Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald editorial, “Our View: Court ruling won’t affect Maine LGBT couples,” really missed the mark. The ruling does affect LGBT Mainers: It scares us. It reminds us that we are not necessarily welcome and wanted, and the editorial did little to make this lesbian Mainer feel otherwise. “Businesses that are open to the public *should* still know that they can’t discriminate against same-sex couples. … The state *should* still be expected to step in,” the Press Herald Editorial Board wrote (emphasis added by me).
My life spans the modern gay rights movement; I was born in 1969, the year of the Stonewall Riots.
I had my first same-sex relationship in 1989, when I was in college. I was 20 and I finally felt “right.” I was both nervous and excited when I picked out the family member I was going to come out to. It was spring break, and we were watching the Oprah Winfrey-produced miniseries “The Women of Brewster Place.” The existence of two openly lesbian characters on the show, Theresa and Lorraine, gave me courage, and while it was upsetting to see the character Lorraine brutally beaten and raped, it was devastating to hear my relative say that lesbians deserve to be raped “for being that way.” (The previous year, I had been raped while hitchhiking. Had I deserved it, too?)
I did eventually come out to my family, but the memory of that first attempt always stayed with me. Telling people I was gay was risky.
The first time I brought a female companion home to an extended-family event was Easter 1992. I remember that because it was the last extended-family event I was invited to … until Christmas 2016.
I can’t say exactly how long my spouse and I have been “married”: Our first “wedding” was a protest in Washington, D.C., in 1993. We registered as “domestic partners” in Portland in 2001. We were “officially” married in Canada in 2003, and our marriage was finally recognized in the U.S. in 2013.
When our children were born (in 1996 and 1999), we went before a judge, where I had to relinquish my parental rights in order for us to jointly adopt our children, so that we would both be equal co-guardians.
When we lived in an apartment building in Portland, I was told that my “homosexual ass” was “not welcome” there. Our younger son, then 4, asked if the neighbor hated all of us or just me.
Times changed. People “evolved” on gay rights.
In the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, I hoped for an answer to the question: Does anti-gay prejudice that derives from deeply held religious belief trump equal protection under the law for LGBT people?
Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, in the court’s majority opinion, that “our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth,” but then the court allowed a businessman to get away with treating a gay couple as “inferior.” The court’s statement about “dignity and worth” rang hollow. The court’s decision emboldens anti-gay bigots who use religion to justify their prejudicial treatment of LGBT people.
Anti-gay prejudice that derives from deeply held religious belief doesn’t somehow hurt us less.
Since the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision was announced, I have been upset and worried. Will I be the next gay person who is refused service because my gayness offends someone’s deeply held religious beliefs?
On Tuesday afternoon, I was in a convenience store in Biddeford, feeling nervous and anxious, wondering, “Am I welcome here? Am I wanted in this establishment? Might I be refused service when it’s my turn?” I got in line behind a young man who motioned for me to go ahead of him. I was surprisingly moved by his kindness. I said, “Thank you,” and offered to pay for his items. I explained, “I’m gay and I’ve been feeling pretty unwanted and unwelcome lately, and your gesture of kindness just really meant a lot to me.”
He said, “Thank you … and you are wanted and welcome.”
The cashier affirmed the sentiment, “You are wanted and you are welcome here.”
I left the store and a woman came out and knocked on my car window; she smiled and handed me a silk flower and said, “You are wanted.”
So please allow me to pass that message on to other LGBTQIA Mainers who may have felt as I did: You are wanted and you are welcome here. We all are – even if the highest court in the land won’t step up on behalf of equal protection for us all.