Correction to This Article
Because of an editing error, a previous version of this column incorrectly suggested that the Mormon Church had contributed funds to efforts to pass Proposition 8. As the column states now, "members of the Mormon Church" made contributions.

Vows That Can't Be Voted Down

By Jennifer Donnelly
Friday, November 7, 2008; Page A19

Six years ago, our wedding was held outdoors at a lovely community center surrounded by redwood trees. We wrote the ceremony ourselves, and we were keenly aware of the meaning and symbolism of every word. The vows we made that day still move me.

Because the domestic-partnership form that we signed gave us only partial marriage rights, we decided to include in our ceremony the African American tradition of "jumping the broom." Slaves in this country did not have the legal standing to marry, but that did not stop couples in love from making commitments to each other. The ritual of jumping over a broom finalized the emotional and spiritual bond of marriage. Six years ago, we similarly understood that even without full legal status, our vows were our commitment to each other. When we spoke them, our marriage was forged.

We decided to get married again in June, about a month after the California Supreme Court awarded gay men and lesbians the legal right to marry, just to have the piece of paper. We have a child and a mortgage now, and our concerns and daily lives are the same as those of other families. We went to the courthouse to make an appointment and were delighted to find that there was an opening that day. "We're not San Francisco," the clerk informed us with a wink. Luckily, our dresses from six years ago still fit. The courthouse ceremony was unexpectedly meaningful, and I was moved when the officiant said, "The state of California declares you married."

Since then, in the months leading up to Election Day, the debate over Proposition 8 and the language of the initiative itself have taken me through a whirlwind of emotions. I am proud and thrilled to live in a neighborhood where many heterosexual families put up signs proclaiming "No on 8." I have been appalled to read the hate and vitriol posted on too many blogs and other Web sites. It's hard to understand why people would dehumanize me or would compare my wife to a dog. A dog?

I have been inspired to be a better person in the face of this adversity. In truth, I found it shocking that members of the Mormon Church couldn't find anything better to do with their money than to fight my marriage. How about attacking the trade in child sex slaves? Or global hunger? Surely there must be better things to battle than my tax-filing status.

For months, it made me indignant to think that my neighbors, and the entire state of California, were going to vote on my marriage -- something so deeply personal and spiritual and uniquely mine and my wife's. I wondered: How could they? Why would they?

Then I realized that they wouldn't.

Because on Tuesday, California, you did not vote on whether or not I exist; I am here, and I live in your neighborhood. You did not vote on whether your children will learn about same-sex couples; they will, when they go to school with my child. You did not vote to prevent your children from growing up gay; they already are who they are. You voted on whether to give my family the same status that other families have. You voted on civil marriage rights, not rights having to do with religious marriage or spiritual marriage. No vote can pass judgment on my actual marriage.

I was deeply saddened when Californians approved a state constitutional amendment this week banning same-sex marriage. But I remain married to the love of my life. I jumped the broom with her six years ago.

The writer lives in Palo Alto, Calif.

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