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The Amazon Trail

Left at the Altar

By Lee Lynch


Lee Lynch
Photo: E. Mulligan

The Pianist and the Handydyke were going to the county clerk's office to complete paperwork that would unite them in a civil union. Their friends came from out of town. I was to take photographs. My sweetheart and I had a union gift all planned. And, as soon as we could, we were going to make our own trip to the county clerk's office.

Then the Pianist told me that a federal judge, at the eleventh hour, had put the right to a civil union on hold. The judge would take a month to decide if a petition signature -- in this case the questionable signatures in the 65,000 on a petition to overturn our civil union law -- is the same as a vote. It's not, and has never been in over 100 years of Oregon voting law. I felt like gay people were being told that he'd let us know if he would give us the opportunity to enjoy the same rights as straight America. What the judge said concerned him was making sure that the initiative process is constitutional. I, in my impatience and fury, only heard the word I have been hearing since I came out: no, no and again, no. It took the Pianist to remind me that "we live in a country where nine states (almost 20% of the U.S.) have passed laws that legalize civil unions and even marriage for gay couples."

I'm all emotion when it comes to our seesawing rights. Our need seems so benign to me. We don't want to have sex in the streets and scare the horses. We, far from being outlaws, simply want to be able to live quietly with security and respect. The challenges to civil unions made by the religious right make me feel like we're being toyed with, like mice in a world roamed by cruel, giant cats.

I'd researched the new law and was waiting till the day the forms would be made available so I could download them, when Judge Michael Mossman, U.S. District Court of Oregon, quashed the plans of so many couples. What I learned by Googling Judge Mossman: he was nominated by George W. Bush on May 8, 2003. He attended Ricks College, Utah State University and the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University. Can I trust that his Honor is, as the Pianist pointed out, only trying to give the other side its day in court?

I feel bullied. Wearing suits and dresses rather than fur and claws, a moneyed, out-of-state anti-civil union group has come to beat us with petitions and signatures, club us down with hired-gun lawyers and sympathetic judges. They hate the sin and love the sinner? Where is the love in this? Lesbians and gay men are so ready to sign on the dotted line, to take legal responsibility for one another. It's something gay couples have done, outside the law, for a long time. Something a huge number of non-gays refuse to do, or do half-assed, running for divorces when things get rough, ignoring financial obligations even for the kids they share.

Instead of using my camera to record this small, proud, happy event in our little town, I find myself an herstorian of disappointment. What would happen if some judge tried to put on hold the unions of straight couples, no matter the legal reason, to give opponents a chance to make their case for referring the right to unite to voters? Even as my sweetheart and I planned our union, we knew that our chance might be stolen by the morality terrorists. Is this just a hold, or will the judge's ruling lead to a long, expensive obstruction? A setback here bodes ill for other hopeful states.

A retired military friend from Texas commiserated: "It is terrible to treat us like less than human beings - it seems like when we think we are going to get better treatment they take it away. Just like letting convicted criminals in the service, but not gays." No wonder we are a people of diminished expectations. Moral waivers are granted when felons join the armed forces, but legalizing our bonds of love is an uphill battle.

And then Huckabee won Iowa. Another four years of judicial appointments like Mossman? It is very clear what we have to do if we want even the cobbled, partial blessings of the states in which we live and pay taxes. We have to vote in candidates who leave the judging to their deities and treat all their constituents equally. We're going to have to work harder in every state so couples like the Pianist and the Handydyke are never again left at the altar.
Copyright Lee Lynch 2008
Lee Lynch, Author of Sweet Creek from Bold Strokes Books

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