Friday, December 5, 2008

What my gay wedding revealed

Speech for Prop 8 Protest Rally, November 15, 2008, San Rafael City Hall
by Megan F. Coffey

Hello and Buenos Días Marin County! My name is Megan Coffey, and this hottie beside me is my legally wedded wife, Jen Owen. We got married on October 12th, well before the election, so we’re hoping our marriage will continue to be recognized by California. Before the wedding, we asked our guests to contribute to the No on 8 campaign instead of giving us gifts, and they responded by raising over $3,000 to fight this hateful initiative!

Then came Election Day, November 4th. Jen and I were both hoping that Obama would win and Prop 8 would lose, but Jen was stuck at work until late, and I was too scared to turn on the TV until she got home. So I sat at home biting my nails, and every half hour or so she called me with updates: “Obama won Pennsylvania!” “Obama won Ohio!” “Obama won Florida!” Finally Jen got home and we turned on the TV, just as Obama was being declared the 44th President of the United States. We were thrilled and excited and overjoyed that he had won, and yet it all felt totally impossible and unreal…sort of like the way we felt on our wedding day!

But then we saw that Prop 8 was winning by about six percentage points, and we started to get scared. Eventually that lead shrunk to three or four points, but we still got more and more worried. All the networks said it was “too close to call” when Jen finally went to bed around 2 am, but I stayed up all night watching the results, hoping against hope that maybe all the gay voters and all the young voters had slept in late that day, so their votes had yet to be counted…. At last, at 6 am, with Prop 8 still undecided, I gave up and staggered into bed.

Jen woke me up the next morning with two words: “We lost.” I felt nothing. I was completely numb. I crawled back under the covers and lay there for over ten hours, too depressed to move. When I finally got up at 9 o’clock that night, I cried like I was never going to stop.

But I did stop crying, and when I did, I got ANGRY. Do you know what I was so angry about? Since Prop 8 passed anyway, that means Jen and I missed out on $3,000 worth of wedding presents!!

Seriously, though, what got me angry was thinking about the most recent marriage-related US Supreme Court case. Many of you may know about the 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia, which overturned the ban on interracial marriage; but you may be less familiar with the 1987 case Turner v. Safley, which involved the civil rights of prisoners. In that decision, the US Supreme Court stated that marriage is a “fundamental human right” that cannot be denied even to serial killers on death row. So apparently, the majority of California voters—and most Americans—consider us law-abiding, hard-working, taxpaying, non-homicidal-maniac gay people to be NOT HUMAN ENOUGH to deserve the “fundamental human right” that the Constitution guarantees to CONVICTED MASS MURDERERS ON DEATH ROW (as long as those mass murderers are straight, of course).

Anyway, then I started looking at the demographic breakdown of who voted Yes on Prop 8, and I got even angrier. I thought, all these married straight people, and old people, and religious people, and people of color, and Republicans, have never even met me; yet they hate me enough to take away my civil rights. Well then, I’m going to hate them too! And for a whole week, my rage and my hatred grew and grew, until I thought I was going to explode.

But then just a couple of days ago, I started thinking about our wedding day, and all of a sudden, my anger went away. In one instant I realized that the people who voted Yes on 8 are not our enemies, and Jen’s and my wedding is the proof.

For starters, married straight people are not our enemies. I have an enormous, mostly straight family, and Jen has an enormous number of mostly straight friends. In fact, almost all of the guests at our wedding were straight married people; or straight people who used to be married; or straight people who were married, divorced, married, divorced, and married again. They came from all over the country to celebrate our wedding, and the only thing they thought was a bit weird was the all-vegan buffet at the reception. (After the reception ended at 6 pm, my whole family took Jen and me out to dinner at an Outback Steakhouse, presumably for revenge.) And my best friend from high school back East, a straight, married man with two children, told me that Jen’s and my wedding day was one of the happiest days of his life. So no, married straight people are not our enemies.

Old people, too, are not our enemies. My ninety-two-year-old father came all the way out here from New Jersey with his pacemaker and his portable wheelchair, just to witness our vows and toast to our happiness. And my dad is the oldest person I know, so clearly, old people are not our enemies.

Similarly, religious people are not our enemies. Our ceremony, for example, was conducted by a heterosexual Lutheran minister with the blessing of his bishop, while Jen’s fundamentalist Christian father and aunt sat in the front row, grinning from ear to ear. My very Catholic sister, who has never missed a Sunday mass, flew all the way from Florida to lend me a beautiful necklace so I would have something “borrowed” to wear. Her son, my Catholic divinity school grad student nephew, came all the way from Boston to goad me into smearing cake on Jen’s face (don’t worry, she got me back worse). Meanwhile, my Jewish cousin from Montreal skipped her own family reunion to tell us “Mazel Tov” in person and then get back on the plane. My mom came out here from Pittsburgh, PA, where she is an active member of her Quaker religious community, which has been conducting same-sex wedding ceremonies for years (as have many other communities of faith). Jen’s little sister from Monterey, who is so Christian she has “I love Jesus” tattooed on her ankle, helped me get ready in the bridal dressing room, then took a million pictures of our cake topper (Rosie the Riveter and Wonder Woman) and posted them online. My Rabbi friend from Florida couldn’t attend the wedding, but he sent his love and blessings. And we even had a Mormon guest at the wedding, who hugged and congratulated Jen while his wife did my hair in the dressing room. So obviously, religious people are not our enemies.

And what about the “enemy” everyone’s been talking about, people of color (especially blacks and Latinos)? Well, for one thing, there are plenty of LGBT people of color, most of whom presumably did not vote to take away their own rights. And let’s see, the guests at our wedding included my African-American stepmother; my two black sisters, both of whom teared up during their toasts; my biracial nephew, who was in on the cake-smearing dare; my youngest sister’s new black boyfriend, who was meeting us for the first time, but bonded with Jen like they were long-lost brothers; my half-Venezuelan, half-Swiss sister-in-law, my Filipina cousin-in-law, and their kids (I told you I had a huge family!); Jen’s Cambodian friend from work; and her half-Mexican, half-American Indian friend, who drove up from San Jose the night before to help with last-minute arrangements. Meanwhile, one woman who couldn’t make the wedding, my mom’s best friend from Pennsylvania, is African-American, over seventy-five years old, in a straight marriage, and extremely religious—the fearsome foursome all rolled into one!—and yet she promised to call everyone she knows in California to tell them to vote No on 8. (Oh and by the way, Martin Luther King’s late widow, Coretta Scott King, fought hard for gay rights, just as the California NAACP, Julian Bond of the National NAACP, and Dolores Huerta of the UFW continue to do.) So it seems that people of color are not our enemies.

As for the group that voted for Prop 8 in the highest percentage—82% of Republicans voted Yes—remember that no matter how weird it seems, there are some Republicans who are gay! And let me just tell you that my one Republican relative (as far as I know), my uncle from the South Bay, not only attended our wedding and toasted to our happiness, but gave us $500 for the No on 8 campaign. Meanwhile, our Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger came out publicly against Prop 8, let himself be featured in a No on 8 commercial, and declared last week that he hoped the initiative would be overturned by the courts. Even Sarah Palin…. Um, well, okay, maybe Sarah Palin is our enemy…. But for the most part at least, Republicans are not our enemies either.

So if married straight people, old people, religious people, people of color, and Republicans are not our enemies, then who is? I will tell you. Our enemies are fear and ignorance, hatred and prejudice, misinformation and lies, insecurity and discrimination…and just plain societal inertia and resistance to change. These enemies are deeply entrenched in our culture, and they won’t be dislodged without a fight. But as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said (only in a much more inspiring voice than mine), “The arc of history bends toward justice.”

And I’d like to leave you with one more quotation, from the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, who once wrote “Мир спасет красота,” meaning “Beauty will save the world.” So let us show our anger, to wake up our true enemies. Let us use our rage to make our enemies pay attention, and perhaps begin to question their own validity. But what will defeat them—and one day, we will defeat them—will be the pure and undeniable beauty of our love.

Thank you so much! ¡Muchas gracias! Love is great, Stop the hate!!