Musical theatre enthusiasts are familiar with the concept of the “swing,” the singer/dancer/actor who takes on a number of rolls, including filling in for understudies when they need to replace a missing lead. If MEUSA were a musical, Christine Allen would, no doubt, be its “swing.” IT Director, board member, National Leadership Coordinator, Administrative Coordinator and Chapter Leader are the positions she has held in her 10-plus years of marriage equality activism.
"Put simply, Marriage Equality USA would not be what it is today without Christine Allen. Her intelligence, dedication, persistence, honesty, compassion, and boundless sense of humor have sustained the organization in the myriad positions she has held for over a decade," observes MEUSA board member Stuart Gaffney. "The breadth of skills that Christine has demonstrated over the many years she has served as a MEUSA national staff member is striking. She can turn-around a press release on a dime so that LGBTQ voices are part of a news story as it breaks. She has spent countless hours engaging, encouraging and mentoring MEUSA volunteers and staff to bring out the best in them to contribute to the movement. Christine has played a pivotal role in shaping and maintaining MEUSA's online presence. She does whatever it takes to help make the website a terrific resource. She is a talented writer, including noting technical and subtle aspects of legal cases. She also works with the technical components to help make the website run smoothly."
Fellow board member and Stuart’s husband, John Lewis, adds, “We began working with Christine in February 2004 when San Francisco opened the door for LGBTQ couples to marry. We shared that joy and worked together to make marriage equality a reality throughout California in 2008, only to have Proposition 8 take it away. Christine and other MEUSA leaders continued the long struggle to end Proposition 8 and kept many MEUSA volunteers and supporters connected to the movement.”
Despite her wide-ranging involvement, Christine says it was her wife, Ann, who drove her interest in advocating for the movement. “My wife always wanted to get married, while I had been active in fair housing, racial and economic injustice, lesbian mothers living in poverty, and local LGBTQ rights. I got involved in marriage equality because my wife so much wanted to marry -- for her it was personal and very emotional. She wanted to make that commitment in front of other people and to be legally recognized,” she says.
“My wife and I came at marriage from very different angles. It was much more of a civil rights issue for me. The personal draw was that it was something my wife wanted so badly. Here is the person I love more than anyone in the world and if she wants this, then why not fight for it?” The couple has been together for 30 years, entering into a California Domestic Partnership in 1998, getting married in San Francisco in 2004 and then again in 2008 during the brief window pre-Windsor when same gender couples enjoyed equal marriage rights in California.
Indeed, Christine’s family, consisting of her wife, Ann, and their five children, had grown up without the many practical benefits of marriage that Christine says were not even apparent to them while they were raising their children. Teachers, medical professionals and others would ask, “Which one of you is the mother?” Christine remembers. “If we responded, ‘we both are,’ they would look at us like we were stark-raving crazy. They wanted us to define who we were in their terms. Eventually I’d say, ‘I’m the biological mother,’ and then they would turn only to me, treating Ann as if she were non-existent.” It was especially hard dealing with any sort of medical emergency. “If our youngest got sick and I stayed home with the other kids while Ann took the baby to the hospital, she'd have instant problems because she wasn’t a legal parent. They would tell us, ‘You can’t have two parents of the same gender.’’’
Christine also remembers when Ann suffered a heart attack in 2006. While Ann was being whisked to the hospital in an ambulance, Christine had to go home to cull together their medical power of attorney and domestic partnership certificate. “I had to get that paperwork to put into her file so they [hospital personnel, medical professionals] would talk to me, acknowledge me. Ann had already been taken into surgery. When Ann woke up, she kept saying, ‘Where were you? I was so scared. I was all alone.’ I should have been there holding her hand but no, I was at the house getting the paperwork to prove who we were to each other.”
A summation of similar personal experiences from Christine’s family life found its way into the MEUSA amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court when Proposition 8 was being challenged. She wrote, “I can’t begin to describe the utter frustration when you are holding a feverish infant with whooping cough in the middle of the night and emergency room staff are debating who the ‘real’ mother is and whether or not you have the ‘right’ to get the child treated. If you are married, you automatically have a legal right to that child and things proceed in a normal manner.”
The range of Christine’s personal experiences and advocacy work has made her an indispensable part of MEUSA. "Since I came on board with MEUSA, Christine has been my rock in helping understand our organization’s rich history. It’s rare to have the benefit of a volunteer like Christine with so many years of experience in such a diverse number of roles," says MEUSA Executive Director Brian Silva. “We can’t do without her.”