I'm about to do something I absolutely hate doing. Something that--just thinking about it--causes me more than a little bit of anxiety.
I'm about to commit to spending 3 hours a week (at least...for now) calling people I don't know...many of whom aren't expecting my call.
Phone Bank at Minnesotans United for All Families. Originally, when I'd decided to dedicate much of my 2012 to fighting the "Marriage Amendment," I hoped I'd be able to do things like filing or collating. Maybe I could even be the person who helped mail out the yard signs and bumper stickers. Maybe I could help organize databases and phone lists.
Anything but calling people. Anything but putting myself into a situation where strangers yell at me because I'm disturbing them during dinner. Or because they think I'm some pushy liberal, trying to impose my views on the general populace. (Hey, it is what it is.) Or because it's an issue that they don't want to talk about on the phone...with a stranger.
But as I looked at the upcoming events for volunteers, the only help they really seemed to need (at least for now) is with the phone banks.
So I had a choice to make...which feeling was going to win out? My extreme dislike of calling strangers on the phone? Or my desire to actively participate in the defeat of this disgusting piece of political maneuvering?
There are countless reasons I support the defeat of the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the state of Minnesota. There is a ridiculous amount of evidence I could use to paint a picture to explain my support And there is just as much evidence for why I will support (when that becomes the next step in the fight) the legalization of same-sex marriage.
I could wax philosophically about civil rights and equal treatment under the law.
I could cynically reference failed celebrity relationships and measure my own marriage in Kardashian Units (26.6 as of this posting).
I could glow about the inspiration provided by the rock-solid relationships (and rock-star parenting) of my closest gay friends.
But if I had to sum up all my motivation it would come from this sequence of very personal moments:
He already knew I wasn't planning on taking his last name...or even hyphenating my own last name. I'd made that point perfectly clear very early in our relationship. I like being a Ronning. A lot. And getting myself legally ensnared with him wasn't going to change any of that.
So I proposed this "everybody-takes-all-the-names" idea.
And do you know what my sweet, Sweet Jay said?
He said no to me.
He never says no to me. Well...only when I try to tweeze his eyebrows. But that's about it.
At first, I was mostly just shocked and indignant. I really thought he'd agree with me on this one. Jay is, if nothing, all about the symbolism. And I was probably also a little cranky that I wasn't getting my way. Then I was mad...and hurt. I couldn't believe that this man that I knew to be so generous and loving and progressive was being so obstinate and inarticulate about his rationale. He wasn't arguing that I should take his name. He was just flat-out refusing to take mine. And for no good reason. He was saying things like "I just don't feel like I could do that," and "I don't know how that would work." This from the guy who might as well have the phrase "Anything is possible," tattooed right onto his beating heart.
I don't really remember how the conversation ended. We didn't get into a fight about it. I guess there were enough other things to worry about as the wedding drew nearer. And I probably figured that since I wasn't open to solely taking his last name or even hyphenating my own, well, then I ought to let him make his own decisions about his name.
So that was it. We never talked about it again.
Fast forward to the day we went to the Ramsey County Vital Records building (as dreary and uninspired as its name suggests) to apply for our marriage license. The clerk handed the form to Jay...I stood nearby while Jay completed his part of the form. I remember thinking it was such a sad room/lobby in which to fill out such a meaningful document. "Here you go," Jay said, as he slid the piece of paper over to me.
I took the pen from him and prepared to write in my information. And there, in Jay's familiar handwriting I saw what he'd written. The spaces in the form for first and last names were just as you'd expect them to be...complete with his first and last name...but in the space for middle name, he'd written his middle name and my last name.
It took a long second for me to realize what it all meant. I blinked at the form a couple times, before all my synapses fired in comprehension. I looked up at him with tear-filled eyes...and there he was, with tear-filled eyes. "Were you planning this all along?" I whispered. He nodded, smiling.
Tricky, that guy.
It was a beautiful moment. And I'm sure the Vital Records clerk appreciated all the tears and snot as I handed him the form (Jay with two middle names and me with two last names) and wrote my check for our marriage license fee (minus the discount for all the pre-marriage counseling we did).
That story--and the comically sad ambiance--should be the only thing I remember about that day. But it isn't.
The other thing that I remember...the thing that fuels this post and makes me feel sad and icky and angry, whenever I think back to that day...is when the clerk asked, before he could process our paperwork, (something along the lines of...and because he had to) "Do you swear that one of you is a man and one of you is a woman?"
As intimate and beautiful as everything before had been, that question absolutely tainted the experience. It was an indelible stain on that moment. The grossness of having to answer that question absolutely outweighed the significance of that first step of our commitment to one another.
The ugliness of that moment is still fresh in my consciousness.
So I will make phone calls to people I don't know.
I will fight the attempt by the Minnesota G.O.P. to fill our state's constitution with hatred and bigotry. I will join with other Minnesotans, Democrats and Republicans alike, to defeat this proposed amendment.
I will put my unnecessary, ridiculous fear in perspective, as I think about the sacrifices that others made in the name of advancing the rights of all people.
I will dedicate time to making sure that someday, once we clear this first sizable hurdle, all Minnesotans have an opportunity to stand in dreary county buildings, sharing beautiful moments with the person they love most.