My Family’s Fight for Equality
Michelle A. Rediker grew up in Northern Maine, and currently works in Data Services for the UUA’s ITS Department. If you receive a UU World Magazine, know that the mailing list was created with love.
Two weeks ago today, I took a bus to my home state of Maine. I joined a crowd of people in Portland who had worked, volunteered, donated to, or in some other way, poured their soul into the effort to maintain the same-sex marriage law that was passed by the Maine State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Baldacci.
For me, it wasn’t a journey that started in the bus terminal in Boston.
When supporters brought the marriage equality bill (LD 1020) to the legislature, those who knew of my passion for social justice and GLBTQQ rights asked if my family would testify in favor of it. It was important to show strong support from all ends of the state. My family was among the earliest settlers in the North. You can’t get much more “Aroostook County” than that.
At the hearing, my Dad represented our family, with my sister Nikki, my Mom and me by his side. He testified from the heart, and I can not tell you how surreal it was to stand in the Augusta Civic Center, filled to the rafters with people wearing red to show support for the bill, listening to my father testify on my behalf, telling the legislature how much he and my mother love my sister and me equally, how much my family loves my partner, and how much they support marriage equality.
His testimony, as well as the amazing testimony of other supporters, was posted on youtube.
I will admit, I did not think the bill would make it through the legislature on its first pass. Filled with anxiety, I listened to the vote online while at work. When the governor signed it into law, I was stunned. I simply did not believe elected officials would pass it that “easily!”
GLAD, the group whose brilliant litigation has changed the landscape regarding sexual orientation and AIDS & HIV law, says this regarding the process in Maine: “Maine has a process whereby a law can be held in abeyance if enough signatures are obtained to have a voter referendum on the law. Immediately after the signing, opponents from the right announced they were organizing a people’s veto campaign”.
Marriage equality opponents were successful in getting the issue on the ballot.
Marriage equality supporters organized a truly magnificent campaign to protect the law. My family was contacted again to see if we would be willing to put ourselves out there as supporters of marriage equality. Without hesitating, my family said, “Absolutely.”
In July, one week after Nikki and Steve returned from their own honeymoon, we met members of the campaign staff in Bangor. We were interviewed and photographed at length. We were featured in mailers and on “door-hangers”, and were included in at least 6 television ads, my favorite being “Stand.” What beautiful families!
We all heard from people from around the state and the country regarding our involvement in the campaign. Long lost friends and neighbors have reached out to my parents. They even received a call from people they didn’t know in Dallas, TX! My sister, a college administrator, heard from former students and colleagues from an organization where she used to volunteer. Countless friends have contacted me and admitted that my father’s testimony or an ad showing my family reduced them to tears, and to please thank them for their support.
But, their support has not been limited to being “poster children.” Some difficult choices have been made. My parents were very active in the St. Denis Catholic Church, where they were married, and we were all confirmed, and all but my mother baptized. My father sang in the choir, and worked with the food pantry and “food basket delivery.” When the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland began to push the issue in church, my parents, heartbroken, left. The money that would have gone into the collection instead was contributed to Protect Maine Equality.
I traveled to Maine and joined Nikki & Steve, and their children in canvassing Bangor in lousy weather. We participated in phone-banking. In fact, I am incredibly proud of my niece, a high school student, who was the “Top Dialer” one evening.
On election night, because of distance and various illnesses, my family was unable to go to Portland. They watched the results from home. I went to Maine because I couldn’t bear watching from my couch. Shortly after 10:30, I joined the other families featured in the ads on stage. We were handed posters to wave when the live feed from news organizations picked up again. Call it a miracle, but the home-made poster that ended up in my hands read, “Standing on the Side of Love.”
My family has been doing that for a long time. In 1995, an attempt was made to limit protected classes to those already included within the non-discrimination law, which at that time did not include LGBT people. My family was there for us then. They were there in 1997 when the legislature passed and then the people vetoed an anti-discrimination law in a special election in February 1998. They were there in 2000 when the people ratified a second anti-discrimination law that had been approved by the legislature. Maine has moved forward in family law and domestic partner benefits. There are civil rights teams in high schools that confront bullying. My niece and nephews are active on their school’s team. Maine has made incredible strides towards full equality and justice. This time around, the legislature passed and the governor signed a bill into law granting same-sex couples full marriage equality, in its first time at bat! To me, that is already an amazing accomplishment.
What is more amazing is that a record 60% of registered voters voted in a non-Presidential year. 47% of that record breaking group voted in favor of full marriage equality. Not civil unions, full marriage equality. Just a few short years ago, support for civil unions was tepid nationally. While my family aches and mourns this loss, we appreciate this extraordinary push forward. It is due to the beautiful campaign Protect Maine Equality ran, centering on love, family and an unwavering commitment to fairness. We did not win, but I am still stunned and reinvigorated by our progress!
And true to the struggle for the simple anti-discrimination law, this journey is not done. We will be back. We will win full marriage equality in Maine and soon. As one caller told my parents, everyone deserves parents, indeed a family, like mine. I agree. The Rediker and Page families stand on the side of love.