The Introduction of this blog post was written by Margee Churchon, Jewish Community Liaison for Marriage Equality USA and Program Associate for the Jewish Community Relations Council
As of this afternoon President Obama, in a major legal policy shift, has directed the US Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act against lawsuits challenging it as unconstitutional. This is the act from 1996 that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Of course before this incredible decision was made by The Obama Administration a lot of work was done in the grassroots to help create the understanding for a decision to be made in the defense of same-sex couples.
An amazing Jewish hero and the much discussed father of Community Organizing, Saul Alinsky once said, “Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”
This movement and change however it is played out can be witnessed by our children. The speech below, written by 13 year-old Sydney an 8th grader at Brandeis Hillel Day School speaks to this movement. As we celebrate as a community that the Defense of Marriage Act is now considered by the Obama Administration impossible to keep defending as constitutional let us honor the multiple paths it took to create this change…. Lisa Finkelstein
Marriage: Not just for straight Maccabees Anymore
The rain was pouring the afternoon before the Ninth Circuit Court’s Prop 8 trial on Sunday, December 5, 2010. Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and its partners had organized a family-friendly Chanukah celebration for marriage equality, Marriage: Not just for straight Maccabees anymore, but the rain just kept coming, the hot chocolate we brought was turning quickly into cold chocolate, and my phone was ringing again and again from people who called to say they weren’t coming.
The Jewish community is overwhelmingly supportive of marriage equality – approximately 80 percent voted against Prop 8 – and this was going to an awe-inspiring family event. Suffice it to say, I was sad that I had to cancel the day. Our microphone and speakers couldn’t get wet. But out of that day there is still inspiration to share. Sydney, an eighth grader at Brandeis Hillel Day School, prepared amazing and touching remarks about growing up in a loving family with two mothers, and the effect that Prop 8 had on her own life. Since Sydney was not able to share them with you the day before the trial, Lisa has them here for you to read. I hope you find the same encouragement, insight, and hope in her words that I do.
Prop 8 Speech for Sunday, December 5,2010 steps of 9th District Court
Hi, my name is Sydney. I am 13 years old, and an 8th grader at Brandeis Hillel Day School. When I was asked to speak about my family, I didn’t know what I would say. Having two moms has become matter of fact for me. But, then I thought about Prop 8, and how it has influenced my life. And that is what I’m here to tell you today.
It was a few days before the election when voters would decide whether lesbian and gay couples could be married. We were all very excited, and hopeful that Prop 8 wouldn’t succeed. One night, my family decided to go out to dinner. We had to drive separately. Benji and my mom, Dawn, drove in one car. My other mom, Tracy, and I drove in another car. As we drove out of our community, we noticed, yet again, a bunch of signs supporting Prop 8 in one area. Every time we drove out of our home, we were reminded that our family was not accepted. It was so hurtful that we felt compelled to do something about it. We hopped out of the car and started taking the plastic signs off of the poles in the ground. As I started down the hill for more signs, three big white trucks zoomed towards me.
I was already running to the car as my mom yelled, “Get into the car.”
Men in the trucks were yelling and racing towards us. My mom raced around them, towards the restaurant. The truck followed us, racing alongside our seemingly small car, and flashing lights at us. I couldn’t help but let tears fall down my cheeks; I was scared.
After what seemed like hours of the truck chasing us, my mom stopped the car, slid down the window, and yelled, “Stop! Would you please stop? You’re scaring my daughter!”
“You should have thought of that before,” the man yelled back.
My mom tried again, ”’You’re scaring my daughter!” Hesitation. The window of their truck was pulled up and I watched his truck disappear down the road.
I was raised around diversity and the idea that everyone is equal. There were always people who would question the ability to have two moms, and those who weren’t willing to understand. However, the many communities that I feel a part of have protected me from bullying and feeling alone.
These communities, Temple Emanuel, Brandeis, and Camp Tawonga all have goals to make everyone feel at home, so I never experienced a deep and hurtful level of discrimination, before the night we were chased.
That night, my eyes were fully opened. I realized that beyond my life, there was a high level of intolerance and hatred. It had never occurred to me that those intolerant people could be in my backyard. As I continued to think past my
life and what causes people to be hateful, I realized it was most likely because they did not grow up around differences. They came to believe that diversity and difference threatens them and their families, and that difference is immoral, (whether it’s somebody crossing a border, an African-American man running for president, or a girl facing deportation because her parents came here illegally).
In one night, I realized the degree of discrimination still going on in the world today and how it can influence someone’s life. Additionally, I realized my responsibility in reaching out to others to make them feel the acceptance and belonging I have felt. When I help a homeless person, work with autistic kids, or even help a friend who is getting teased, I know that I am helping people to feel good about themselves, just as my family has done for me.
Let me tell you something about my family. My family might be considered different, but they’re just as good as any other family. My two moms are extremely supportive of all my interests, whether it be volleyball, art, guitar, or even looking at different high schools. Benji is more than just a brother to me, but also a friend. I am extremely close to all of my friends, love hanging out with them, and know I can trust them with anything.
My school, Brandeis Hillel Day School, celebrates everyone’s differences and the teachers get to know each students very well. I enjoy going to an assortment of camps every summer, and next year I am looking forward to high school. If you asked any kid in my class, I think they would tell you about the same thing.
However, there is one thing that is different about my parents than many of the other parents in my class: While they were one of the lucky 18,000 who were married, the federal government still doesn’t recognize them as a married couple. In addition, they live under the fear that Prop 8 could be reinstated and their marriage taken away. No couple deserves to live under that fear. And, no child deserves to have to worry about their family in this way. My worries have become more mature as I’ve matured, but the irrational worries of a younger child could even include that their parents will be split up or taken away. When a child knows that their parents aren’t treated equally, then how can that child feel secure and safe? And, to think that these worries are caused by an unreasonable fear of difference, otherwise known as Prop 8.
My parents, who have been together almost 22 years, still aren’t fully recognized for their commitment to each other. And there are still many couples who aren’t recognized at all, because they can’t get married due to Prop 8. Prop 8 has negatively affected many lives, and at some point that has to stop. In the end, we are all people who just want to be loved and treated equally. Thank you.