Standing as a Jew for Marriage Equality

Carin Mrotz has worked for Jewish Community Action since 2004, as both Community Organizer and Operations Manager. In addition to working on the campaign for marriage equality, she staffs Indie Jews, a vehicle for connecting unaffiliated Jews to the Jewish community’s voice for social justice. She lives with her husband Mike and their 4 year-old son Henry in Minneapolis, and between shuttling Henry to his first year of religious school at Shir Tikvah and expecting a second child in November, she’s been spending a lot of time thinking about Judaism, family, and community. Maybe too much time. She also enjoys naps.

September 19 Faith Organizing for Marriage Equality Campaign Kickoff in Minneapolis. Paul Nixdorf Photography.

Last Monday night, I stood in the sanctuary of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, in front of 550 people of faith gathered in support of marriage equality. We were there for the official kickoff to the faith organizing portion of the Minnesotans United for All Families campaign to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage (which Minnesotans will vote on in November 2012). I had been asked to lead an exercise on privilege and vulnerability, and as I stood there, the only Jewish presenter, the lone straight woman, and 7 months pregnant, I felt like an expert on vulnerability. Oh, and did I mention I was standing there in the dark? Just before the program began, the power had gone out, so we were working in the dark, without a microphone.
I’d been asked to start with my own story, to frame the connection I feel to this issue. This is what I said:

Hi. My name is Carin Mrotz, and I’m an organizer with Jewish Community Action. I just celebrated my wedding anniversary, and when I decided to get married, there was some drama. I’m Jewish, and my husband Mike is Catholic, and in some families, in some communities, that’s kind of a big deal. Mostly, people were worried for us. They warned us that it would be hard. They asked, “How will this work? How will you raise your children? What will you do on holidays? Will Mike convert? Will you?”
And to be fair, it wasn’t just us getting married. It was also our two families, from very different backgrounds, getting brought along for the ride. My mother-in-law was worried that she’d do something wrong, that she’d mess up a holiday and offend me. My own mother just didn’t want me to have to struggle. I remember, on the phone, she asked me, “Can’t you just live together? Why do you want to get married?” I remember I answered (in a completely respectful tone, I am sure), “Well, I mean, we want to. We love each other, and this is how we want to tell the world, in front of everyone.”
We were married 8 years last month, and, especially in the context of having gotten very involved in this campaign, and knowing that I feel so strongly about marriage equality, I spent some time thinking about all the conversations we had when we decided to get married. All the things we heard. And with all the things people did say to us, the thing we never heard was, “You can’t. You don’t have the right to express your love, your commitment in the way you want.” We took that part for granted. It was our right, and the thing about rights is that when you have them, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about having them.

My fellow organizers shared their stories, too. All were members of same-sex couples. They’d been married by their clergy, in front of their families and congregations, but not legally by the state of Minnesota. Some were parents, some were clergy themselves. One was a newlywed; one had been married more than 20 years. One got married in another state, where same-sex marriage is legal, and she described driving back over the state line to Minnesota and feeling like she’d lost something. It was moving and emotional. At some point, the lights came back on, and I actually think some of us were disappointed to have lost the stillness and togetherness that we’d developed in the dark.
We’re fighting a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex couples from becoming legally married. It’s legal stuff, civil rights stuff. So, why all the vulnerability? Why share our stories? Why get so personal? To me, at least, it’s because that’s what marriage is about. It’s about making your family look the way your heart says it should. It’s true that marriage conveys legal access to things like health insurance benefits, property ownership, medical decision-making, but when you ask same-sex couples to tell their stories, those aren’t the things you hear about. They aren’t the reasons people get married. Same-sex couples want to get married for the same reason Mike and I did: Love. Commitment. Family.
Those values feel very Jewish to me. My values are a core part of my identity, and it’s hard for me to separate my identity as a Jew from my identity as a partner, as a parent, as a community organizer. So I don’t try too hard – I accept all of these things as part of who I am and part of who stood in front of those people of faith on Monday night. And I’m clear that, though there are certainly other ways to connect to the campaign to defeat the marriage amendment, my faith community is the way I want to do it. The other side – the campaign in support of constitutional ban on same-sex marriage – is proud to stand behind their faith values and assert that only certain families should be allowed recognition, and I’m proud to stand with other members of the Jewish community to proclaim that our values – family, commitment, and community – include everyone.
After the program, we moved into faith-based breakout sessions. For the group of approximately 50 Jews gathered in the room, Rabbi Melissa Simon of Shir Tikvah Congregation framed the issue. She told us that the first big problem in the Torah occurs early on. God creates man and man finds himself alone. God decrees, “I will make him a helpmate,” a partner. We’re not meant to be alone here; we’re meant to find a partner, to make a family, to be part of a community.
As an organizer, and as a Jew, I value relationships – whether in a campaign or in a community, or within a family, we enter into relationships with one another and we lift each other up when we’re weak and support each other when we’re strong. And as a Jew, I will work for marriage equality with others in my community. The anti-marriage amendment isn’t just an attack on the civil rights of same-sex couples, it’s an attack on my values, and on what family and community mean to me.
Jewish Community Action is working as part of the Minnesotans United for All Families campaign. Consistent with JCA’s history, working to protect immigrant rights, fight for racial equity, and improve access to health care, we are proud to have taken a central role in organizing the Jewish community to defeat the amendment and stand up for marriage equality. If you’d like to join us in this work, contact Carin ([email protected]) or Adele ([email protected]) or give us a call at (651)632-2184.