of conversation, Matty flew to Paris so they could meet. Their first date lasted eleven days, and included a whirlwind tour of some of Europe’s most romantic cities — Prague, Budapest and Rome. It concluded with the two lovebirds becoming a couple.
That same year, the couple returned to Matty’s home in Portland, Oregon. The city had a liberal attitude that Will found more refreshing than his conservative hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado. However, Oregonians had voted to deny gay couples marriage licenses only a few years prior to their union, so they could not be legally married in their home state. For Matty and Will, the prohibition of gay marriage not only formed legal barriers, it generated emotional ones, too. They began to feel that if their relationship was not considered completely valid, they should forego building their family. Plans to adopt a child were temporarily halted.
A few years later, Matty and Will decided that they would still get married in the United States, even if it was not legal. They planned their own wedding in Portland, which was officiated by multiple couples they knew instead of a traditional religious figure or judge. In 2013, after the state of Washington legalized gay unions, they married again in Vancouver’s Esther Short Park. The couple also began exploring new avenues to legalization. They began hosting events at their home for an organization that worked for marriage equality, and invited their friends to get involved.
In late 2013, Will and Matty began the legal process for adopting a child. A year and half later, on Dustin’s second birthday, they became his proud parents. The two admit that the task of raising a toddler can be challenging — but still a lot fun.
Matty gushes, “It’s like jumping onto a moving train — a little terrifying, but fun! It’s all the emotions.”
The couple were elated with the Supreme Court’s ruling in June, which ordered states to recognize same-sex marriages as legal. To Matty and Will, the government’s formal backing validated the life they had built together. They have not ceased their work for full marriage equality, however. They hold weekly potluck dinners at their home, and folks in the LGBT community are free to stop by, fill their plates, share some stories, and converse about the meaning of family.
“It’s time to put aside differences and judgmental behavior, and give up on hate,” insists Matty. “Try starting a dialogue with someone who has an opposing viewpoint — you will find that you both have more in common than you think!”
Will adds, “Members of the LGBT community are just like everyone else. They want to have supportive, loving families, too.”
Megan Jablonski is a freelance writer and mother of three from Hillsboro, Oregon.