|Chris (left) and Byron with their dog, Maude.|
In one week, people in four states will vote on marriage equality initiatives. Maine will be the first state in the country to give voters the opportunity to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote. The initiative, called Question One, could overturn a ballot measure that was denied in 2009.
Not only is this vote historic, it gives Mainers the opportunity to officially approve all different kinds of love within their community. Chris and Byron, who have been together for six years and were married in 2010, the passage of "Yes on One" would greatly impact their life together. After they so warmly shared their stories with me, I kept thinking of the following advice: when faced with a decision always choose the kindest, most loving option. I believe that applies to our choices at the polls, too.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Byron- My family. Unequivocally. My family is my husband and our four daughters and an extended family of friends and people who love and support us.
Chris- Being able to live the life I chose. I’ve hit 52 now, and realizing that I’m never going to be a multimillionaire. Leaving those aspirations behind happily, and realizing that it’s not stuff that matters. To live as I am, happily- with tears, fears, laughter, and love along the way. I mean, that’s what really matters. That’s living.
TELL ME ABOUT A TIME YOU KNEW YOU WERE IN LOVE.
Byron- This man right here.
Chris- It’s funny, I always thought I was in love. I instantly fell in love with my children the moment they were born. I loved my ex-wife. Still do. But, I’ll never forget the day I met Byron. Ever. And it was years before we got together as partners and husbands, I felt something that I’d never felt before in my life. And always, in the back of my mind, I thought about him. Years went by. Not a month went by that I didn’t think ‘I wonder what Byron Bartlett is doing?’ And, when we went on our first date- fast forward nine years- I knew. I knew without question that my last breath would be taken with this man.
Byron- I’ll reiterate what Chris said about love at first sight. The minute my two daughters were born. Seeing them, from that moment it was instant love. I’m going to fast-forward to our wedding day, which was one of the most incredible feelings of love in a room that I’ve ever had. Standing up there and saying my vows to him, and having every person in that room look upon us and just know that what we have is right and special and amazing. That was an amazing feeling of love.
WHAT IS YOUR FAMILY LIKE?
Chris- I am one of four siblings. My parents are both dead. My brothers and sisters and I are as close as you can be- my sister is a female version of me. My family is there for me. But my family transcends blood. We have great family here in Portland. We have chosen family, they are the people that will be there through thick and thin. I can’t speak for Byron, although I know how he’ll answer this, but I feel myself to be extraordinarily blessed. I find my chosen family to be equally as important to me as my family, my children, my stepchildren. It’s not without dysfunction, but we sometimes put the ‘fun’ in dysfunction.
Byron- Ditto. I would say the same thing about our chosen family, our extended family. I’m the youngest of seven. I have lost contact with a few of my siblings over the years because I’m gay. That’s really hard. I’ve struggled with it for many years because I love my family. Deep down, I know that they love me too. But it’s really hard to figure out how to overcome that. I love my mother. My mother looks like Mrs. Claus and she has a bakery called the Bakers Dozen. After my dad passed away, my mom remarried at the age of 71. Between the two of them there are a dozen kids. Like Chris said, I also love my ex-wife. Are there challenges and issues? Sure. Do we push each others' buttons? Sure. Our objective has always been to put our kids first. And you have to work together to do that. And we’ve done that. We are so incredibly lucky to have four incredible daughter. It’s pinch-worthy. They are all bright, smart, beautiful young ladies. And they all get along, they’ve connected on levels we aren’t even aware of.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR MARRIAGE.
Chris- When the first ballot initiative came up in 2009, we thought it would go forward. We were convinced and all set, and we were going to go for it. But it got voted down, and we were devastated. More so, Olivia, our youngest. She was nine-ish at the time, and it was hard to explain to her that just because they voted it down, it doesn’t mean that her dad and I weren’t as much of a family. And my sister who lives in Vermont where it’s legal said, ‘why don’t you just come get married in Vermont on my land?’ And we thought about it and thought, ‘No, we don’t live in Vermont. Our family and friends live in Maine. So, we are going to get married in Maine.’ We rented the Ocean Gateway Terminal, invited 135 people and our friend, Louise, married us. So if it walks like a duck and quacks like a ducks, it’s a duck. And this was a wedding. A real wedding. The only difference was, it’s not legal. And the result of our getting married did not cause the end of marriages anywhere. Why does it matter, why do people care so much? We aren’t defining their marriage, we are just defining our right to have one.
Byron- We aren’t asking for anyone to sacrifice their rights, we just want those same rights. That’s all it is.
Chris- Not too long ago, I thought I was having a heart attack and they took me to the hospital. I wasn’t. But, we don’t have the legal documentation. I had to explain to the admissions person ‘okay, my partner (I didn’t want to say husband because it wasn’t legal) is coming, his name is Byron Bartlett you have to let him in'. And they were cool with it, it wasn’t an issue. But having to say that…
Byron- And what if he hadn’t been able to say that? What if he hadn’t been able to verbalize that? On top of being scared because your loved one is sick, and there’s something really, really wrong, you have to be concerned that they might not let me in to see them.
Chris- Nobody should have to think, if they hear a loved one is infirm or in the hospital, ‘ I have to go do the paperwork’ instead of ‘I have to rush to be by their side’.
Byron- We still don’t have any paperwork or protection like that. And for us, that's a very big piece of what this is all about.
Chris- And we could go get the paperwork. But, why? Separate is not equal. Equal is equal.
|Chris holds a collage by one of their daughters which features two men married, using pieces from the board game, the Game of Life.|
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL A MAINE VOTER?
Byron- It gives me rights, it doesn’t take away anyone else’s. Love and marriage should be between two people, the two people getting married. And that’s it. It shouldn’t be a statement about imposing your belief system on my marriage. Because you can’t. With the religious aspect of it: my mom was married at age 71, to say her marriage isn’t legal through religious eyes because they aren’t going to consummate it and have a baby together. You know it’s...it’s… bullshit. It seems so ridiculous to me that this is even an issue. It’s civil rights- it’s a right for me to marry who I want to. For people to have opposed it, it’s crazy for me to think that fifty years ago, a black man couldn’t marry a white woman, because of the color of their skin. To me, this feels no different. It’s prejudice. It’s bigotry. For no purpose.
Chris- I would tell a Maine voter to think about the circles of people with whom they interact on a given day. What would happen if it didn’t get passed. How would that impact people who are trying to create a family, who are trying to explain to your children why their partnership is different. I’m not a five-headed hydra. I’m not trying to break down Western Civilization. I don’t choose to care about whom anybody marries. This is all about granting equal rights, equal protection so people who really want to commit themselves to each other can. It has nothing to do with religious values. This is a legal issue, not a religious issue. Look at your circle of people and think about how this is going to impact them. And then stop again, and think about what it would be like if you decided to marry and you had to look it up in the law books to see if it was legal. How would that feel?
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM EACH OTHER?
Byron- I learned that he loves to clean right when he gets home, and I like to sit on the couch for a few minutes.
Chris- I’m a terrible Type A person, which is ironic because I am a sloth at heart. But I like to get things done. What have I learned from Byron? I’ve learned to relax a little, I’ve learned to believe more in myself because I’m able to be my real self. We have had screamers, fights. We’ve had them like everybody does. We worry about money, we call each other up about ‘what’s for dinner tonight?’, we iron clothes together, we figure out who will pick up Olivia. It’s not some glam, disco balls hanging from the ceiling lifestyle. We are in fricking suburbia! It’s being able to live, and love.
Byron- We have an amazing partnership, we really do. We work together well, we play together well, we have an amazing amount of similar tastes, and different enough tastes that we can surprise each other.
Chris- And we have great conversations! We are okay in a comfortable silence. We are okay debating, talking about stuff.
WHAT DOES MAINE MEAN TO YOU?
Byron- I love the state I live in. I was born here. I’ve moved away for college and a job opportunity in New York, but what kept drawing me back to Maine was-
Byron- Well yes, there’s that. But I love this place. It’s home. I love the change of the seasons, I love the small town and the big city at the same time. We can go to the beach, we can go to the rocky shore, we can go skiing. It’s how I want to raise our family.
Chris- I grew up in New York City, lived in Vermont, and moved here in 1988, the year the Grateful Dead played Oxford. I always thought once my kids were gown and out of the house, I’d move back to New York City. I like going down to the city, I could never live there. I love living in Maine. Maine, like a lot of New England states, has a fierceness of independence that I really appreciate. It’s not an easy place to live. But mostly, it’s a live and let live state. Not to mention, it’s gorgeous.
HOW WOULD THE PASSAGE OF YES ON ONE IMPACT YOU BOTH?
Chris- We are getting legally married the minute it passes and is actually legal. It won’t really change anything, as much as it will enhance things and make it feel real. It will recognize that it’s just humanity. We are part of the great human goo. The biggest thing is that we can look one another in the eye and say I’m okay with who you are. I don’t have to agree with it, don’t have to like it, but I have to respect you and your choice because I’m a human and you are a human, and we are trying to do the same thing: get through the day and surround ourselves with people we love. Period.
Byron- It’s not going to change anything in our day-to-day life. It will make things easier. You know, not having to worry about the papers and that kind of stuff. It would be a stress reliever. It’s validation in a way, of people coming to a better understanding. I’ve seen, over my 41 years, a definite increase in the awareness and the acceptance of homosexuality, which to me seems like it never should have been an issue. And we, we’ve made progress. And we’ve finally reached that point where we don’t need to worry about acceptance. I think we can just be.