Sara Kirschenbaum
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Annie's Roses

Posted Tuesday, Mar 26th, 2013 at 10:25pm

Here is an essay that I wrote in 2003. With the decisions being made in the Supreme Court this seemed like a good time to post.

My nine-year-old daughter Annie is touching the velvety petals of the 24 red, long-stemmed roses she’s picked out for this occasion. We are driving toward the Multnomah County Building in Portland, Oregon in the pouring rain. When we turn down Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. we see two men in their forties waiting at a bus stop. “Annie,” I say, “do you think they just got married?” They don’t look particularly gay. They seem dressed for a normal day at the office. They aren't even holding hands. Annie rolls down her window just as I am turning. “Did you just get married?” she hollers through the rain. They looked startled, but as we start to drive away, one shouts, “No, but we’re going to!” Annie grabs two roses, unbuckles her seat belt, and reaches to one of the men through our car window. “Congratulations!” we shout as we drove by.

My thirteen-year-old son has been studying the I Have a Dream speech in school for Black History Month. But I sense history making right here. Perhaps it will be as historical and significant for my children as the civil rights movement of my mother’s childhood. I don’t want our family to miss out; heaven knows how much longer Portland and San Francisco can get away with marrying same-sex couples.

“Annie, you’re going to tell your children about this some day,” I say as we near the county building with people waving rainbow flags through the rain. “Either you’re going to tell them, ‘yeah when I was a kid they once let gay people get married before they made it against the law.’ Or you’ll say, ‘yeah, I was there when they first started marrying lesbians and gays and we thought it was such a big deal!’” Annie reaches over and honks the horn as we passed the lines of couples.

We park right in front of the rainbow flags. Only half of our car is in a legal parking spot so we must hurry. We jump out with our roses for a quick dash through the rain. A few paces in front of us two middle-aged women are getting married by a pastor and everywhere people are taking pictures. We duck behind the marrying couple as they say their vows. A woman is walking into the building and Annie says to her, “We want to give these roses to the people getting married.” With a smile the woman says, “Then let me take you to where it’s all happening.” The woman ushers us into the building and down a corridor where lines of people are snaked this way and that. Men holding hands; women with their arms around each other’s waists. Some are hip and pierced, but most are middle-aged and seem comfortably established in life. Some couples look like they had probably waited decades for this. The mood is giddy and swooning; a never-imagined dream. We sneak through the crowd of about two hundred people; Annie giving away roses. Annie gives one to an older gentleman and his much younger husband-to-be. After wishing them congratulations she murmurs, “That’s sweet.” She gives a rose to a little girl who is sitting with her Moms as they sign their marriage license. She gives two roses to a wrinkled smiling pair of women. Flowers are everywhere. Most people have at least a single flower in their hands. An iris, a carnation, a daisy. One supporter had the same idea as us; she is wandering around with a bushel basket of carnations– but not our fancy roses. Even couples with full bouquets seem to love getting one of Annie’s roses.

History and memory are being formed before our eyes – a taffy-pull blending of love-story and rebellion. I feel sure that some of these happy couples, especially the one at the bus stop, will remember the little nine-year-old stranger who had handed them a rose. In the meantime, Annie is learning what gay and lesbian people look like – mostly like everyone else. With each rose Annie gives, she is more and more a part of this moment in history when elected officials dared to throw away the rule books and red tape, and make the impossible happen. What could empowered local politicians take on next? The genie is out of the bottle. After seeing that much love, will pragmatists ever be the same?

Three years ago I divorced Annie’s father after finding out that he had been serially unfaithful throughout our 11-year marriage. Annie’s big brother Sage recently told me he doesn't believe in marriage anymore because someone’s doomed to be cheated on. Yet in this lobby and hearing room I feel the hundreds of years of commitment, often at all costs. I brought my daughter to witness and be a part of history and yet there was more. This sea change of love is healing my broken family.

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