The night of the election, and early into the morning, my partner Alex and I were exhausted. We took time out from our political commentary and analysis before surrendering to sleep to have a personal conversation. “Alex, if Trump wins, we have to get a puppy as soon as possible.” We had been looking, but each time we went to a shelter, the puppy we were considering was already being adopted. I didn’t have to explain to him how important it was to have something to nurture and to bring joy in the face of a presidency that could (and now certainly will) have devastating consequences. Shortly after 9/11, I dug up my entire front yard and planted a garden and put in pathways as a way to channel my grief into a personal stewardship. This time felt similar, but this time it’s a puppy because everything is about to get so much more personal.
We committed to adopting a dog. Then with tears welling up in my eyes, I whispered, “I think we need to change our wedding plans. We need to get married much sooner, before Jan. 20th.” Only after four couples shared with me, and two colleagues inquired about moving up the weddings of their congregants, that I realized how many other couples were having the same conversation. The fear was both real and viral.
When I realized that there was a target on our pending nuptials, what was simple happiness now was in this political tangle. The heart within my heart broke. Marriage equality had been among many social justice priorities in the past; albeit, one that was less urgent to me. Now that it has become the law of the land, it is painful to know our right to marriage is in jeopardy. For me, the heartbreak is not about pushing up the wedding, but that fear and hatred has once again injected itself into my personal and private life. What was joyful is now tainted. What was organic and unfolding was contained and conscripted.
It is even hard to know how to proceed. Will marriage be defined solely between a man and a woman as a U.S. constitutional amendment? Will marriage be kicked back to the states allowing each state to decide? If so, are we better off getting married outside of our home state of Georgia? What will happen to the couples who are already married? This is a whole other kind of wedding planning than I expected. No one has written the handbook, “How to Get Married in Politically Uncertain Times.”
Earlier on election night, I was thinking about how Muslims and undocumented immigrants were going to need an immediate expression of support and solidarity. I began to prioritize issues in my head in a subtle way to organize my energies. I had been putting my energies into racial justice, income inequality, interfaith understanding, and LGBTQ civil rights. The alarm went off underscoring a truth I already knew. I cannot think of how to engage in a linear way.
It is hard to adjust as the landscape keeps changing. Each day a new person is named for an appointment, and he (the vast majority are men) represents some chilling view that upholds a white supremacist, patriarchal, Christian hegemony. We will need an intersectional approach because anything that threatens the white male Christian supremacy is about to be punished. Marriage is only one of many upcoming dangers. We will be demeaned; we will be legislated as inferior and defective; we will be disenfranchised, and our lives will be endangered in so many ways. For most queer people, people of color and religious minorities this has been the reality of most of our lives, and so now this is just much more so.
Marriage is only one frontier, and for me politically, it has never been the highest priority. However, it provides a set of rights and protections that intersect with other identities that need such protections. The bigotry and supremacy of this upcoming Trump administration are systemic. I understand now that I have to work with the many intersections and impacts. My own family is brown, immigrant, queer and Jewish: a symbolic microcosm of how the dangers of a Trump presidency dissects lives.
With all of this hatred as a backdrop, I am so grateful for a partner to face these challenges with, a person who brings creativity, adventure, thoughtfulness, kindness, justice and love into my life. Together we will protest, defend, strategize, and protect with others through these times. We will transform the “for worse” into “for better” for others and ourselves. And I am grateful for Opal, the puppy, who brings kisses, wonder and more love.
At the Humane Society, there was a black lesbian couple also looking for a puppy. We connected with each other as we looked at the adorable puppies. As we decided on pups at the same time, we sat and spoke. One of the women said, “Our dog died earlier this year, and we felt like it was time to adopt again. How about you?” I responded, “Well, this is one of the ways I am coping with a Trump presidency.” She laughed and then leaned into me whispering, “I think you guys are in the same situation as us.” Understanding code, I nodded. She said, “We think we have to get married immediately, like tomorrow. We were going to wait until next summer.” She sighed, “Everything just feels upside down.” I nodded and said, “We have discussed the very same thing.”
When I told her I was a rabbi, she joked with her partner that they could get married and adopt a dog at the same time. As we left together, I saw the joy in their smiles, and I felt it in ours. Opal and Candi off to their new homes. For just that moment the tremors had stopped in this political earthquake; the world was right side up, ready for us to say “I do” to all that needs to be done.
info: Rabbi Joshua Lesser is the leader of Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta, Ga. He is active with initiatives like the Rainbow Center (an LGBTQ Jewish communal response), one of the founders of Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta, board member of Georgia Equality and the Anti-Defamation League, among others.