A few days ago, history was made across the country as Maryland, Maine, and Washington states held voter initiatives regarding same-sex marriage. The three states became the first for voters to approve same-sex marriage. Additionally, an amendment that would have added a discriminatory anti-same sex marriage
clause to the Minnesota state constitution was defeated by voters.
The issue of same sex marriage is one that has seen an enormous amount of change in terms of social attitudes over the past decade. I believe that one of the main reasons behind this rapid change is because of people who are affected by the issue and had the courage to share their story. This is one of the most powerful forms of activism we have at our disposal. What follows is how my family and I used a story to change people’s beliefs and attitudes towards same sex marriage.
A Brief History of Us
I met Joe at 10:30 AM on January 14, 1994 at Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery in St. Paul, MN. We were supposed to meet at 10 but I was 30 minutes late. This was in the age before cell phones were common, and I am lucky that Joe had the patience to wait for me. Joe and I had a bagel and coffee, talked, and instantly hit it
off. Our first date lasted over 14 hours. We went CD shopping. We walked around a park. We had dinner. We went dancing. It was a great first date. I’m not one to believe I love at first sight, but I knew right away there was something very special about how Joe and I connected.
We spent the next nine years living a wonderful life together. We met in college. After graduating, we got an apartment together, and then a house. We moved across the country to Seattle together. We shared our lives and supported each
other. We loved each other. Then it all became a nightmare. You see, Joe is a Filipino citizen, not an American citizen. His visa expired, and he had no choice but to move back to Manila.
We spent the next year and a half separated. I was eventually able to get a job in Shanghai, which is a three-and-a-half hour flight from Manila, versus 17 from Seattle. Where the US government would not give Joe a visitor visa, the Chinese
government would. We spent five years living closer together. I got 8 weeks of time off including vacation and national holidays in China to spend with him in Manila, and he took all of his school breaks in Shanghai. Joe taught physics at
the University of the Philippines. Life was far from normal, but much better than it had been for the time we were separated.
After five years in China, I returned to the US. Living in China was fun, but difficult. The cultural dissimilarities wore on me, and paying 35% in taxes to a government that was so against the grain of my own value system was difficult. I moved back to Seattle, and went into a deep depression. I was unhappy in most aspects of my life. So was Joe.
Whenever I got the chance, I told my story. When a coworker asked if I was married, I told my story. I told it to my family and friends. I told it to the cashier at Safeway who asked one day when I had just returned from a trip to Manila why I looked so tired. I wrote letters to newspapers. I was interviewed by a playwright who was developing a play on the topic of same sex marriage and how current laws negatively affect people. I even had the opportunity to tell my story to Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft.
I was also not afraid to let other people share my story. My friends told their friends. My family shared my story. A lobbyist for the Human Rights Campaign shared my story with Washington lawmakers in Olympia. My brother spoke out at his conservative workplace. He genuinely risked his job to share my story and show people a different view of the issue.
Perhaps most importantly of all, my father shared my story. He founded a Minnesota-based non-profit called Winning Marriage Equality. He spoke in small towns around the state of Minnesota. He wrote letter to the editors of newspapers. He was invited to speak on radio shows, often with opponents of his position in a debate format. He spoke with lawmakers in St. Paul, including Representative Steve Gottwalt Mr. Gottwalt is the author and main proponent of
the attempt to amend the Minnesota State Constitution to DENY, rather than grant, a right. His anti-marriage amendment would have been the only language in the state constitution that revoked rights.
The Courage to Share
Few people have asked, but I know that many have wondered why Joe and I endured the hell of eight years of separation. There is one very simple answer: love. I’ve often wondered how many couples of any gender combination could survive something like this. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that we survived because of love.
It was important for me, though, not to remain silent. Joe and I are only one of thousands of binational couples suffering this ordeal. Telling the story, whether by me, a friend, or family member meant speaking out about something that was not supported or popular by most Americans in the beginning. It meant risking harsh words, losing a job, or perhaps even violence. We all felt strongly that sharing the story was important enough to do that. We continue to believe that personal stories like mine are what it takes to show people a human side to an issue, and to bring about change.
There’s no way of knowing how many people changed their votes in recent elections because of my story, or because of the stories of other courageous people. I do know that we won, and if I changed even one mind and influenced even one vote, I’m grateful that my story was powerful enough to do so.
On November 1, I left Microsoft after 14 years. I walked away from one of the best jobs in America. I did it because I am moving to Manila next week to be with Joe. Although there are now several states in the US that allow gay marriage,
immigration is a federal issue. I can’t bring Joe back to the US with me until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed or ruled unconstitutional. There’s still a lot of story sharing ahead.
My call to action for anyone reading this is to use personal stories to help make this a better America and a better world. If reading this story has inspired you to do so, start right now. Share this post and share my story. Share a story of your own. Do whatever you can. One person can make a difference.