In celebration of Valentine’s Day, The National Memo brings you an excerpt from We Do! American Leaders Who Believe in Marriage Equality, edited by Jennifer Baumgardner and former governor of Vermont, Madeleine M. Kunin. From Harvey Milk to President Bill Clinton, Baumgardner and Kunin highlight political leaders — the historic speeches they have made and actions they have taken in the name of equality and of course, love. Baumgardner’s introduction, excerpted below, is her experience with marriage and love as not only the executive director and publisher at The Feminist Press at CUNY, but a wife and mother as well.
You can purchase the book here.
Three years into the institution, the contours of “marriage”—what it feels like for me to be connected legally to Michael—is both a site of struggle and a place of safety. When I’m anxious about a deadline, with kids who are both demanding I play UNO and deliver snacks, and Michael chooses that moment to ask me to scratch his back, my feminist beliefs (soul-saving though they are) don’t help me out very much. In fact, they lead me to rolling my eyes and mouthing, I’m going to kill you, when his back is turned. But when I think about our marriage vows and consider that I made a commitment to care for Michael and to receive care from him, I actually feel some inspiration to sit down and scratch for a minute. Being led by my vows creates a path to bring more love and consideration into our household—and into the world.
I’ve written in the past about my childhood being steeped in feminism, simply because “the movement” was changing the world without my doing anything. My childhood took place in a radically changed atmosphere from that of my mother, full of freedoms that I took for granted because they were, in fact, my birthright.
As a forty-three-year-old woman, I live within a different (though related) active movement now. Nearly every day, hundreds of times each year, I march up and down Christopher Street, traversing Fifth Avenue (where I live) and Hudson Street (where my eight-year-old son attends school). Along the way, I intersect Gay Street and then peek longingly into Bien Cuit as I rush by. I pause for a second at the Stonewall Inn, just before Seventh Avenue, the site of the riots in 1969 that marked the debut of the gay protest movement. Of late, this historic gay bar displays a giant photo of President Obama in the window, along with a quote from his second inaugural address:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall . . .
I pass kids making out in front of the triangle-shaped Christopher Park that features life-size white-lacquered sculptures of two couples—the lesbians seated on a park bench; the gay male couple standing nearby, as if chatting amiably. Two blocks north is the old St. Vincent Hospital, ground zero during the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
In other words, my every day begins simply and organically, surrounded by gay rights history and signs of its profound recent successes. After drop-off, I often linger in front of a poster for a weekly prayer vigil for marriage equality at St. John’s Lutheran Church. The following words are emblazoned on it: Our work is not done until all enjoy the freedom we now have. As a child in the 1970s and 1980s, I attended First Lutheran Church in Fargo, North Dakota. If prayers were offered for gay people, it was to help them live a straight life. Today, at least some Lutherans feel an urgent moral imperative to pray to extend marriage to gay couples.