In 2013, Ben and I were the subjects of an article published in this paper, titled, “Another New Normal,” written by Daniel Borgen. The article highlighted the work we were doing for therapeutic foster children in state care. We were hopeful as foster parents that federal and state laws would someday change to ensure our family we’d begun to create would be legally recognized and accepted.
Through the course of the year, we were invited as guest speakers to Basic Rights Oregon Education Fund luncheon where we were heralded for our continued work. When we were asked to represent Basic Rights Oregon Education Fund in the lawsuit to overturn Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage, it felt like our dreams were coming to fruition. Our family would be legally recognized.
With the success of our lawsuit, ensuring marriage equality, we left the courtroom as Judge McShane’s words, settled in. He said, "I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community." We took those words to heart.
In appreciation for our work, we were recognized by standing ovation at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Former Governor Roberts accompanied by Terry Bean, legislators and dignitaries within our community shook our hands and thanked us for our fight.
Our fight had only just begun. As a couple vetted by BRO, who are from different political parties, Ben and I made a personal decision to further advance the cause for equality within his party. The Oregon Republican party had just adopted language in the party platform that said marriage was between a man and a woman. We set out to change hearts and minds. This led us to reach out to a candidate running for a congressional seat who was not a status quo candidate. Within minutes of our endorsement, our lives drastically changed.
Within a few minutes of our press release, under pressure from a politician who had made financial contributions, we receive a phone call to cease and desist and to retract our endorsement. It was pretty frightening. Within a few days, we were the target of numerous phone calls and an online campaign that impugned our character, threatened our livelihoods and attacked us for our core beliefs. It had been no secret that I am a Democrat and that Ben was a Republican. We were doing nothing wrong by choosing a candidate whom we thought might bring a diversity of thought to our state. The "family" that had once honored went for our throats and wanted us to shut up.
Within our community, if you don’t espouse common beliefs, you are shunned. When glaring discrepancies and lapses of leadership are apparent, our community must give Democratically elected officials a pass. It seems to be their belief, those who may have legislated on our behalf, that we must think like them, give to their campaigns and endorse them. They may have evolved over time on an issue and grown to accept our community and our cause for equality and because of this, they have the political right to use our community as a tool for campaigning. If we ever dare to question them, we immediately become suspect, scrutinized and shunned. Meanwhile, Ben received private messages from people who were happy with his progress, but under a cloak of secrecy. It seemed that to be gay and Republican requires a special coming out. You cannot be gay and GOP. The GOP is not allowed to evolve on issues within our community. As a liberal, I believe that we are individuals with unique experiences, thoughts, and ambitions. Our opinions matter, even if they don’t follow the Democratic orthodoxy.
Recently, we were sitting at a table in the lunchroom in the basement of the State Capitol in Salem. From our table, you could see the history in pictures and décor. A place that time forgot. Formica table tops, ceiling tiles and vinyl seats. I could imagine the conversations that have happened in its nearly hundred-year history. As I sat across the table from Ben, we heard an acknowledgment for the progress we’ve made. The lobbyist we were meeting, who had served two Republican presidents, had gotten his Master’s degree at Harvard and was working on key legislation said, “Ben, you are such an anomaly within your party. Even in your conservatism, you are really progressive. You are doing great things.” His simple compliment was the culmination of years of hard work. We had strived for more acceptance in his party at the cost of friendships and popularity. His words were simple but had a profound impact. It gave back a sense of validity taken by legislators who didn’t like our message meant to hold them accountable. With his words, suddenly, we were not their gambit to use for political points. Ben’s work had sudden new meaning. He was being recognized for his work for equality within his party; which was an advancement for LGBTQ everywhere.
Our continued work is to increase the visibility of people within the LGBTQ community. We also founded a non-profit to add our voice to those who are fighting for the rights of children languishing in state care. Oregon Foster Families First further upset the apple cart by asking why our top elected official had been unsuccessful in reigning in the mounting issues in foster care. Our continued work is what brought us to Salem that day. Ben has also been elected to office as the first openly gay City Councilor to Wilsonville, without much fanfare. For us as a family, it is more important that we continue being who we are, trying to give time and energy to make advances for our community, and following the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.”