Getting to “I DO”: Sharing Stories to Change Hearts and Minds
Over the course of the marriage equality movement, one key thing we’ve learned in state after state is that sharing our stories with others is critical. The single most powerful way to bring people to support civil marriage equality is by making the issue personal.
Marriage Equality USA recently launched “Getting to ‘I DO’: Our Journeys to Marriage Equality,” a collaborative project aimed at collecting and sharing a wide range of multimedia-rich stories about relationships, family, marriage, advocacy, and equality.
Ted shares, for example, the bittersweet story of how marriage equality came too late for him and Jack, his partner of more than 25 years. In 2009, Jack was diagnosed with cancer. Just days after a marriage equality lobby day in Albany that same year, Jack died. When the freedom to marry finally came to New York two years later, Ted—an ordained, former minister—noted his joy at having “the privilege of joining together the lives of two loving persons,” even though he and his own “beloved” were denied that opportunity.
Sveta shares her journey to receiving her marriage-based green card last year. She writes about a “surreal” interview with USCIS in 2010. “Why can’t you just go to Russia?” an immigration officer asked her, after she explained, “I would be in danger as a member of a persecuted minority, if I were to be separated from my U.S. citizen partner of over a decade and deported back to Kazakhstan.” She continued, recalling the incident: “My wife was in the same room, but was not allowed to speak…I was asked to strike out her name and information as my spouse from my application for asylum.” Sveta concluded, “The Defense of Marriage Act rendered us legal strangers.”
Such stories are as varied and unique as the LGBT community. Many of the “Getting to ‘I DO’” stories focus on the joy of marriage itself, or how the authors felt the day their states finally recognized the freedom to marry.
We also have touching stories from allies, like Reenie, an interfaith minister who writes about how a burgeoning friendship with a lesbian seminary classmate led to advocating for “same sex couples in their quest to be together.” Roger, a former Marine, shared a deeply personal story about his journey to support full equality for same-sex couples, and his regret that it took him so long to do so. Roger writes, “We don’t need to look backward for a chance to stand up for principles. Life isn’t about always being right—I was wrong for a long time—but about learning from mistakes and making amends.”
Every story is unique, and we never know which story will resonate with someone who is still unsure about marriage equality. By sharing your story today, you may be the change that helps someone finally get to “I do.” Browse our collection of “Getting to ‘I DO’” stories, and then please share your own journey to “I DO” with us.
By Thom Watson, MEUSA Social Media Manager and Project Lead, Getting to "I DO"
This article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, May 29, 2014: http://sfbaytimes.com/getting-to-i-do-sharing-stories-to-change-hearts-and-minds/
Keep Informed on the Latest Marriage Equality Updates: May 13th Community Call Focuses on 4th Circuit Case
MEUSA invites you to join its national community call Tuesday, May 13, 9PM EDT. The conversation will focus on the latest developments in Virginia, where one of the more promising court challenges to a state constitutional amendment banning marriage equality is moving forward. Register for the call and we'll send you the dial-in information by email Tuesday morning.
MEUSA Launches Online Multimedia Galleries and Photo Archives
Long known as the lead disseminator of grass-roots marriage equality stories, MEUSA has established online multimedia galleries and photo archives to showcase the work of the organization and our volunteers across the country in a new and exciting way. Explore our new YouTube and Flickr channels today!
“This is great way to share our stories and events with friends and supporters. We’ll be showcasing photos and videos from our events throughout the year and hosting historical content as we find it, providing MEUSA members and supporters with a chronological journey through MEUSA’s years of contributions to the American marriage equality movement,” says Paul Carey, MEUSA Multimedia Lead.
MEUSA photos can be accessed at Flickr, where a feature of the site also allows users to search within marriageequalityusa's photostream for people, places or events, in order to find specific photos in the MEUSA gallery. Flickr members can sign-in and select "Follow” to subscribe to the MEUSA photostream and be notified of new content as it becomes available.
Just one of the nearly 3,000 images from MEUSA's Flickr stream
The MEUSA YouTube Channel will feature MEUSA videos as well as playlists for other videos on the topic of marriage equality. Members of Google+/YouTube who sign in and select "Subscribe" to the MEUSA channel will be notified of new videos as they become available. A feature on YouTube will also allow MEUSA to curate additional content from other YouTube channels.
2013 MEUSA Gala Closing Video, embedded directly from MEUSA's YouTube Channel
Comments and input are welcome on this new project. To offer suggestions or for more information, please contact Paul Carey.
GETTING TO “I DO”: Our Journeys to Marriage Equality
SHARE YOUR STORY TO CHANGE HEARTS & MINDS AROUND THE WORLD Waited years/decades to marry? Raising a family without access to the benefits and protections marriage offers? Straight but no longer narrow? MEUSA has launched its latest marriage equality story-sharing initiative in conjunction with the story-telling website Cowbird. Designed to collect and share multimedia-rich personal stories about relationships, family, marriage, advocacy, and equality in an online gallery, contributors will have an opportunity to share their personal marriage equality-related stories. “Sharing stories is one of the most powerful ways to sway more people into supporting marriage equality,” says MEUSA Executive Director Brian Silva. “We encourage potential participants to relay their dreams, ideals, and experiences with families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and communities.”
One of the first stories to post was that of Ted Hayes and Jack Hayes. After 25 years together, Jack died shortly before marriage equality became a reality in New York. The post has been picked up by Upworthy and has been viewed over 32,000 times as well as receiving many “shares” and “likes” on multiple sites. The following guidelines outline the types of stories MEUSA hopes to gather:
- Personal journeys of same-sex couples and their relationships, children, and hopes and dreams for marriage
- Stories of our families, friends, neighbors, and communities as they’ve come to embrace and work towards marriage equality
- Stories of people who once opposed marriage equality but subsequently moved to a position of support
- Experiences as volunteers and advocates working towards marriage equality
It's easy to be part of Getting to ‘I Do’ and share your own story. Click on the image below or visit cowbird.com/join to create your free Cowbird account. Please write "Marriage Equality USA" in the You section when you sign up.
After you’ve created your account and logged in, please add your personal marriage equality story:
- Click the Tell a story link at the top right of the Cowbird home page
- Upload a photo, add audio and/or text
- Click the Saga icon button in the right column, and choose Marriage Equality from the list of Cowbird sagas that appear
To see what others have written or for ideas of what you can write, check out our current stories.
Celebrating Marriage Equality in Utah
The message came through at 1:53 pm on Friday: “KSL NEWSRADIO: Fed judge rules Utah’s Amendment 3 unconstitutional. Amend 3 denies marriage between 1 woman & 1 man and bans gay marriage.” A little cheer escaped my lips as I sat in my office in disbelief. I immediately called Jolene, my wife of 23 days after our marriage in Vancouver, WA, and told her the news. I asked her to search online to see if she could find out if it was true. In the meantime, the Salt Lake Tribune website issued a release stating that Amendment 3 had been struck down. I had been working with our Corporate office concerning a ‘same sex tax’ they were deducting from my paycheck to cover Jolene on my health insurance. I sent them the Salt Lake Tribune article with a note that it was time for them to quit deducting the same sex tax from my pay. I haven’t been to work since, so do not know what kind of reply I have waiting for me at work.
Jolene called and asked me when I could leave work so we could take part in the celebrations. I told her I could head out at 2:30. Before heading home, I shared the great news with several coworkers. We knew that our marriage in Washington State would now be recognized in Utah. There is no reason for us to get married again; however, we wanted to join others who were headed to the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office to obtain their marriage licenses.
We had no idea what we would encounter once we arrived. As we entered the first floor of the Salt Lake County Building, Utah State Senator, Jim Dabakis had just married his long-time partner, Stephen Justeson. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker was their wedding officiant! Cheers were ringing out as another marriage had just been completed down an adjacent hallway. People were everywhere…. Smiles were on their faces and tears were in their eyes. We were witnessing marriage equality in our home State of Utah for the very first time on the first day same sex marriages could be performed. It was history in the making!
We headed to the second floor where the County Clerk’s office had a line out the door that went clear down the hall. People were scrambling to get into line; someone was handing out marriage license applications which still listed "Groom" and "Bride" as the registrants. Couples were filling out the paperwork and were scratching out either groom or bride and writing in the respective person they were marrying. People had looks of disbelief and joy on their faces. Jolene and I kept looking at each other, not believing this moment had actually arrived. We would tear up, smile and continue looking through the crowd.
There were several wedding officiants performing weddings on-the-spot for free! Jolene is also a registered wedding officiant and performed one wedding before the night was over.
The Salt Lake County Clerk’s office normally closes at 5 pm on Fridays. At that time, they determined where the end of the line was and said the office would officially close after those people received their paperwork. People still continued to arrive and get in line. It was 7:10 pm by the time those at the demarcation point had paid their $40 processing fee and received their official marriage application! The clerk’s doors were closed and Salt Lake County Sheriff personnel stood their ground, not letting anyone else in.
Those remaining in line were listless as they knew a stay was being worked which would permanently close the door until the appeals process could be finished. Tears flowed freely as hopes were being taken away. State Senator Jim Dabakis addressed the crowd and said he would do everything he could to get the doors opened on Saturday so the issuance of marriage licenses could continue. That, however, did not happen.
The only place open on Saturday was the Weber County Clerk’s office in Ogden, UT. Several friends had contacted Jolene and asked if she would marry them on Saturday, so we headed to the Weber County Clerk’s office. Unlike the Salt Lake office, those in line in Ogden had to wait outside in freezing cold temperatures. Many were there for several hours before it was announced that Weber County would not be handing out any marriage licenses that day. The crowd was stunned. We have to wait until Monday to see what comes next.
By Colleen Mewing
Marvin Burrows: Love Warrior
Last weekend, our community lost one of our most powerful advocates and a truly wonderful person: Marvin Burrows.
Marvin came out 62 years ago – in 1951 – at age 15. A couple years later he met Bill, whom he would marry at San Francisco City Hall on February 13, 2004, 51 years later. In his own words from testimony to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee: “I met the love of my life, William Duane Swenor, in 1953. He was 15 and I was 17. My father found out and told me to leave home if I continued to see Bill. After my dad kicked me out I had no place to go, and I was still in high school. I stayed with my grandmother until Bill could ask his mother if I could move in with them. She gave her permission, I moved in, and from that time on we lived as a committed couple.” After 51 years together, Marvin described his wedding to Bill as “the best time in our lives…”
But the courts declared Marvin and Bill’s marriage and the marriages of over 4,000 other same-sex couples who married in San Francisco in 2004 “null and void.” And as Marvin and Bill began to fight back with thousands of others, Bill died suddenly. Because their marriage had been declared to be illegal, Marvin was denied the legal rights and dignity that every American should have. The indignity began almost immediately after Bill passed away. “When Bill passed I called the cremation service that had taken care of my mother…However, they told me that I did not have the right to dispose of (Bill’s) body…(because they) considered us to be only ‘roommates,’ basically legal ‘strangers.’”
That was only the beginning. Soon thereafter, the Social Security Administration denied Marvin spousal survivor benefits and Bill’s labor union denied Marvin survivor pension benefits because the law would not recognize their marriage, even after 52 years together. Marvin was forced to move from the home that he and Bill had shared for over three decades. In Marvin’s words, “I lost my lifelong partner, my home, our animals, income, my health insurance, and even my bed and furniture all in one fell swoop.”
Marvin fought back in every way and with everyone he possibly could.
Over the years, Bill and Marvin had built strong personal relationships with many of Bill’s fellow local union members – all of whom identified as straight – and the union members had deep respect for Bill. They and many others stood up with Marvin, and after a 3-year struggle, the national union finally relented and awarded Bill’s pension to Marvin, saying it was “the right thing to do for a fellow member.” The victory was a public policy breakthrough for same-sex couples everywhere.
Marvin was a wonderful friend, and an inspiring activist with organizations including Marriage Equality USA, Lavender Seniors, GLOBE, Meals on Wheels, and California Senior Leaders at UC Berkeley, just to name a few. His legacy inspires us all to continue to stand up together and never give up.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney and MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy John Lewis
This article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, December 18, 2013: http://sfbaytimes.com/marvin-burrows-love-warrior/
MEUSA Teams with Freedom Indiana
This year has ushered in several marriage equality victories, including seven additional marriage equality states and a Supreme Court ruling affording federal benefits to married couples across the country. Building on this momentum, and to prevent marriage equality opponents from regaining their footing, MEUSA is proud to announce an alliance with its National Equality Action Team (NEAT) and Freedom Indiana to stop the Indiana legislature from putting a marriage equality referendum on the ballot that has the potential to add a marriage equality prohibition to the state constitution.
MEUSA is seeking volunteers from across the country to sign up immediately to help stop this harmful initiative! Volunteers will connect Indiana residents who support same-sex couples and their families with their local legislators. Hoosiers will be encouraged to tell their legislators how this far-reaching amendment would limit freedoms and be unfair to gay families. MEUSA will provide volunteers with training, support and resources. Contacting legislators works, as NEAT recently witnessed with victories in Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, and Illinois. Anyone with internet access, a phone, and a desire to help CAN make a difference. Those interested in volunteering can go to www.theneat.org to sign up to make calls from home or from one of several locations to support love and freedom for all Hoosiers.
Give the Gift of Equality - Create an Equality Registry to Benefit MEUSA
After Prop 8 passed five years ago this month, Jeff and I were devastated. We just wanted the same freedom enjoyed by our friends and neighbors to marry whom we love, but we were denied that opportunity.
Thanks to the tireless and hard work of Marriage Equality USA and its many coalition partners to secure the freedom to marry in California – as in Illinois, Hawai’i, and the other states where MEUSA has worked so hard in pursuit of this important civil right – Jeff and I finally were able to realize our dream.
Just a few weeks ago, Jeff and I were incredibly fortunate to be able to marry at San Francisco City Hall, the site of so many marriage equality battles and triumphs over the past few years. We wed under the beautiful dome of the rotunda, witnessed by our friends and family, and officiated by MEUSA's John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney.
My husband – I love saying that word – and I have been so grateful to the efforts of Marriage Equality USA in helping make our civil marriage a legal reality that we wanted to give something back to the marriage equality advocacy movement.
In lieu of a traditional wedding registry for toasters, dishware, or linens we don't really need, we created an Equality Registry, a personalized website created by MEUSA where friends and family can quickly and easily make fully tax-deductible gifts to support the important work of this organization.
For a grassroots volunteer organization like MEUSA, even a few dollars go a long way toward efforts to secure marriage equality in the more than 30 states that still prohibit loving same-sex couples from marrying. Jeff and I have been amazed and humbled at the generosity of our friends and family, who to date have donated over $2,600 to MEUSA.
For those of you who now have the opportunity to legally wed, Jeff and I hope you’ll consider setting up an Equality Registry to benefit MEUSA and its critical work in your home state and across the country.
And Equality Registries aren’t just for weddings; some people use them to mark anniversaries, birthdays, or on the occasion of an adoption or a birth, for example.
It just takes a few minutes to set up your own Equality Registry, via an online form at the MEUSA website.
By MEUSA Social Media Director Thom Watson
MEUSA Thanks the More than One Million LGBT Service Members and Veterans For Their Service
- American Military Partners Association (AMPA): The nation’s premier resource and support network for LGBT military partners, spouses and their families. Founded by the partners of active duty servicemembers, AMPA has grown to nearly 4,000 members with thousands more supporters and is proud to be leading the effort to connect, support, honor, and serve our modern military families.
- American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER): A non-profit, non-partisan, chapter-based Veterans Service Organization of active, reserve, and veteran service members dedicated to full and equal rights and equitable treatment for all present and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces, especially the LGBT current and prior military personnel who have been historically disenfranchised by armed forces policy and discriminatory laws governing military service and benefits.
- OutServe/SLDN: A non-partisan association of actively serving LGBT military personnel offering legal services and acting as a watchdog and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Service members, Partners, Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPARTA): The mission of this organization is to advocate for and support our actively serving LGBT military members and veterans and their families while working to ensure the military provides equal opportunity for all service members regardless of race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.