Outspoken Women Speak Out about Marriage
The monthly meeting of Outspoken Women was held on August 31, 2012 at Bell the Cat, where Jennifer Hill introduced featured speakers Cynthia Leiffer and Laurie Fogelman of Penobscot County for Marriage Equality. The meeting was a tribute to the outspoken first year college student MaKayla Reed, formerly of Belfast, who has emerged in recent years as a leader in the young lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered movement.
Laurie Fogelman opened the evening’s remarks by recalling her excitement in 2009 when the Maine legislature enacted a law allowing gays to marry. Her joy was short lived; in November of that year Maine voters repealed the law rendering her daughter's Massachusetts wedding moot here. "Our family held a second wedding in our town for them, but we were disappointed that their marriage here in Maine wasn’t legally binding."
“Marriage brings people together,” stated the evening's second speaker, Cynthia Leiffer, secretary of the Maine Nurse Practitioner Association, and regional ambassador for the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. Ms Leiffer described several family weddings she and her legal domestic partner since 2004 have attended in the past several years. Ms Leiffer’s partner had three teenage children living at home when the two women got together in 1997. All three grown-up children are married now and she related the stories of their weddings.
When the eldest boy married, the bride’s parents made it clear that they did not approve of Ms Leiffer’s relationship to her partner and made a point to avoid them during the weekend-long event. The lesbian couple have been excluded from family activities with their grandchildren in an effort to keep the two sets of parents apart.
At the wedding of their daughter and the man she was marrying, the couple made every effort to include Ms. Leiffer and her partner, even urging them to dance together at the reception, but the groom’s family and some of the guests were visibly embarrassed. “It was awkward, but we appreciated their efforts.”
Then, this last summer the youngest son married a woman who had a lesbian aunt in her family. Three sets of parents, including Ms. Leiffer and her partner, were invited to participate in this wedding. Their 5-year-old granddaughter saw that the lesbian couple were dancing openly and happily like the others at the reception. “Well, my grandaughter’s going to be the flower girl at our wedding,” Ms. Leiffer said proudly. “I want my grandkids to grow up in a world where we are respected, where we have the same status as straight couples,” she said.
Ms Fogelman, retired executive director of The Next Step Domestic Violence Project and past president of the Rotary Club of Ellsworth took the stage to speak of marriages in her family history, citing letters she had found to her great, great grandmother from a man professing his love for her. Letters from the woman’s mother stated that this man’s family was not good enough for her. They married anyway and had a long, rich marriage. Her great grandmother married a barber and worked as a schoolteacher to put him through pharmaceutical school and they had seven children and a successful marriage. Ms Fogelman's second husband is Jewish and her marriage would have been frowned upon at one time. Her daughter, married now 5 years to a woman, continues to enjoy a devoted relationship with her spouse.
Beyond the issues of social awkwardness and the fierce love that compels people to want lifelong partnerships, both speakers emphasized real legal concerns. “There are issues of insurance, family leave, social security, matters of property,” Ms Leiffer said. “When a loved one becomes seriously ill, family members who previously acknowledged loving relationships have been known to turn their backs on life partners.”
Concluding the question and answer period, one lesbian participant confessed, “I have no worries 90% of the time when people ask me personal questions. I do have a moment of hesitation sometimes, though, when I’m about to out myself, just a brief panic. I’m looking forward to the day that doesn’t happen.”