a friends story: will you sing…?

The following is a story from my friend and colleague Omar. His partner is Peter, the co-founder and artistic director forTheater Latte Da here in the twin cities. It was Peter who wrote the following letter to his family just this past week. Omar shared it with the Pizzeria Lola staff, and I am sharing it with you.

The election is just a few days away and I KNOW there may be some of you who wish I would get off my soapbox and talk about something other than the proposed amendment and how a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote against my very personhood. I cannot. This election is so important and my hope is that in this story you can hear one more set of voices, perhaps one you haven’t considered before, tell you why this means so much to me. Here is the letter.

Will You Sing at My Wedding?
October 30, 2012

Dear Family,

Over the past 30 years I have sung at countless family funerals, birthday celebrations and weddings. I have always considered it an honor to play a role, however small, in those significant events that bring us together as family and mark our time on this planet.

So, today I am asking you to sing at my wedding. A week from today Minnesota will decide whether or not to put into our state constitution an amendment that will prevent me from standing up in front of my family, friends and God to declare my commitment to Omar, a commitment we have already made to each other but without the legal rights that you have. There are currently 515 laws on the books in Minnesota alone that discriminate against me as a gay man. Sadly this election will not remove any of those laws or make it possible for Omar and I to legally marry. If the marriage amendment is defeated, our relationship still won’t be recognized by the state. But if it passes, this overt discrimination will be enshrined in our state’s most important document. I have not shared very widely Omar and my struggles, but feel it is important to do so today.

Omar and I met when he was studying here in the Twin Cities. Omar left a career in import/export business in Mexico City to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a chef. Omar grew up in a family-owned restaurant in Puebla, Mexico and spent the majority of his evenings and weekends at his Grandma’s side as she cooked Lebanese food for their community. The dynamics of good food and community gathering became important values. Omar had come to camp on the Iron Range as a teenager and fell in love with Minnesota, so he decided to study at Le Cordon Bleu in St. Paul. We met at the YMCA where Omar facilitated challenge courses and ran activities for youth with special needs. After graduating, Omar had to return to Mexico because he did not have a visa to stay and work in this country legally. We spent five years apart, missing birthdays, holidays, opening nights and quiet days as we tried to navigate a broken immigration system. Unlike straight international couples, there was no way for us to be together. As you know, my niece Stephanie married a wonderful man from Guatemala in perhaps the most beautiful setting I have ever seen. I sang at their wedding and Omar translated each and every word of the ceremony. Our immigration system allows for Stephanie and Chino to spend their lives together, because they can be legally married. Omar and I are denied that right.

On the other hand, we are very fortunate; Omar is highly educated, bilingual and was in the right place at the right time. He received a green card this past spring, which allows him to live and work in the United States for the time being. After five years of astronomical legal fees, crazy phone bills and helpless frustration, we are finally able to be together. However his green card will expire in ten years, at which time we will have to once again try to navigate an expensive, highly stressful process that will determine whether or not we are able to share the home we have created.

We are just one of thousands of international gay and lesbian couples, most of them are not as lucky as Omar and I; they are having to live apart or stay in the United States illegally. I don’t believe this is just; and I hope you agree. Sadly, this is just one example of thousands where gay and lesbian couples are denied the rights of heterosexual couples.

We have been inundated with propaganda over this issue for the past several months. The argument seems to be that my relationship with Omar is somehow harmful to society. When I look at the gay and lesbian couples closest to me, they are anything but harmful. Dr. Steve is an oncologist at Children’s Hospital. In fact, he was one of Jim and Colleen’s son Sean’s primary physicians. His partner Peter is the musician for Ten Thousand Things, a theater company that brings theater to homeless shelters, prisons and immigration centers. Peter and Steve adopted three biological siblings a decade ago and have provided those kids with a stable, loving home. My friend Gerry is a social worker whose clients are chemically dependent and HIV positive. His partner Kevin went to Harvard Law School and has spent his entire career working for housing the poor and protecting the environment. The list goes on and on; I simply cannot see the harm these couples are supposedly creating, I only see good.

The past months have been very painful for me. I don’t need to tell you about the importance of the Catholic Church in my life. It has been the cornerstone of our family. It is also one of the few places I felt safe as a child. Growing up gay in a small town is not easy, and St. Joseph’s Catholic Community was a place I was accepted. I spent the majority of my extracurricular time at the church, whether in youth choir, babysitting in the nursery, teaching confirmation, making retreat, or leading youth group activities. I have spent much of my adult life active in the Church, as a cantor, liturgical consultant and frequent speaker at St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis. The Catholic Church has made it very clear over the past year that Omar and I are not welcome, that we are not of value. I don’t have the words to describe that kind of rejection. This is not the Church I grew up in; it is not the Church my parents helped to build.

I remember sitting with my father the evening of his death. It was just he and I in the room. I had yet to come out of the closet and what struck me in that moment was a feeling of great remorse. I denied my father the right to accept me when all I had ever known from him was unconditional love. When I came out to my mother in a letter five years later the first she said to me was, “I have only read the first paragraph of your letter and I am calling to tell you I love you, and that I feel a connection with your father in this moment in a way I haven’t since the day he died.” Not only did she display her unconditional love, but her reaction was beyond what I ever could have imagined or wished for. My mother is the most devout Catholic I know and she has never shown anything but acceptance, respect and love for me and now for Omar. In fact, I spent this evening with her and twice she said, “I need a nice picture of just you and Omar. I can’t believe I don’t have a picture of just you and Omar.” She embodies the Church I grew up in, the Church I know.

The Catholic Church may never choose to marry Omar and me. It makes me sad, but that is indeed the Church’s prerogative. However, that is not what November 6th is about. A week from today we will decide as a state whether or not to put discrimination in our constitution, a document created to protect individual liberties and freedom. This issue is real; its impact is profound; it determines whether or not I can spend the rest of my life with the person I love.

The polls tell us this race is currently neck in neck; your vote matters. And it matters to me. So, would you be willing to sing at my wedding? It’s on November 6. Carol and Margie would be happy to accompany you. Let me know.

love, Peter

P.S. I have not intentionally omitted anyone from this email, I simply do not have everyone’s current email address. Feel free to pass this note along. Thank you.