You never know when you are going to learn a lesson or where it will come from. You can only make sure you are able to recognize it when it happens.
On Saturday, February 12th, many of the Arizona State House of Representative Democrats held office hours for their constituents. This was done in part to honor Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords one month after her shooting. The lawmakers were wanting to show that Gabby's commitment to meeting with her constituents was equally important to them and something that wouldn't be stopped by the actions taken by a gunman on that day. I live in Arizona's 14th legislative district represented by Debbie McCune Davis and Chad Cambell who were holding their office hours at a local coffee shop in the district.
There were only seven of us that showed up for the chat. We settled in around one large table to be able to discuss what issues were important to us with our Representatives. An older couple was seated next to me and went first. Only the gentleman spoke. He started off about keeping the tax credits for school donations. That was cool with me and I was impressed at how he was discussing some of the education issues. Then he switched topics.
"I want to discuss the marriage amendment. The family is the most important thing in society and must be protected," he began.
I'm thinking, "Well this is interesting. We have already been here, done this, and voted marriage between one man and one woman into our constitution. What more is there to discuss?" Then I think, "Oh maybe he is upset about the amendment and wants to protect all of our families." Yeah....no.
"Marriage has been around for thousands of years and the only way this has been is between one man and one woman and we must protect that," he declared. Now the purpose of this meeting was not a group discussion. He was there to talk with his representative. Rep. Campbell had run back to his house so he was not present at the time which left Rep. McCune Davis to handle the question. I just looked at her and gave her a little smile and waited.
"I understand what you are saying but I think we would disagree on how families need to be protected. This is something that was already voted on and is done and your view won in that vote." McCune Davis said. I thought Rep. McCune Davis was handling it well since there really was no point in having a conversation on something that would not be voted on here again. It was clear she didn't agree with him but why make a big argument at this point.
Then he said, "Well we need to make sure it stays that way. If they want to have a civil union I don't care about that. They can have some rights but I do not what queers to marry."
"Ok, wow, did he just say queers," I thought to myself and looked down at the table biting my lip.
"Well we can have some agreement that they do deserve to have equal rights," said McCune Davis happy that there was a point she could turn into agreement.
Unfortunately, he continued, "Sometimes judges decide to make laws and this is a decision that the people need to make."
At this Rep. McCune Davis did have to strongly disagree by saying, "Judges don't make laws the legislature does. The courts do check to make sure laws are constitutional. I do believe there will be court challenges on this issue. We are already seeing challenges to the marriage law in California. However, the judges will not be making laws when they decide a case."
"Oh but they are," the man continued. "Who are they to decide? This decision must be made by the majority. It is the majority of the people that say marriage is between one man and one woman and that is the only way it should be decided...by the people's vote."
Again Rep. McCune Davis could not let that pass and had to strongly disagree. "Sir, we as lawmakers have a responsibility to make sure that we protect all Arizonans. That means we do things to protect the minority at times. In this situation it was brought to a vote by the public and your position won. However, we do have a responsibility to protect the minority."
He was not satisfied with this answer but Rep. McCune Davis was able to end the conversation successfully because there were other constituents that needed a turn. During this conversation Rep. Campbell had rejoined the group. He had assessed the situation and made a smart move choosing not to ask, "So what did I miss?"
Then Rep. McCune Davis looked at me and said, "So what brought you here today?"
"Well I hadn't come here to discuss something that had been decided on two years ago but I must strongly disagree with what he just said. While I don't think we need to take up our time here today discussing an issue that will not come before the legislature I will say that I have a partner and we have two kids. I would like to have the same rights and protections everyone else at this table has when it comes to their family. I can't adopt my children because this state doesn't have second parent adoptions and so I have no legal rights to my children. Marriage would solve that and protect my family."
"It appears that most of you around the table are married. As far as Civil Unions go the only way that is equal is if you each have to tear up your marriage licenses and we all get a Civil Union license. All the tax codes and any other legal documents that reference marriage would need to change to Civil Union. The problem isn't that I want to call it marriage, the problem is that our government does. Therefore, all the rights and protections that you say you are ok with me having are tied up in that word with our government. To just make up something for me is not equal. Either I get marriage or you all get Civil Unions. Either way is ok with me."
I then went on to discuss the anti-bullying bill and the adoption bill that I had come to address. Rep Campbell did address these bills and they both stated they supported my position on them.
As I was finishing up the man interrupted, "When you say you have a partner - is it a man or a woman?"
"It's a woman," I said.
Not looking at me the man asked, "And you have kids?"
"Yes," I responded.
Still not bothering to look at me he asks, "Then what do you say when they are going to ask who their father is?"
"They don't have one, they have two mommies," I answered simply.
At this point the man next to me interrupted. He said this discussion could happen at another time and that we were all here to ask questions of our legislators and we should use the time for that. I agreed and we moved on.
Conversation continued and many other issues were discussed. After things wrapped up both Representative McCune Davis and Representative Campbell talked with me about the conversation. I told Rep. McCune Davis that I appreciated her answers and thought she handled it well. I spent more time with Representative Campbell, who is currently the minority leader, about the redistricting process and the importance of LGBT people showing up to that process. Then I left.
Here is the lesson I learned. It's all about showing up.
Had I not shown up the only voice that would have been heard on LGBT issues would have been his. While others that were there privately told me of their support as well they would have not spoken on LGBT issues that day. They were there for their own reasons. This is why LGBT individuals need to participate. All I did was sit down and have a cup of hot chocolate with people, my neighbors, to discuss what we think are important issues facing Arizona.
It was the most important thing I had done all week.