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It’s Not Over

Marriage equality finally passed in Maryland. Now the real battle begins

Photo: Emily Flake, License: N/A

Emily Flake


It was 2:30 a.m., and the college students across the street were still blasting their music. My partner Gina reminded me it was my turn to tell them to knock it off. I pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt and walked barefoot to their front door.

“I know it doesn’t seem loud to you, but it’s really bothering us,” I said meekly to the fellow who answered. “Could you turn the music down?”

He rolled his eyes and turned to someone else inside. The music quieted. I said thanks and headed back to my little blue house. Halfway across the street, I heard it—loud and clear.

“Dyke!”

And the music went back to 10.

This was 15 years ago in Norfolk, Va., where we once lived. It bugged me, yeah, but I wasn’t scared of my neighbors. They were just stupid, drunk college punks. Besides, I called the cops once I got home; the party ended soon after that.

But this experience is exactly why I’m bracing myself for the next year.

Yes, I’m excited that same-sex marriage is about to be legal in Maryland. “Excited” doesn’t even cover it. The thought of my 25-year relationship being legally recognized is downright unbelievable. It’s one of the big reasons we moved to Baltimore from Norfolk in 2005—the promise of civil marriage.

On Feb. 23, as I followed the Maryland Senate vote on Facebook, my hands sweated in anticipation and anxiety. That anxiety hasn’t gone away. We won the vote, and Gina just got her invitation to the bill signing on March 1. The congratulations are still streaming in on my Facebook page. At church Sunday, several people asked if Gina and I would have another big wedding. (We had a church wedding in 1994.)

I should be over the moon, right?

Truth is, I’m terrified.

For three years, Gina has taken an afternoon off work to drive to Annapolis and testify in favor of same-sex marriage. I don’t go to these hearings. It’s not that I’m not supportive. I beam with pride each year. I know that Gina’s efforts are important and worthwhile.

I stay at home because I’m scared. I’m afraid to hear the awful things that are said about my family and me. I can’t bear to witness the testimonies that shame gays and lesbians and our children. I can’t hear again that we’re dirty, immoral, disgusting, and sick.

Over the years, these assertions have become less vitriolic. The opposition has learned that it doesn’t necessarily pay to demonize us or outwardly show their contempt. But the contempt is still there. And somehow the fact that it rages under the surface is just as frightening and difficult to bear. When Gov. Martin O’Malley signs this bill into law, it won’t be the end of the war but the beginning of the next battle.

This year, a 14-year-old girl named Sarah testified before the House of Delegates on Jan. 31, which just happened to be her birthday. It would be a great gift, she said, if lawmakers would vote against the bill.

“I really feel bad for kids who have two parents who are the same gender,” she said. “Even though some kids feel like it’s fine, they have no idea what kind of wonderful experiences they miss out on. I don’t want any more kids to get confused about what’s right and OK.”

Crap. She’s saying that my kid is confused. That my kid is missing out on a central and critical experience, simply because she has two moms.

I guess I should be really happy that Sarah is homeschooled. Otherwise, she could be attending middle school with my daughter—whom she apparently feels really sorry for, even though she’s never met her. But how many of my daughter’s classmates—or teachers—agree with Sarah?

This is what scares me.

It was worse on Feb. 23, when Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County) read the book King and King on the Senate floor. We have this picture book, even though my daughter never really liked it. The story is simple: Prince meets princess and doesn’t like her. Prince meets prince and falls in love. The end. Apparently Simonaire found one drawing in the book particularly horrifying: two kings kissing on the lips.

But even more unnerving to me was the response to Simonaire’s recital by Sen. Delores Kelly (D-Baltimore County), who implied that a change in the law would not affect curriculum development in Maryland schools. And state law already allows parents to exempt students from “objectionable material.”

This is what scares me.

Could being in a class with my daughter be “objectionable”? Is it “objectionable” for me to donate books to my daughter’s library that positively depict kids of gay parents?

Look, I’m tough. I came from Virginia where this stuff is child’s play. My partner and I have been screamed at, told that we are not a family. We’ve been denied a family membership to a local pool. We spent the early years of our relationship in the closet, hiding from our parents and our neighbors and our employers. My partner’s parents didn’t attend our wedding because they think our relationship is wrong.

But I’ll be damned if I allow that oppression to affect our daughter.

This is where the rubber hits the road, folks. Gays and lesbians can do only so much on our own. I have to know that when one of my daughter’s classmates tells her that our family is unnatural or wrong, some other child or a teacher will intervene. I have to know that O’Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will stand by their convictions when my kid is bullied in school because her parents are different. I have to know that my friends will not turn the other way when a parent at our school says that certain books don’t belong in the library.

This is what scares me.

Because as much as I wanted this law, it opened Pandora’s box. This fight won’t be over when O’Malley signs the bill. Within a week, opponents will be collecting signatures to petition a referendum about same-sex marriage. As Carrie Evans, Equality Maryland’s executive director, said last week, it could take marriage-equality opponents as little as “a few rounds of church signings” to get the 56,000 signatures required to bring the question to the ballot. And we’ll all get to vote on my civil rights, and others’, come November.

That means nearly nine months of anti-gay clergy bemoaning the outrageous burdens that same-sex marriage will place on religious institutions, comparisons of gay marriage to incest and bestiality, and careful inspections of school libraries and curricula. AM radio will be on fire with brimstone and bigotry. If Prop 8 in California is any indication, we are in for a nasty battle, financed by outside forces and blanketed in the sweet comfort of religious freedom.

Marriage equality will happen. I have no doubt about that. Sen. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert and Prince George’s counties) said as much last week, acknowledging that he and others who oppose same-sex marriage are on the wrong side of history. But getting there will be painful.

My celebration lasted about 10 minutes. I just don’t have the luxury for any more time. I hope that our straight allies will soon put down their party hats and suit up. Those of us who have been in the trenches for decades know one thing for certain: 2012 promises to be ugly.

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