Our house is full of little markers, reminders of the milestones along our journey as a family.
One of my most treasured is this photo of us, taken right after Göran and I held our commitment ceremony in 1995:
Our favorite colors are purple (mine) and green (his), so those were our wedding colors.
Göran and I wore traditional African clothing at our wedding. There’s a story about those clothes I love telling people. As we were processing the credit card payment for them at a store owned by a native Nigerian man in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood, he asked us what the occasion was. We explained that we were getting married – to each other! He smiled warmly, and gave us 10% off the purchase price. They were expensive outfits, so it was a generous discount! I was already in the process of paying the full price, so I was particularly touched by this unexpected wedding present from a stranger.
On the eve of the ceremony, Göran and I made special necklaces for each other, and wove crowns for each other from fragrant eucalyptus. In addition to exchanging wedding bands, we exchanged these as part of the ceremony as well. The crowns were a symbol of the blessings we were seeking from God. The necklaces — each strung together from many multi-colored and multi-shaped beads — were a symbol of the many diverse individuals — family, friends, neighbors, church members, work and school colleagues — who had come together in our lives to celebrate our relationship with us, and express their support for us. They were a reminder to us of the important role that community plays in helping us keep the promises we make to each other. The wedding bands were, of course, symbolic of our vows to each other.
Göran and I tied festive purple and green ribbons to the eucalyptus crowns so we’d know which was whose. After the wedding, Göran hung the crowns on our bedroom wall. This one, with the purple ribbon, is mine. Even now, almost two decades later, the crowns exude a slight eucalyptus smell that brings me back to that very happy day.
For our wedding invitations, I hand drew a picture to symbolize me and Göran. About 100 of our friends and community showed up, not including our families. My drawing is framed with a copy of the program. They hang on the wall with the corsages Göran and I wore — made and given to us as a gift by one of Göran’s gay fraternity brothers. On that corner of our bedroom wall, you can see photographs to commemorate other milestones in our lives. Pictured above (lower left) is a photograph of me and Göran after the closing on the purchase of our house. Above that hangs a picture of me and Göran with our son Glen, after his first Pride parade with us.
On the wall next to my side of the bed are commemorations of our second wedding — the legal wedding we had in Riverside, California. To the far left is our wedding certificate, dated July 25, 2008. Our gay son Glen was proud and excited to be allowed to sign the certificate as one of our official witnesses along with my little sister Anne. My whole immediate family, including both of my devout LDS parents, insisted on being at the ceremony.
My sister-in-law Becky wrote us a poem, which we’ve kept framed on the wall above a picture that was snapped of us as we came out of the church together (1st Congregational Church in Riverside, CA). The poem reads:
Partners for Life
Life has its ups and downs
Surprises and disappointments
There have been joyous times
And times you thought you couldn’t go on
Now here you stand
Side by side
Hand in hand
You’ve made a life commitment
To say the words
To take the vows
To be there to the end.
In May 2012, when President Barack Obama came out publicly in support of extending legal marriage rights and protections to gay and lesbian couples, we were in the midst of a campaign to constitutionally ban marriage for gay and lesbian families in Minnesota. At that time, those who supported gay and lesbian marriage rights in Minnesota were behind in the polls, and Obama’s statement gave us a much needed boost. A good part of my life last year was spent working to defeat that amendment. A friend of ours gave us a framed photo of the issue of the New Yorker that came out after Obama’s pivotal “evolution” on this issue, in commemoration of our victory in the polls last November. Her gift to us has gone up on our wall right next to our marriage certificate.
There are other tokens around the house, some of which speak for themselves, and others whose meaning is obvious only to us. The heart-shaped leaf was found by Göran and given to me as a gift during a time of personal and family crisis and grief. I found the similarly shaped frame and bought it as a way to preserve Göran’s gift as a keepsake. Looking at it today, I only now recognize that moment — when Göran handed me that leaf — as a kind of turning point, a moment when hope began to push away fear.
The little kneeling angel was given to me by my bishop’s wife last summer, the day after neurosurgery I went through to relieve deadly pressure from a subdural hematoma. I had received a blessing from my home teachers and had felt buoyed up by the prayers of members of my ward. Göran and our son Glen had been terrified by my accident. Glen couldn’t bear the thought of losing a father again. Göran was touched by Sis. Barden’s gift to me, and he has since kept it on the end table in our living room. To me, it’s a tangible reminder of God’s graceful preservation of my life and of my mind, of my love for my ward, and of my ward’s love for me — but also of my husband’s recognition of the importance of my ward’s support for me through this time of trial.
Both of these are powerful, tangible reminders to me of the reasons we make solemn commitments to one another, whether that commitment is a marriage binding two people to each other, or a baptism binding an individual to his or her church.
What I’ve realized in contemplating these milestones is how these events have created me. Or, rather, how I have created myself through the choices I’ve made and the path I’ve come. When Göran and I made a commitment before friends, family, church and God to be there for each other, and as we honored that commitment through good times and bad, or as we repented of our failures to honor that commitment, as we pledged to do better and then made good, these weren’t just “things” that happened to us. They shaped our character. They gave us hope. They taught us about the nature of life. And ultimately, they pointed me to God.
To me it is no coincidence that the Spirit spoke to me, prompting me to return to the LDS Church, at a time in my life shortly after Göran and I had passed through a period of painful struggle in our relationship. The Spirit spoke to me after we had come out of that struggle with a renewed and deeper commitment to each other. My gay relationship was a source of spiritual redemption. My gay relationship taught me about the importance of repentance, and also about the power of forgiveness. Humbled by that experience, I was in a place where the Spirit could speak to me, because I was finally ready to listen.
There is no question in my mind that I am a better person today thanks to Göran. If what we make of ourselves is what we take with us into eternity, then my same-sex marriage has made me a better person for eternity. I look back at every promise, every failure, every recovery from failure, every heartache, every joy shining brighter for the heartache, with profound gratitude. When I first held him in my arms, I occasionally wondered where our love would progress to. Love has surprised us with its seemingly infinite capacity to grow beyond what we’d ever imagined possible.
I refuse to believe that death can end a love like that.