Here’s the second installment in a series of posts about loving, committed relationships of gay Mormons.
This post was penned by Brett Bradshaw, the son of Bill and Marge Bradshaw, long-time advocates for greater inclusion of LGBT folks within the LDS community. His story will also be cross-posted at the website of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons.
This coming August, it will be five years since my husband, Jeff, and I were legally married in California. We’ve always found our “anniversary” to be complicated and somewhat of a non-event – we don’t really know which occasion to celebrate. Should it be the date when we first met? When we started to go out? When we held a commitment ceremony with all our family and friends? Or, when we were officially married at the Alameda County Recorder’s Office in Oakland? Like many LGBT couples living without full marriage equality, we have had the freedom to define our relationship on our own terms, but we also believe that the impact of societal recognition of our relationship can’t be underestimated.
So, when people ask, we tell them that we’ve been together for 22 years. Jeff and I first met during our senior year of college in the spring of 1991. Neither of us was officially out, but we both had known that we were attracted to men for some time. I grew up Mormon in Utah and, while I had dated girls in high school, I had never been in a serious relationship and was pretty inexperienced with matters of the heart. Jeff is not from a Mormon background, and though he had dated women in college, he had begun to understand that he was gay and was a little bit further along in being ready to explore what that meant. After an intense period of infatuation over the months leading up to graduation, it became clear to us that we were making a significant connection and that something more than friendship was at play.
In the weeks following graduation, we had occasion to spend a lot of time together and eventually found the courage to confess our attraction to each other. That set in motion a rapid set of events wherein we both acknowledged the reality of our being gay, began the process of coming out, and decided that we wanted to be together. Within a few months, we were in a committed relationship and were figuring out how to make it work. What I remember most about that time was both the exhilaration of falling in love and the sense of agency I felt in honoring what was true for me and pursuing what I understood would make me happy. While the experience was scary on many levels, it was not fraught with self-doubt and I emerged having gone through relatively little angst.
About a year later, I came out to my parents. While it was not easy, I knew I had to tell them the truth and was confident that they would eventually be OK with it. After some initial shock and a period of adjustment during which they educated themselves and examined some of their attitudes and beliefs about LGBT people (their own son among them), they have been overwhelmingly positive and accepting. Jeff’s parents have been equally supportive, and we feel a deep sense of gratitude for what the love and acceptance of our families has done to sustain us.
The next several years took us to San Francisco for jobs, then on to Austin, Texas, for graduate school. It was when we were in Austin, having been together for seven years, that we decided to hold a ceremony to publicly express our commitment to each other. This event is what we consider to be our wedding – a celebration of the life that we had built and an occasion to stand with our family and friends to both acknowledge their contributions to our union and to ask for their continued support in our future. While not legally binding, our ceremony holds a lot of meaning and represents a significant rite of passage for us.
By this time in our relationship we had discussed having a kid, but aside from reading about the legal considerations for same-sex couples adopting children, hadn’t taken any steps to make it happen. However, soon after returning to Austin following our ceremony, we were presented with an opportunity that accelerated us on a path to parenthood. A friend in Jeff’s graduate program, who had known of our interest in being parents, volunteered to be a surrogate for us. We spent the next year thinking it over, talking with lawyers and counselors, and exploring all the possible issues and questions that might arise. We decided to go forward, and our daughter, Madeline, was born in May of 2000.
She is the light of our lives and a decent and creative person with a great sense of humor. Parenting has been largely positive but is not without its challenges. Many of the biggest disagreements Jeff and I have had involve differences in our parenting choices. However, we approach parenting just as we have our relationship – as a partnership that takes work and requires humility and a willingness to learn from mistakes.
When Madeline was two months old, we moved back to California and settled in Oakland. We love living here and have found it to be a welcoming community with lots of diversity. Madeline is among some 20 kids at her school with same-sex parents, and we regularly interact with other LGBT couples and their children through organized parenting groups and a fabulous gay family camp that we have been going to since Madeline was four. We feel supported and valued in our community and feel like we contribute a great deal to it as well.
In 2008, during the window of time when same-sex marriages were allowed, we decided to get married officially. Even though we felt like we were already married and just as much a family as any other, it felt important to avail ourselves of the opportunity and to stand up and be counted. We wanted to be part of what felt like a historic moment. Later, when Proposition 8 appeared on the ballot, we worked for its defeat and were devastated when it passed. While living through that campaign was painful and damaging, we emerged strong advocates of marriage equality and have come to recognize the currency of our lived experience: that our relationship and family is deserving of dignity and respect and all the rights that come with marriage.