Making Marriage Happen One Conversation at a Time
June 4, 2009
Ed. Note: HRC's field staff has spent the past several weeks traversing New Hampshire literally building a field program from the ground up in order to see the marriage equality bill passed into law. Our organizers have been sending periodic updates from the road and the post below tries to capture the incredible work they accomplished. For more on HRC in New Hampshire visit www.hrc.org/NHmarriage.
One group of staffers as they get ready for the 10+ hour drive (yes, they drove) from DC up to New Hampshire. Organizer Karl Back reports they spent a good part of the ride calling local supporters to get the lay of the land and arrange for free places to stay during their trip. Thoughts on small town New Hampshire life from Darrin Hurwitz: Keene, New Hampshire is a town out of a postcard with its idyllic main street of picturesque settings of quaint shops and restaurants topped off by the UCC church steeple at the end of its main traffic circle and lush hills in the distance. Our first stop was the Unitarian Church, where we were greeted by a large rainbow flag hanging outside. We met Roberta "Bobbie" Barry, a Keene resident and church member who volunteers her time for PFLAG with her husband Jack. They had become active in the LGBT movement when their son had come out as gay and now Bobbie devotes more than 60 hours a week to her local PFLAG chapter and to the national organization. As Jack told us, "In the beginning we needed PFLAG. Now PFLAG needs us." We spent some time at Keene State College where we met with Matt Gill, the head of the Keene State LGBT group and the junior class president. With his help over the next two days we collected hundreds of signatures and the marriage petition was the talk of campus: students were telling their friends, boasting to us about the calls they had made to the governor and asking for any news we had gathered. For two days the future of marriage equality, and its growing acceptance, was on full display. It was inspiring to see a generation of college students who will come of age in a time where GLBT rights achieve popular acceptance and marriage equality is mainstream. At the same time, as were also reminded with the local PFLAG group, there is no shortage of challenges - both personal and societal - getting to that higher place in Keene and across the country. Canvasing story from Karl Bach: Canvassing in Governor Lynch's hometown of Hopkinton, we saw homemade signs like "Marriage is a Civil Right," "Gov. Lynch Please Sign HB 436," and "All Couples Deserve Equal Rights". Everyone we spoke to was excited to see us at their door and would whisper that the Governor lived just down the street. We asked for petition signatures but also that people leave a message at the governor's office (we all kept his number in our cell phones). Since the Governor's office keeps a tally of all the calls that come in about the bill, we wanted to make sure they were hearing from supporters of equality. Darrin Hurwitz on meeting the sister of the "First Dog": I knew New Hampshire was a small state but one experience was an entertaining reminder of that fact. At one house my canvassing partner Alexandria was already there and holding in her arms a large white dog. It was the First Dog's sister, she explained, and the owner was a dog breeder and had provided a dog to the governor. The owner of the dog was a strong supporter of marriage equality and signed the petition. She also said she would call the governor, at his home nonetheless, and urge him to sign the bill. It also turns out the father of her dog (and the governor's) is owned by a gay couple who she proceeded to call to urge them to contact the governor. Tim Arsenault on how New Hampshire fits in the marriage equality movement: We began Monday in Portsmouth in the town square. The people in Portsmouth are very progressive and were eager to sign our petition. The only problem we ran into was the large number of people from Massachusetts and Maine. "We already have gay marriage in Mass.; New Hampshire needs to catch up." "I'd love to sign but I'm from Maine. You know, our marriage equality bill is coming along too." It really gave you a sense of the watershed moment we've entered in the northeast. It seems like every state has same-sex marriage or is quickly on its way. It was great feeling to know we we part of the larger movement that is spreading in America. It made the work we were doing seem that much more important. Darrin Hurwitz on changing hearts and minds: While many residents were eager to sign the petition during our canvassing, a gentleman at one home politely declined when I first had appeared at the door. As I walked to the bottom of the long driveway I heard him call out, "I changed my mind!" As I jogged up the hill his wife appeared and loudly proclaimed, "For running back up you're going to get two signatures for the price of one." She was clearly furious with her husband for having turned me away at the door and scolded him constantly while he signed. "You know, you never know how your three daughters are going to turn out," she said to him as first she, and then he, signed the petition. Tony Wagner on finding inspiration: Outside of a karaoke bar one night I met two homeless men who signed the petition using their shelter's address. One confessed to me that he was bisexual and began speaking very forthrightly about people being allowed to be happy with the person they choose, regardless of gender. I told him I absolutely agreed. He continued by saying that it is our basic rights and freedoms and quoted the Declaration of Independence by saying it's all about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I have not seen them since, but this is definitely one of the most memorable experiences I have had in New Hampshire. You just never know where inspiration is going to come from. Ché Tabisola on visibility efforts: What better way to cap off a full day of collecting signatures for equality than making yard signs to post in Gov. Lynch's neighborhood? Volunteers worked into the early morning to pen messages such as "Gov. Lynch, please sign HB 436" and "Marriage is a Civil Right" on the backs of old campaign posters. The following the day the sign makers posted their masterpieces in the front yards of dozens of fair-minded New Hampshire residents - which the governor happens to pass every morning on his way to work. Tony Wagner on friendly grassroots competition: While grabbing a burger one evening in Concord, I received an email alerting me that we needed to canvass the Harlem Gospel Choir concert starting in less than an hour. I inhaled the rest of my food and met up with my colleague Heather who hails from New Hampshire. We decided to make this a little challenge and whoever gathered more signatures had to buy the other a beverage. The pace was feverish as van loads of folks from retirement homes were dropped off one after another. I thought Heather would have an advantage knowing so many people there but as it turns out, knowing them means you have to take a lot of time for small talk. When we returned to the office and counted the forms I had bested the New Hampshire native organizer 51-49! Oh, and I am still waiting on my drink.
May 24, 2013