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Local commentary: Marriage amendment represents complex, human issues

MORRIS - Over the past several weeks there have been many letters to the editor regarding the vote on Minnesota's marriage amendment, some in favor of it and others against it. While I do hope the marriage amendment gets defeated, I haven't always cared one way or the other about the topic.

First, this past month my partner and I celebrated 23 years of being together, more than half of which has been spent living in our community of Morris. For many years my feeling had been that if people didn't want us to get married then fine, we could still live our lives together productively and lovingly.

Of course, our relationship has been much like that of married couples. At first we struggled financially, stressed about careers and other things that would eventually work themselves out, and always tried to celebrate both minor and major achievements. We've been with each other through health scares and living in separate cities for career purposes, through the deaths of three of our four parents and the diagnosis of early onset dementia of the other.

Together, we've watched three siblings get divorced and was there for another when she was widowed; in fact, the only other sibling on either side that is still in a long-term committed relationship is my brother who has been with his male partner for 18 years. Through all of our challenges and successes the one constant that I so appreciate is that I know my partner will always be there with and for me.

But my thoughts about a legal union have evolved over time. A little over three years ago my partner, Ray, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. We didn't know what would happen to him (or us) but with the help of terrific health care professionals, both in Morris and at the Mayo Clinic, his illness has, so far, been treatable and manageable.

In August 2009 Ray had to have quite extensive surgery that had not been done often and it resulted in an afternoon-long operation and then a week-long stay in Rochester, Minn. After the doctor told me the surgery went well, I went to Ray's hospital room to finally see him. He was not there yet but the nurse was preparing his room for his arrival from the recovery room. With one simple question she changed the way I look at life. She asked me if she should bring a roll-away bed into the room so I could sleep next to Ray that night. I had never even considered this an option.

Thinking that was a privilege reserved for married couples and parents, I had planned to go to my hotel room across the street. Instead we spent the night together, side-by-side, holding hands - with neither of us letting go even for a minute - taking comfort in the fact that we were there for each other. With the pain of the operation and lots of visits from the nursing staff, we didn't get much sleep but, nevertheless, it was one of the most important and special nights we have ever spent together.

Although we were not married and that night together was not necessarily our legal right, luckily we were at a hospital with staff with the compassion and foresight to see that families now come in all shapes and sizes. In my heart I always knew that our relationship was just as legitimate as anyone else's but, until that evening, I just didn't know how good it felt to have that recognized by others as well.

Without question this amendment is very divisive. I know I am saddened when I see 'vote yes' signs in yards and I wonder if the person posting it knows or cares that they are advocating to take away a right that I don't have and that defeat of this amendment would not even give me. I suspect analogous feelings are inspired when pro-amendment people see 'vote no' signs.

My aim is not to try to convince people to vote one way or the other but to acknowledge that these are very human and complex issues - something that even took me a long time to come to terms with. The reality is I am very proud of my relationship and am very happy to live in this community. I hope that once the election is over, as a community, we can move forward.

Roger Wareham - Morris, Minn.