Taking Vows

On Proposition 8 and what it means to be married


It was 20 years ago that my wife and I were married. Since I met Lynn and fell head over heels, I’ve never been happier. For me, marriage has been a bridge to possibility. Having this anchor in my life has opened my heart, strengthened my character and emboldened my spirit. To borrow a line from an otherwise unremarkable film, it “makes me want to be a better man.”

Marriage, the vows of love and loyalty, uphold and strengthen families, whether those families consist of just two people (like ours) or many. In an age of chaos and discontent, why would we deny that opportunity to our family, friends and neighbors?

Proposition 8, now on the state ballot, seeks to define marriage in a manner that is too narrow, too small, too blind for the 21st century. Prop. 8 would eliminate the rights of same-sex couples to marry, fundamental human rights that have been won after decades of struggle.

As a volunteer with the No On 8 campaign, I interviewed three committed couples about their experience of marriage.

Robyn Bramhall and Ellen Maremont Silver have lived in Graton for more than 15 years, moving to rural Sonoma County from Oakland. They had a commitment ceremony in 1998 and renewed their vows on their 10th anniversary, July 11, 2008. Did a legally recognized marriage change things? According to Robyn, “It’s been great getting so much positive feedback this time, especially from straight folks, since it seems they ‘get’ how significant it is to have state support of our relationship.”

As for Prop. 8, Robyn says, “I wonder if those who support it understand the concept of separation of church and state in the same way I do. I hope they’ll look at this issue as a simple civil rights question.”

Scott Miller and John Jay met 30 years ago in Minneapolis, and after several moves together settled in Santa Rosa in 1991. They own a company that offers technical support to nonprofit organizations, and they were legally married in August. “We had been together so long that we considered ourselves married anyway,” John says, “but we did see a change in our perception of ourselves in terms of equality with our heterosexual married friends and colleagues.”

John says their marriage has been received “with a lot of warmth,” but worries about what will happen if Prop. 8 passes. “In addition to the acute disappointment of acquiring this right then seeing it taken away, I’m concerned about the legal status of those of us who got married while it was legal. What happens then?”

Heidi Doughty and Rhonda Findling live in Sebastopol. They’ve been together 16 years and have two children. Heidi was “in the closet” at work until last year, when she decided to open up about that aspect of her identity. “I came out and it felt great, just like getting married this summer felt great,” Heidi says. “I was tired of trying to be invisible, as though I weren’t equal to others.”

Heidi’s parents, who originally came from England, told the rest of the family about her wedding to Rhonda. Heidi was “speechless” over the positive response, until her mother explained that “they all know what it means to be married.”

Heidi says she realized that “words matter, terminology matters. We need to be treated like everyone else, so we can be seen as equal. I don’t want to go back, to feel hidden again.”

Heidi’s right. This is not a Red State vs. Blue State issue. Stable families are a worthy goal of every vision of society. It’s not right for government to tell us who we can—or can’t—marry. It wasn’t so long ago that government regulated the color of your husband or wife. The same government regulated the ethnicity or gender of who used drinking fountains, served in the military or was allowed to vote.

We must speak up for our friends, our family members, our neighbors and our co-workers, and we must say no to Prop. 8.

To find out more, visit www.noonprop8.com and www.eqca.org, or plan to attend an informational forum at Congregation Shomrei Torah, 2600 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, on Sunday, Oct. 5, from 3pm to 5pm. Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write [ mailto:[email protected] ][email protected]

Sonoma County Library