Friday, June 5, 2009

Marriage Equality in NH - A PFLAGer's Perspective

PFLAG National's own Roberta Barry, volunteer regional director for the Northeast region and president of the Keene, NH chapter, shares her thoughts on her decade-long fight for equality in her home state:

"It was a beautiful, sunny June day. The birds were singing. The sweet scent of lilacs was heavy in the air. New Hampshire’s state motto, “Live Free or Die” acquired new meaning for me. No longer do gay and lesbian people have to die without the rights of other New Hampshire citizens. I am grateful to be blessed with a gay child and be a witness to the history of equality in the state of my birth.

Ten years ago, when I attended my first PFLAG meeting in Keene, I had no idea that PFLAG's work in education and advocacy for gay people would be like a strong ocean current that swept me along. Before I knew it I become a part of a national movement to bring legal equality to gay and lesbian people.

I first went to PFLAG to talk about having a gay son. I wanted to understand why this happened. I wanted to talk with other families with whom I could share this experience. At the time, I thought that being gay was a problem, and it was my fault as a mother that my son was one of those people that our culture didn’t really accept. How much I learned. “It” was not a fault at all. Being a gay person is just a fact of life, like being left handed, blue or brown eyed. Once I understood that facts it became apparent that the culture had to know this, too.

I moved along the journey of knowing, to teaching, then advocating for the rights of people like my son. As I became a part of the larger PFLAG movement and met gay and lesbian people who said they intended to work to bring about equality in marriage to NH, I thought to myself, 'that will take a very long time.' The PFLAG organization supported the movement with money, writing campaigns, rallies, and testimony to representatives. Over the past six years, obtaining marriage equality has become a primary mission for the organization in NH as well in other states.

The wave of change came quicker than imagined. More people (both LGBT people and straight allies) started to "come out." As reproductive technology moved forward, allowing gay and lesbian people to create families of their own, society started to see that gay folks are just like everyone else. Gay people work, pay taxes, and sometimes struggle to raise a family. They want their lives validated like heterosexual couples.

What has been most impressive over the past six years has been observing the increasing numbers of youth who have come to testify about their need to live honestly and be accepted by family and society. They are articulate in their words. They express confidently who they are. I witnessed our future families at the state house, and I applaud their courage to speak their truths and to say, 'We will not live in closets. We will have a life just like yours.'

Finally, the majority of our representatives in New Hampshire understood. The hours and hours of testimony paid off. On June 3, 2009, Governor Lynch signed the bill(s) giving marriage equality to my family and hundred of other families in NH. It took 3 amended bills in order to be clear about the separation and church and state (churches and their affiliate groups will not be bound to marry same sex couples if they are not in agreement and choose not to do so). But, the State of New Hampshire will provide the legal right of same sex couples to marry."

-Roberta Barry

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