Thursday, October 4, 2012

Anniversary Challenge!

This week, my partner Les and I celebrated our 19th anniversary.  We chose to use our anniversary to make a statement and engage others about marriage equality.  You see, because we are both gay men and happen to be in love with one another and not someone of the opposite sex, our relationship is reduced to "boyfriend," "lover," or "partner" status opposed to having the right to marriage.  We would prefer to have spent the entirety of our anniversary in celebration, but felt that instead, we should visit our local county courthouse and demand a marriage license.  As we were walking into the building, a very happy opposite sex couple was leaving with a license in hand.  We entered the Clerk's office, took a number (D 134), and sat down to fill out our application.  Discrimination was evident from the get-go as we had to scratch out "Bride" in multiple place on the application and replace it with "Groom number 2".  When our number was up, we handed our application and drivers licenses to the lady behind the desk.  She looked the paper over, as well as our IDs and promptly informed us that due to a Florida statute, she would be unable to issue us a license because we are a same sex couple.  We discussed the issue with her, and even asked if she agreed with the statute (which she refused to answer).  We remained civil but made sure to push the issue a little instead of just taking her "no" and leaving.  I even asked her if she would be willing to step outside of the box and simply do the right thing.

I have organized marriage counter actions like this, and have participated in them before.  These can be powerful actions as they put faces to the issue.  They force government workers to look us in the eye while enforcing institutionalized homophobic discrimination.  They show our friends and neighbors, our coworkers, those waiting in the lobby with us that LGBT people are everywhere, and it isn't just New Englanders and Californians who think marriage equality is important.  While we were there, friends of ours discussed our action with a family who was there supporting an 18 year old getting her own marriage license.  This family cheered and applauded us as we left the building.  I guarantee you that the lady working the desk as well as the family in the waiting room went home and talked to others about the gay couple who was not allowed to get married.  When these people next hear a politician say something good or bad about "same-sex" marriage, instead of it being an abstract concept, they have real life people to associate with it.  That is huge!

Les and I issue a challenge to all LGBT couples out there:  when your anniversary comes around, if you live in a state where you cannot get married, visit the marriage counter!  Put your faces and names out there, let as many people as possible see us for the human beings with families we are.  This is an example of a simple, very low-risk action.  If you have never organized a protest or direct action before, this is one of the easiest to do.

Here are some simple steps for having a marriage counter action of your own.
1.  Plan ahead if possible.  You might want to get the word out, a crowd of friends can help to dramatize and further publicize your action.
2.  Prepare messaging.  Messaging is very important.  You want to pick one or two main talking points, main issues or reasons for doing what  you are doing.  Come up with different ways to express those talking points and practice getting those words out as eloquently as possible.
3.  Notify press.  Press is very important, but not everybody is comfortable talking to a camera or reporter, so be prepared with one or two strong bullet points.  It is best to send out an advisory a day or two ahead of time, and a press release the morning of your action. I would be more than happy to help with composing press releases, you can email me anytime!
4.  Come prepared.  While it is extremely rare, some offices in the past have decided to issued marriage licenses.  I can think of nothing worse than a couple showing up, a clerk saying yes, and that couple not having the required documentation or money ready.  You can find information on what is required in your state/county by clicking here!
5.  Be civil.  This can be a very emotional experience.  Even though you know you most likely will be turned down, it still can be hard to hear the words.  It is important to remain as civil as possible during the interaction with the government workers.  The last thing you want is to be perceived as rude or spiteful because, remember, those you interact with will see you as the face of marriage equality when the topic comes up in the future.
6.  Be strong and consistent.  Just because you are being civil, it does not mean you have to meekly take the "no" and leave.  Engage the worker with questions and statements.  Ask them why they cannot give you a license.  Ask for documentation, statute numbers, etc.  Many clerk's offices have had some training on this and will actually have a copy of your state's marriage statue on hand to provide you.  Give them a personal story, a reason why marriage is important to you as a couple.  Give them a statistic or two about "traditional" marriage in the USA.  You could also ask to speak to their supervisor and go through a similar scenario.  When you are done, thank them for their time.
7.  Get pictures and video!  Have a friend or family member take pictures and/or get video of your visit.  This is very important.  Direct action should always be documented.  Share pictures and videos online, particularly on social networking sites, share your experience with people (we all have friends or associates who don't really get why this is important, this can help educate them).
8.  Debrief.  Write about your experiences as soon as possible after your action.  Write, video log, audio, however you are most comfortable documenting things.  This gives you something to fall back on in the future, and gives a record of your experience.

I hope these steps help those of you who want to take part in our challenge.  Again, you can email me anytime with questions or comments.  So, couples, are you up for the challenge?