Correction: a thoughtful and astute reader brought to my attention an error in this piece. I said that it felt as though we were marching to Selma. In fact, Dr. King's march went FROM Selma, TO Montgomery. The error and ignorance is mine and is accepted. I have fixed the text here. Thank you for teaching me. ~D
That's what it was Wednesday at the public hearing before the Maine Joint Legislative Judiciary Committee in Augusta. The bill in question is LD 1020, An Act To End Discrimination In Civil Marriage and Preserve Religious Freedom. Or something like that. You get the idea. It's a bill that will allow L and I to get married.
The first part of the legislative process after a bill is submitted and printed is the public hearing. This is when any and all concerned citizens can comment about a bill if they so choose. With a topic as controversial as marriage equality, you can bet that emotions run high on both sides, and LOTS of people want to weigh in and be heard. Regrettably, not all of them are sane.
We'll get to that part in a little bit. Because this story really has a couple of stories in it. Like many great battles, this one started with an epic journey. Unlike other epic journeys, ours started with a big yellow bus and a case of nervous insomnia.
The night before the hearing, I collected the bus from its home in Ellsworth and brought it here so it would be ready in the morning. Our first scheduled pick-up was at 4 a.m. at the Bar Harbor Town Pier. I backed the monstrosity into our yard over the protestations of our landlord and parked it. It was longer than our whole cottage. Lunches and bottled water were stored on the bus, an early supper was made and eaten and I was in bed by around 8 pm.
Only I couldn't sleep. My alarm was set for 2:40 a.m. to allow me time for a good breakfast, a shower, plenty of time to get the bus warmed up and the heaters going and then be at the pier by 3:45. I tossed. I turned. I looked at the clock about every half hour. Until sometime after midnight, when I apparently fell asleep. Until I woke up at 3:35 and began screaming. After more screaming and rushing around, we got the bus started, coffee made, clothes on and were at the town pier by just a minute or two past the deadline to pick up passengers. A dozen or more got on and settled in. Next stop was at the local liberal college, where we picked up two bleary, damp young women (it was raining buckets) who likewise settled in and got comfy. Next stop was Ellsworth, where we picked up another batch of people and some donuts and coffee. We left there a little behind schedule, but still picked up two women in Belfast and made it to Augusta before 7:30 a.m. Our goal had been for 7, so we weren't that far off the mark.
When we got there, the parking lot was already filling up. We pulled up to the front entrance of the Augusta Civic Center and Laura and the gal from the Hancock County Democrats piled out with the flag and the people began to disembark. Here's what it looked like. (Laura is on the right.)
Thanks to my friend Darlene for providing this picture via facebook. I snagged it and will have to tell her about it soon, but here it is.
Organizers had told supporters to wear red. Take a look at this video, blurry and wobbly as it is, of what we saw.
If that did not work for you, take a look at these still shots. Honestly, the place looked like opening day at Fenway Park.
Can you believe this? More than one of us was moved to tears at this display. I had to leave the auditorium several times. It was more than I could handle emotionally. We outnumbered our opponents by something like 4 or 5 to 1. Here's the bigger picture:
That's an awful lot of red. And remember what I said about Fenway Park on opening day? Well, there were a few pockets of the crowd that were obviously Yankees fans. Here they are:
They just did not look happy. Take a look:
So there we all were, upwards of 3,000 people in an auditorium. For endless hours the two sides offered up speakers supporting their positions. Our side told countless stories of how we have been discriminated against in some pretty basic and pretty fundamental ways. Widowers who were not allowed to sign mortuary paperwork to have their partner's bodies taken for burial. People denied access to loved ones in the hospital, people denied access to their partner's funeral. It was a horror show of hurt followed by a horror show of hate. Opponents argued that to allow same sex couples to marry would allow us unfettered access to children to molest. Our love was compared to bestiality. One man asked if we might next be asking for permission to marry multiple partners, or perhaps our dogs.
No shit. People said this stuff out loud, and to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Judiciary. These were not the drunken musings of rednecks at deer camp. These were professional people in suits and ties, ministers wearing mixed fabric clothing. They said this stuff with all seriousness and earnestness. They believe it. They believe I want to fuck their children. They believe I want to have sex with animals. They believe that I am sick, that I need treatment and prayer. They believe that I deserve fewer and different rights than they enjoy. And they believe that they are right and I am wrong.
It felt like we were marching from Selma to Birmingham, in spirit if not in reality. We marched along, heads high, eyes forward, speaking our truth. We did not cat-call. We did not accuse our opponents of nasty things. When they were inaccurate, we offered legitimate, verifiable documentation to support our side. When they got nasty, we did not engage. When they got really nasty, we stood and turned our backs in silent protest. It was a powerful thing to see. Take a look:
The thing dragged on and on. Our side marched carefully, gently, truthfully on, their side grew more shrill and more crazy as the day wore on. It was difficult to sit through the things that they were saying about us. It always is. When I call it an emotional meat grinder, I am not kidding. Each side had a half hour for speakers. Each speaker was limited to three minutes of testimony. For 30 minutes we would hear our stories of discrimination and denied rights. Then for 30 minutes we would hear accusations of inhumanity. It makes for a very, very long day.
The hearing wore on into the evening. There was no lunch break. The committee took a dinner break at 5:45, which we took as our cue to head on home. Three of our members spoke before we left: dear and wonderful Diana and Kay:
And longtime civil rights and peace activist Dan Lourie. His granddaughter has two moms, he told the committee.
That's the local UU minister over on the left in this image. She's pretty cool.
But this report is not complete without some real disclosure of a personal nature. No, not that personal, but personal just the same. Until this time, I have kept my face out of my blog. I have identified my partner only as L and have never shown her face. But this is a fight that is very personal to me. We'd like to get married. My name is really Dawn. Her name is Laura. This is what we look like.
And we'd like to get married. I'm 43 at this writing, and she is 32. We've been together for 7 years. Our friends Diana and Kay have been together 20 years. They give us hope for our future. They are lively and wonderful and completely in love with life and each other. We'd like to be like that. We'd like to be happy in our senior years. We'd like the security that comes with marriage, to know that her family will not throw me out of the hospital if I have to visit her there. To know that doctors won't deny me access, or that we'll have to deal with any of the usual kinds of health care and bureaucratic bullshit that comes with being partnered but not married.
This fight is far from over. We're in it to win, and we're in it for the long haul. And that means stepping up and putting my face where my words are. This is us. This law will affect our lives. Not some nebulous, theoretical people somewhere. Us. It is important. This matters. It is very, very personal.