Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: "Going Gluten-free"

It's not easy to be gluten-free; particularly if you live someplace where pizza and Italians (subs) are the only viable take-out and the nearest health food store is 45 minutes round-trip and closes before you even get out of work. Since I've only recently returned here after two decades in more...shall we say..."developed" areas, such as San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Northampton, MA, part of the quest is not just knowing what I need and how to prepare it (big challenges on their own), but where to gather all the ingredients--and then making the time to forage while also working 40+ hours, trying to exercise, having a life, looking for health insurance, and first looking for a house and now owning one that needs work.

I spent an hour in the Shaw's in Ellsworth on Saturday, for instance, looking for non-dairy yogurt. They sell it at Hannaford so I assumed it would be at Shaw's. Truth be told, it took me nearly an hour to remember I wasn't in Hannaford. Nevertheless, even with the help of three determined staffers who insisted it was in the store, we were utterly unable to locate the soy- or coconut-based yogurts for which I quested. (I wanted them because breakfast is one of my real problem areas and since I don't eat meat, gluten, or dairy (mostly), I wanted the alterna-yogurts I'd been used to--the ones I bought in bulk at Hannaford in Brewer.)

Once I learn the ropes, I think the time it takes to acquire things will go down, but for now, there are still a great many hours spent looking for vegan cheeses and miso that could be spent doing something more useful, like painting my laundry room or watching four hours of NCIS on DVD (or actually trying to cook something).

One thing I know for sure: there is no shortage of information. Quite the contrary. If you mention to anyone--even a stranger at the grocery store who spies you loading Bob's Red Mill gluten-free-something in your cart and asks--that you are gluten-free, you will be immediately asked, "Have you read the blogs?" No matter what your answer, you will then be showered with information, suggestions, a torrent of details and stories about afflicted loved ones that is so well-meaning and yet just too much to take.

As I told my friend Mav (in the ancient tradition of mixed metaphor) when she offered to provide copious amounts of great cooking and eating tips in response to my last gluten-free blog post, but first checked to see if I could handle any more input: "I mostly feel like I'm a sturdy little thimble positioned at the mouth of the great Mississippi. Open wide and try to filter *all that information* into something you can eat. So, yes, thank you for the loving restraint when it comes to tips. I DO want them, but my little sponge of a brain is nearly soaked. I'm tired and hungry and frustrated. One meal at a time. Must go slowly. Can't cope with onslaught of advice. You have my e-mail, though: you could drop me gluten guidance there, if you want? And I'll pop in when I can and have a nibble?"

And that's just it. I love Mav for understanding that I couldn't just get battered by tips: because that's what they usually feel like. Battering. No matter how lovingly given, I'm like a plant that's been overwatered. (Hurray! Another mixed metaphor!) I do want help, but first I just really need to absorb what I already have.

I do thank Renee from Hannaford in Bucksport, though, who saw me checking out with Mike's Hard Lemonade this summer and let me know that malt means gluten. Rats! And to Mark (my sweet friend and realtor), who was the first to tell me that Hannaford in Bucksport sells Redbridge, a gluten-free beer. Problem identified. Problem solved. (Want more gluten-free beers. Here's a super site.)

Some tips are really helpful. Other tips, like, for instance, "You can Google it," are not. One is a tiny, well-aimed drop; the other is like turning the hose on me.

I do thank everyone who is trying to help. And I ask you to please poke your hand gently in my soil before you dump in any more water, lest I drown (or catch you with a thorn).

The exception is actual food delivery. Presenting me with recipes or lists of blogs means I have to do more reading, more thinking, more foraging, and potentially more failing at preparation. Then I have to clean up. But, if you want to invite me to a gluten-free, semi-vegan meal--or, say, drop a suitable hot dish off at my place--well, then, my friend, you are always welcome to feed me.

I decided to start blogging about being gluten-free with my own particular parameters (the nearly vegan, onion-allergic, mushroom-averse me) because I do think it's worthwhile and helpful for all the celiacs and gluten-challenged among us to speak up and share on this great cyber river of muddy information we like to call the Interweb. If you are looking for help or hope or company, here I am. I'm glad you found me. Just don't expect me to read your blog.

Here's the latest one-day-at-a-time menu update:

November 17, 2009
1.5 cups coffee w/2 cubes raw sugar
coconut milk yogurt (from Hannaford in Brewer!)
gluten-free granola (I can't remember now where I landed that. Rats.)
soy chocolate pudding (which I think is located either in the dairy case or the produce section at Shaw's in Ellsworth)
1 bowl homemade vegetable soup (You can find the recipe on page 251 of The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone.)
gluten-free french roll toasted with raw, organic honey and earth balance margerine
one glass Riesling (I hope it was gluten-free? I don't know. Can wine have gluten?)
Grilled salmon with mashed potatoes and cole slaw (restaurant)
water
Andes mint

November 18, 2009
1.5 cups coffee w/2 cubes raw sugar
water
3 gluten-free waffles with margerine and real syrup
organic applesauce
homemade veg. soup (note to self: make LESS soup next time!)
gluten-free crackers (they're made from nuts!)
vegan cheese (it's made from nuts!)

3 Junior Mints Deluxe Dark Chocolate Mints (both gluten-free and vegan, I think)

1/2 Fuji apple
soy chocolate pudding
Shahi Korma, 3/4 lunch-sized portion (Taste of India, Bangor)
papadam (it's made from lentils!)
basmati rice
Polar orange dry seltzer

That damn soup is finally gone. And I think I might be out of non-yogurt-yogurt. Damn! I should have had Peter get some today when he was in Bangor. See? This is what's hard about it. Stock up and re-supply. It's like planning for a freaking revolution.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: "Question 1"

Earlier this year, Maine legislators took the admirable step of granting equal marriage rights to all Mainers, including same-sex couples. The governor signed the legislation into law and ever since the spring, it has been legal for any two adults to marry in this state, should they choose to. The governor, who once spoke out in favor of civil unions instead of true marriage, says he signed the law because he came to realize that separate is inherently unequal. He is now an advocate for equal marriage rights (bless him).


Unfortunately, shortly after the new law was passed, some Mainers gathered signatures to create a ballot initiative similar to California's tragic Proposition 8, which took marriage rights away. Tomorrow, Mainers will go to the polls to decide the issue.

I moved back to Maine this year in part because of this law. I might like to get married someday soon, but as a bisexual citizen and native Mainer who happens to have a male partner, I feel that any law which denies civil rights to lesbians or gays denies them to me, as well. For this reason, I take the No on 1 campaign personally (as with Californa, a No vote means yes, gays can marry) and it's been deeply upsetting to see Yes on 1 signs sprout up all around me. I have at least one friend and, I suspect, at least two close family members who will be voting to deny me my right to marry tomorrow. This hurts. It hurts so much that I decided not to engage with them about it. Will they have a revelation, as the governor did, before tomorrow and either vote No or abstain? I hope so. Could I have persuaded them by engaging in debate? Definitely not. So, I've left them and their consciences to it.

While for me, the denial of marriage rights is personal, for my straight friends, there is no reason they should be compelled to vote No--no reason, apart from a passionate commitment to equality, freedom, and American values. I have been profoundly moved by the fire with which my straight, married and unmarried friends have fought on behalf of my minority. (For the record, I would have rather been a lesbian, but I had no choice in the matter. You love who you love and there it is.)

We, the not-heterosexual people, cannot attain equality without the consent of the majority. We cannot be equal unless enough people who aren't like us believe this to be so. Fortunately, amazingly, almost all of my straight friends get downright furious when they even think about Yes voters. And I love them so much for this fury. This fury is love, it is fairness, it is the good fight. And no matter what happens tomorrow, I am buoyed by this love and righteousness.

I am also moved by the continuous stream of unexpected No voters. One straight, married friend's dad, an elderly man with conservative views, for instance. He is legally blind, so my friend was tasked with doing his voting for him. She was very tempted to vote No for him--he'd never know!--but of course, she would never actually do such a thing. She had to make her peace with the act of ticking that Yes box for her father.

When the day came (he voted early) she read him the question. Then she read it to him again. After one more time, he gave it some thought and then he said, "I think I'll vote No. Let's give them a chance."

As much ugliness has risen up around Question 1--a great many No on 1 signs in our town have been found flattened with tire treads embedded in them, for instance--there is also this beauty. For every neighbor who stakes a Yes on 1 sign in her yard, there is someone like my friend's dad who says, "Let's give them a chance."

In the picture (above), my first girlfriend (a native Mainer) and her fiancee (whose Mom lives in Maine) stand in Bucksport with me and my sweetheart, Peter. We are all created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. Among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While some joke that marriage is not happiness, we would all like a chance to try. If you agree we have that right, please vote NO tomorrow on Question 1 and urge your friends and loved ones to join you at the polls.

This content is copyrighted. If you are reading it on Facebook, it was imported from my blog at Graychase.com. View the original here: http://tinyurl.com/yg8ruhy

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Smith College Class of 1994 Memorial Service

My dearest classmates,

I'm having trouble posting to the Smith94 blog at Graychase.com. While I work to resolve the issue, I'll post here in the hope that you will still find it...What follows is the post I've been trying to get up at the class blog.

We Remember, Class of '94 Memorial Service (2009)

On Friday, May 22nd, 2009, after our Groove is in the Heart Yoga class, members of the class of '94 gathered in a clearing by the pond on the other side of the crew house. We were joined by the parents of Laura Swymer-Clancy '94, who brought four daughters to Smith and have lost two of them far too early.

This is what I read:
"In Memoriam"


Four years ago, I attended the wedding of a dear Smith friend in Mystic, CT. Despite some of us not having seen each other in several years, and despite the many different paths our lives have taken, the Smithies at the wedding embraced one another with jubilation, appreciation, and great affection. We were as familiar to one another then as we were on the last day we sat down together for Sunday Brunch in Cushing House more than a decade earlier.

During the outdoor reception at the Mystic Seaport, I stepped away from the dance floor for a moment and I watched my friends dancing as the sun set into the water behind them. The sky was filled with brilliant swaths of color, the last vestiges of day embraced by the first dark arms of night. In that moment between the bright shining day and the deep velvet night, there was a pause for celebration, a great joining together of colors, a hello and a goodbye all in one. The sky, like the bride and the groom, and my glorious friends dancing beneath it, was gaining something and losing something both.

I wanted to be in that moment forever, but since that was impossible, I reached for a pen so I could write down what I saw.

A few days later, I found the note I’d written on a napkin crumpled at the bottom of my purse. And all it said was this: “Describing my love for these women is like trying to draw the sun with nothing but a crayon.”Even eleven years after moving away from our shared Smith home, words failed to capture the light that dances between us when we come together in any room. Our happiness in one another’s company is almost impossible to describe (particularly if there is music and a meal involved). This, I believe, is the Smith Experience.


We are here today, exactly 15 years after we graduated, to honor that unique connection, the inimitable togetherness that a Smith education affords, and to mark the loss of seven of our classmates:

  • Kimberly Tyler, who passed away 2/11/1991.

  • Linda Miller, who passed away 10/15/1995.

  • Judith Grubbs, who passed away 11/20/2000.

  • Carol Boyer, who passed away 4/17/2001.

  • Laura Swymer-Clancy, who passed away 10/21/2001.

  • Deirdre Flaherty, who passed away 8/12/2004.

  • Jennifer DelVecchio Gustafson, who passed away 8/1/2007.

[At this point, I was overcome with emotion. I gestured for the Reverend Alyssa May ('94) to join me, and she was kind enough--and composed enough--to help me invite the group to offer a moment of silence to these women we have lost.]



After our moment of silence, Lesley Reidy, who was very close with both Laura and Jen, read a poem--Snow Geese by Mary Oliver--and shared some of her memories. She also described some of the ways in which she still actively feels the sweet presence of her good friends in her days, and the ways in which she shares that love and warmth with her children.

Laura's mother, who brought along photos of her daughters, also read a moving poem. And both of Laura's parents shared their appreciation at being able to experience our remembrance of their wonderful daughter. Other friends and classmates shared their grief at losing friends and their gratitude for having known them.

And then I led us into our offering:

Earlier today, I came to this clearing, I said a blessing, and planted seven lilies-of-the-valley, one for each member of our class who has passed away. Lily-of-the-valley is also known as Ladder to Heaven and Our Lady’s Tears. It is said to have magical properties and is used to improve the memory and the mind. When placed in a room, these flowers are supposed to cheer the heart and lift the spirits of anyone present.

It is my hope that these lilies-of-the-valley will grow and thrive in this clearing. So that we can return year after year to this quiet spot and witness their bloom and remember how we were when we were young here and what a special thing we have become a part of.I have filled this watering can with water from Paradise Pond. I invite you now to join me in offering a drink to these lilies we have planted, in recognition of the life that this water gives, and as a symbol of our connection to Smith and t o Smithies, whether they can be here today in body or only in spirit.

As those gathered came up one by one, to offer water to our lilies, I read our benediction:

In this moment between the bright shining day and the deep velvet night, let us pause for celebration, a hello and a goodbye all in one. Even fifteen years after moving away from our shared Smith home, words fail to capture the light that dances between us when we come together. Our happiness in one another’s company is almost impossible to describe (particularly if there is music and a meal involved). This, I suppose, is the Smith Experience.


After the benediction, I thanked everyone for coming. There were hugs and tears and, I think a great deal of joy at our connection--followed up, most appropriately, by music and a meal at our class dinner.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: "I Know Exactly Where That Is"

One of the things I love--I mean, really and truly love--about rural Maine is the way people give directions.

My family has been here in this same town on both sides for more than two centuries, and I myself have never been away for more than six months at a time in 37 years, and yet I don't know the names of most of the streets. People don't say, "Go up Mill Street." They say "Go up the Post Office Street." (In fact, I don't think it is "Mill Street." I genuinely don't know the name of the street on which the Bucksport Post Office is located.)

And I am not alone in this. I don't know the name of the street because almost no one local uses its name. Most directions are given with points of reference being, not street names or number of blocks between things, or even in miles, as might be common in other places, but rather in terms of details based on where people live or where something happened or what is located on the street (such as the post office or the library).

My favorite part is that the directions are always correct and reliable, but utterly inscrutable to outsiders because they most often begin with where something (or someone) used to be.

I enjoy re-telling particularly excellent examples of rural directions as anecdotes and recently attempted to regale my father with a narrative about the directions a friend had given me to his house in Happy Town. Peter and I had been invited to have dinner with him and his wife, and he issued us the following directions via e-mail:

From your Dad's home take Upper Falls Road to Bald Mountain. I don't have mileage from there but from Bald Mtn you go down over the stream, then up two steep hills, after the hills go a couple of miles, the road sweeps to the Left with some cows on the side of the hill at Wee Bit Farm. Look for Winkumpaugh Road on the Right, take it and go to the next stop sign at Happy Town Road, the sign is frequently stolen and I can't recall if it is there at present. Go 1 mile up the hill on Happy Town Road and we are on the Left @xxx. Our house has a carport, shingled exterior and green trim. Most importantly my cell is xxx-xxxx should you get lost.


I was cracking up by the end. I mean, isn't that a riot? Aren't those directions just so awesomely rural-perfect? Start at your Dad's, go all these crazy ways, turn (no idea which direction) at the stop sign with the missing road sign all to end up in some place called "Happy Town"? Awesome, right?

But my dad, who had been following along intently to my narrative, picturing all the roads and turns in his head just said, totally straight-faced, "I know exactly where that is...But he should have told you the cows have long hair."

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Letter to Tom, Excerpt

beloved,

...perhaps I am a few years behind you in a parallel cycle? having cast
off the burdens of an address and stowed essentials in a storage unit,
I am living now in an RV, with cat and boy. in Maine. on the same land
I first lived on with my parents in the early 70s. i stood at the end
of this driveway and waited for the bus to kindergarten. I walked in
these blueberry fields and thought I was Sal. I lost my favorite kite
in this sky to this wind. and at the age of five I ran away from home
and sought my fortune down this steep and dangerous road (resentfully
returned by my mother's best friend's teenage son, Johnny, who found
me in the woods--and killed himself a few years ago).

i write you a long e-mail because I cannot help it. It feels good. I
know you haven't time to respond, barely time to read, but I expect
you won't mind if I pour some thoughts into your glass anyway.

with loving love and some curiosity about what happens next. and many
good wishes for burning man, and the hope that you will not stay away
so long this time, i am yours,

©Copyright 2009, Naomi Graychase. If you are reading this on Facebook, it was imported from Graychase.com and should not be reproduced without permission. You can find more stories or poems like it at www.graychase.com.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tales from Rural Maine: You Can't Get There From Here

Peter and I have a joke that he doesn't pay attention to his surroundings. When I say "joke," what I really mean is that he doesn't pay attention to his surroundings--and this drives me crazy because he never knows where anything is, including himself--but since it is, I have come to accept, an irrevocable truth of his personality, we have decided that we can laugh about it rather than fight about it.

Today, we were starving and didn't feel like cooking, and he was going out to pick up our mail at my Dad's anyway (we're housesitting this week), so we decided he'd pick up a pizza for a late lunch/early dinner kind of thing. Given the aforementioned lack of awareness, you can imagine that I had some trepidation about sending him the three miles to Snowman's alone, but he said he could do it.

I had him recite to me the directions from Dad's place on the Upper Falls Road over to Snowman's.

"You just go out to that main road and then when it gets to the place where it bends, you go that way and then it'll come up on the right next to that fried food place," he said.

Sigh.

"Okay, well. Yes. Although, like I said, it's across the street from Crosby's. And..." (And I can't believe you still call Route 1 "that main road there) "And..."

I hesitated to mention it, but I just hated that he was going to go that way when there was a way I thought was shorter. And easier. And would take him past the golf course, which he had just that day asked about.

So, I said, "...And there's actually a faster way? You could, instead of going out to Route 1, just come back this way. And, instead of turning sharp right at that house we like, to go up to the Russell Hill Road, you just keep going straight. You'll pass the golf course and then Snowman's will come up on your left."

"Really...?" He seemed skeptical, but willing.

"Yes!" I was excited that he wanted to branch out, learn a new way. He's usually resistant. "Yes. You just don't take that turn and you'll come to a stop sign and bear left and just stay on it 'til you come to Snowman's."

"Okay!" he said. And left.

An hour later I was half worried he'd had car trouble and didn't have a phone--and was also about ready to eat my own fist--when he rolled in the door with a cold pizza and a story about going to Holden.

"HOLDEN?" I said, flabbergasted. "You went to Holden?"

"I took a few wrong turns."

"I should say so."

He explained that he had gone the way he knew to get to Snowman's from my Dad's (out to "that main road"), but that he tried to follow my directions to get home.

"But, honey, I gave you directions TO Snowman's from Dad's, not FROM Snowman's to here...You were practically in Brewer."

"I know..." he said. "I realized I'd gone the wrong way when I saw the sign that said 'Brewer 8 miles."

We laughed. How could we not?

"I can't believe you drove to Holden. From Snowman's."

He's such a sweetheart, though, he didn't eat the pizza while he was driving all that way.

"At least it was a nice, scenic drive," he said. "Until you get to Holden. No one's fixed the roads there since the seventies."

"I know! That's because no one goes to Holden," I said.

The rest of our big plan for the evening was to go see The Proposal at the Alamo. We've been looking forward to it all week. We thought we'd outsmart the crowds by seeing it on a Wednesday night. But, I called ahead to confirm the showtime only to learn that it appears to have only shown over the weekend. No shows during the week. Sigh.

The pre-recorded voice that told me the show times I'd missed was my friend Jane's. We went to high school together and she runs the theater or something now. (Jane once convinced me to jump out of a moving vehicle because it was a standard and she didn't know how to start again once she stopped. Tip: 5 mph is actually a faster rate at which to hit the ground than you might think.)

It was so delightful to hear her sweet Mainer voice, even though I just saw her last week, that I actually listened to her dash my evening plans, then went back to the main menu and listened to her do it again.

So, it turns out that my dinner was cold, Peter still doesn't know how to get to Snowman's from here--or more importantly, back--but he does know how to get to Holden, should the need ever arise. We can't go see a movie without driving to Bangor or Ellsworth tonight, which Peter already practically did, and oh--P.S.--a large is a medium at Snowman's. If you want a large, you have to order a "Family."

So, we're still hungry. But we are, each in our own way, learning (or relearning) the ropes around here. And he did manage to get the mail, so, even as comparatively remote as our life is here, two new Netflix discs found their way to us, quite rapidly, in fact. So, we'll add The Proposal to our Netflix queue when it comes out and tonight we enjoy...Paul Blart: Mall Cop instead.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

In Defense of Marriage--For All


On Tuesday, three states passed propositions that would limit the rights of same-sex couples to marry. The next day, at my Facebook page, I posted a status that said, "Naomi is exhausted and sad."

My friend Elizabeth asked, "why sad?"

And I responded thusly: "I'm sad because there are still so many people determined to deny others the right to marry. three states yesterday...and because bigotry makes my heart ache. And because someone blew up a predominantly black church near here this morning. And because, truth be told, I really, really, really wanted to be celebrating the first woman President today, and while I threw my full support behind Obama--and am humbled and proud and full of respect for the progress we've made as a nation in electing him--I ache with a longing so profound I can barely articulate it for the day when this same sense of victory and equality will be shared by women."

I also changed my profile picture to the one you see above and joined a couple of Facebook groups that are rallying to repeal Prop 8 in California. The California proposition was especially upsetting because I used to call California home, and because two of my best friends were married there this summer, only to now experience the devastating news that their marriage vows may be rendered invalid.

And here's the beauty of Facebook. I was able to feel less alone in my grief and upset. I received coomfort from friends and was also able to offer it to others. And I also received this note from a high school friend that I enjoy connecting with on Facebook, but who I haven't seen in more than a decade.

She identifies as "moderate/conservative--purple," Christian, and is married with a young child. She wrote today to ask me this:

"
enlighten me please....why is it okay for homosexuals to reject christianity and our God, which is where marriage gets its origin, but it's called bigotry or discrimination for christians to ask that they establish civil unions for their relationships instead of marriages (which is a christian institution)? if we are to respect all people equally, does that not go both ways? i'm not saying that their relationships should have any less legal standing, they should have rights too, as everyone should, but if they so reject the premise of marriage, which is between a man and a woman according to God and christian principles, why do they so crave to have their union referred to as a marriage, not a legal union.

i'm not trying to sound mean or better then anyone, i'm legitmately asking a question from someone whom i respect and believe is more enlightened then i am on the subject. thanks naomi."

I am sharing my response to my friend here, and welcome your comments--and also encourage the sharing of my response with others. Forward along, if you see fit.

Here is what I told her (my response was so long I had to break it into parts in order to send it through Facebook):

"I am so glad you asked...

I think the answer to your question lies in our understanding of what marriage is.

You are defining marriage as being “between a man and a woman according to God and Christian principles,” but, while that may be true in your church and for you personally, it’s not actually true universally and should not be a lawful definition of marriage under civil law. Would you say to a Jewish couple that their marriage is invalid because it was not made according to Christian principles? Certainly not. (I hope not, anyway!)

I understand your attachment to the definition of marriage as being according to God and Christian principles—it’s very important to you--but marriage pre-dates Christianity and it also exists in myriad valid forms outside Christendom. Thousands of people get married every day, all over the world—and in our own country—in faiths other than Christianity and their marriages are still “marriages” despite not having a single wit to do with Christian principles. If a Buddhist couple in Japan or a Muslim couple in Afghanistan or a Jewish couple in Israel or a pagan couple in Ireland or a Hindu couple in India or a couple of secular yahoos in England (or California, for that matter) get married, they definitely do not define their union as being according to “God and Christian principles,” but those marriages would all be recognized as marriages in the United States.

Just as being married—and calling it that--is incredibly important to you, it’s equally important to non-Christian and same-sex couples who may hold different definitions dear to them, based on their personal or religious beliefs. How would you feel if you couldn’t call your husband your husband any more because some other religious group said so? (You’d feel frustrated, dismayed, angry, and awful, I expect—and rightly so.)

Giving same-sex marriages a different word is exactly the same as giving black Americans separate train cars, schools, and water fountains. To give it another name is to make it less-than, separate—and as Barack Obama (and the Supreme Court) will tell you in a heartbeat—separate is inherently unequal.

A different path

There are, essentially, two kinds of marriage, religious and civil. At issue here is only the legal contract of a civil marriage, as recognized by individual states, not the religious ceremony. (The Defense of Marriage Act prevents same-sex marriages from being acknowledged across state borders, so for the purposes of our discussion today, the issue is at the state level.)

The two kinds of marriage, religious and civil, often overlap one another—most Americans do both--but they are two separate and distinct events. One happens in a church, synagogue, or other sacred venue; the other happens at city hall (or wherever you file your marriage license). They are related, but they are not the same thing. For instance, it’s the civil marriage that you have to break when you divorce, not the religious one. (That’s why you need a lawyer.)

What same-sex couples are seeking is equal treatment under the law. They want to legally marry, not according to God and Christian principles, but according to a lawful civil definition of marriage.

There, but for grace

You, as a Christian, understand marriage to be one thing. You have a strong and clear belief about what marriage means in your faith, but each faith sets its own parameters for what marriage is and what it means.

Your idea is vastly different from my Mormon friends who were sealed in a private ceremony in a temple for all eternity. And it is also different from my Jewish friends, my Jehovah’s Witness friends, my Buddhist friends, my non-religious friends, my Wiccan or pagan friends, and even from some of my other Christian friends—the Unitarian Universalists, for instance. In some faiths, marriages are arranged. In some, there need not be witnesses. In others, a dowry is still required. Because there are so many different forms of marriage based on faith, it is not fair—or legal, in my opinion—for any one religious group to control what marriage (or any other religious practice) means to other religious or non-religious groups. Just as a church has a right to baptize its members by dipping them in a river instead of anointing them with oil or holy water (or whatever other form they find sacred) at whatever age they feel is appropriate, if a religion wants to allow same-sex marriages, then that is its right; if it doesn’t, then that is its right, as well. But when it comes to rights granted by the states, those should absolutely not be dependent upon one religious group’s interpretation of the right.

When I had a Jewish girlfriend, for instance, I could not have married her in her temple—not because I was a woman, but because I’m not Jewish. No one is trying to pass a law saying that Rabbis have to marry non-Jews in temple—nor, for that matter, that they have to marry same-sex couples. That’s entirely up to them. Decisions about religious marriage belong in the faiths; decisions about legal contracts of marriage belong with the states (or, I would argue, at the federal level, but again, that point is moot for now).

To have and to hold

What is particularly egregious about the Prop 8 situation in California is that opponents of same-sex marriage, motivated by religious doctrine, voted to amend the state’s constitution in order to explicitly deny the right to marry for same-sex couples. The U.S. Constitution and the state constitutions are documents designed to grant rights, not take them away. It sets a dangerous and disturbing precedent to use the Constitution to single out a group of people and deny them a civil right based solely on one religion’s interpretation of marriage.

The First Amendment was designed to prohibit the establishment of a national religion, or the preference of one religion over another, or the preference of religion over non-religion. To use a religious definition for state marriage contracts is to impose one religious view on the populous, flying in the face of what is arguably the most important tenet of our entire society (along with freedoms of speech, press, and assembly).

If you don’t believe your church should marry same-sex couples, then I would argue that’s a battle to fight in your congregation or with the leaders of your faith, not something that should happen at the constitutional level.

We are all granted by our beautiful, necessary, incredible Constitution the right to practice our faiths freely. In fact, it’s so important that it’s the very first line of the very First Amendment. This is true not just for marriage-related rituals, but for all sorts of other things as well. My Mormon friends don’t baptize their children until the age of eight, for instance, and are forbidden from drinking hot beverages or alcohol. I assume that you baptized your child sometime shortly after she was born and perhaps, if you are Catholic, she will have a confirmation—or if you’re not, she won’t.

I think to get a good view of the issue, if one is in the majority religion (as you are), one has to try to take a big step back from one’s religious beliefs, take a deep breath, and then imagine what life would be like if one were in the minority. What if, for instance, Mormonism were the dominant religion in our country? It is, after all, the fastest growing religion in the world and it spent a reported $22 million backing Prop 8 in California. What if, after marriage, leaders of this religion moved on to amend the Constitution of your state to ban alcohol (we tried this once, remember, and it was the origin of organized crime) or to ban coffee (egad!) or to remove the right to baptize a child within its first year of life, etc.? What if this were about requiring or banning circumcision?

I assume this would bother you. And it should bother you. At its center, the United States is a place where we should be able to live free from religious oppression. It is the very thing the pilgrims came seeking when they fled; it is part of what we will celebrate on Thanksgiving. (And, it’s what the ancestors of my beloved Mormon friends were seeking when they fled violence and persecution to go west and eventually create a safe haven for themselves in Salt Lake. Unfortunate that now this church is apparently leading a movement to oppress others…)

Religious freedom is an essential part of what makes our country great. Separation of church and state means that if you want marry in your church, whatever wacky church that might be, then “mazel tov!” The state won’t stop you. So, why should the church be able to say to the state, “No way, no how, you can’t ‘marry’ unless you do it our way”?

I believe that every adult has a right to make a loving commitment to another consenting adult to join their lives and finances together as spouses and to make a family, if they so choose--and to call this marriage. Remember, it used to be illegal for a black person and a white person to be wed, but now we acknowledge that those people have a right to marry—regardless of their faith. I believe same-sex couples are entitled to this same basic human right.

For me, it’s not about homosexuality. I would be just as sad today if someone from another faith were preventing you from legally wedding your husband; I would fight for your right to marry, too.

What is at issue here is that people—of any gender—who wish to marry should have the right to do so, even if it offends or upsets members of certain religious groups. Same-sex couples seeking a legal marriage are not “rejecting Christianity and your God” as you say. They are trying to embrace a life of romantic and social commitment. As difficult as it may be to let go of your religious perspective, this is a civil rights issue, not a religious issue. The voters are not trying to amend your church’s canon; they are trying to amend a state’s constitution. And this is wrong.

I welcome your feedback and hope I’ve answered your question. :-)>>

I haven't heard back from my friend yet, but what I love about this is that she respected me enough to ask--and I care for and respect her enough to answer. I hope that my respect came through in my response.

As President-elect Obama says, "I will listen, especially when we disagree."

On whichever side of this issue you stand, I hope that you will really and truly open your ears and your heart and listen to the voice of the other side--and speak with respect in return. It is my great hope that you will come to stand on the side of tolerance and human rights and equality. But, whether or not you do, the Obama Presidency is not just about an African-American family in the White House; it's not just about ending war in Iraq or helping the middle class or resolving our economic crisis. It's about this great, intangible thing that he articulated on election night. It's about becoming a new America--a United States of America--where we can achieve change; where we can be honest, even when it's difficult; and where we can listen, especially when we disagree.

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