Dustin Kight

Power of Personal Storytelling in CA and Beyond

Filed By Dustin Kight | May 18, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics
Tags: ACLU, California marriage equality, Family Equality Council, gay marriage, in re marriage, lambda legal, Massachusetts, NCLR, prop 22, shannon minter

Marriage equality in California -- it seems somehow more appropriate than marriage equality in Massachusetts, an arguably less free-spirited place than the Golden State. Liberal, but not free-spirited. (And I can say that, 'cause I live in MA, and scorn what appears to be a Puritan-induced lack of happy hours, among other things...)

Of course the recent win for marriage equality in CA can't be chalked up to sunshine and hippie holdovers. A great deal of wisdom, fight and ingenuity went into this win. And neither side wants to chalk the whole thing up to free spiritedness, though I suspect many "average Joes" will catch the headline and think, "Oh, of course this would happen in California...." How little people realize about the years and amount of work that goes into these huge wins for equality!

With a ballot measure almost assuredly set for November, our side needs people to remember Prop 22 and all the other citizen-initiated acts that have stripped rights away from people in California and beyond. The other side needs to convince its own that California is not lost to gays and liberals just because it's home to West Hollywood and San Francisco, that 'real' Californians can still be heard.

The fight for marriage in Massachusetts lasted nearly a decade and was only recently put to rest (well, mostly to rest) in the summer of 2007 with the Constitutional Convention's vote. The closest we could come to seeing this amendment alive again would be the horror movie equivalent of the zombie's arm jutting out of the earth in the final scene. Post-post mortem hand-raising could signal a sequel; it's more likely to signal the credits, The End.

A lot will be said in the coming weeks about the parallels between the Massachusetts and California decisions -- and, more generally, about the fights for marriage in both states. Most of this will be said on LGBTQ blogs and in the LGBTQ press. Already the 'mainstream' press is focusing on the effects CA will have on the 2008 election, with comparisons made to the MA decision's effect in 2004. (Interesting, but not all that surprising, that no one's said much about Iowa to the same effect.)

What will not likely be talked about as much, because it's not all that 'press-sexy' or 'serious news' is the importance personal story-telling has played in both fights and continues to play in all our struggles for full legal and social equality nationwide.

At the end of the day these struggles all relate to very specific human lives, and in many cases human triumphs and tragedies. In the CA case, it was most likely the well-crafted legal maneuvering of Shannon Minter and others from the lead litigating organizations -- NCLR, Lambda, ACLU, etc. -- that tipped the State Supreme Court's scales, but the incredibly detailed, personal stories of the plaintiffs played a large role as well. These 'everyday folks' have been telling and retelling the stories of their lives for at least the last four years that they have been associated with the In Re: Marriage cases. Their stories are well told in their declarations, which can be read in full at NCLR's California marriage page.

In Massachusetts, we were lucky enough to have a press corps that picked up on the power of personal storytelling in the wake of the "Con Con" vote last June: "Personal Stories Changed Minds". Legislators statewide remarked on the importance of hearing directly from constituents who felt threatened by the pending constitutional amendment, whose very access to family members via legal relationships hinged on the marriage vote. Many of these legislators -- once anti-marriage, now pro- -- have not only changed sides but are outspoken proponents, lending their voices to the cacophony of voices in MA and beyond insisting the full legal and social acceptance for the LGBTQ community is necessary to fulfilling the American promise laid out in our founding documents.

So as we move forward in California and in other states, fighting various fights that all lead to justice for our community, let's not forget -- in fact, let's celebrate -- the vital role our own storytelling plays in our progress and our specific wins! Changing a heart and a mind won't change the world in one day -- well, sometimes it might -- but it is essentially the most grassroots of approaches to full social change.

In Massachusetts, even where marriage has been legal since 2004, we are still in the process of educating MA residents on what they need to do to be more inclusive of now-married same-sex couples, from "simple" things like wedding photographers asking for Spouse 1's and Spouse 2's information on their forms (as opposed to Bride's and Groom's), something that happened to a friend of mine, to strangers on the street asking questions about a gay man's or lesbian's wife or husband (respectively) because he and she are wearing rings. The list goes on and on, and no amount of legal change will result in the social acceptance wrought by years and years of coming out proud and strong.

Many will collect and share the celebrations and joys of the CA marriage ruling over the next few weeks. The Family Equality Council (my organization) is taking photos and stories from folks as they get married in California over the next few months. If you're interested in sharing your stories and photos with us, so we can in turn share them with our community-at-large, visit our home page, www.familyequality.org, and click on the Victory for Family Equality in California banner. An email to us will open up; you can submit your story and attach your photos there!

This fight has been and will remain personal. California in particular is going to need a lot of person power in the next few months to beat back this November ballot initiative. Start preparing, collecting and sharing today!

To get involved directly in the campaign to beat back the November ballot initiative in CA, hook in to Equality For All today!

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I'll be sure to send along our wedding story and photos. I agree that personal stories can change hearts and minds.

You're 110% correct, Dustin. One of the most effective tools we've used here in Indiana are the PFLAG scrapbooks. They've compiled a giant scrapbook of LGBT family stories - good and bad - and make sure that all elected officials get a copy when appropriate. It's fabulous - and almost every official - conservative or liberal - will mention them right away.