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Op-ed: The best way to honor family traditions

Published March 29, 2014 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A reporter recently asked what I thought about Utah's long-held tradition of marriage and a couple's commitment to each other and to their children.

My own parents embodied this commitment to the institution of marriage and family. They married in their early 20s, raised five children and shared their lives together for more than 50 years until my mother's death in 2012.

I also value this tradition. As a child, I remember watching my father take my mother's hand and two-step with her in the kitchen to Roger Miller's "King of the Road." They danced in perfect rhythm with each other.

On road trips across the expansive state of Montana, my mom and dad challenged their five raucous children to friendly competitions of spying each letter of the alphabet on billboards as we traveled down highways. Sometimes, if we reached a particular stretch without any signs, one of my parents would catch the other's eye, and both would burst into a song, teaching us the lyrics to one of their favorite Hank Williams or Donna Fargo songs. As I joined in, I could not help but feel I was the happiest girl in the whole USA.

My parents adored each other. They taught each of their children the importance of love and companionship. They wanted for us what they had with each other: someone who cared for them and made them laugh. That was their tradition of marriage.

As I left home for college, pursuing a degree so that I could teach – a lifelong passion – I also dreamed of finding someone with whom I could build a fulfilling life. In spite of my desire to do so, I did not – no, I could not – marry until late into my 40s. I could not, because despite finding the companion my parents always wished for me, I live in a state that bars me from marrying the person I love – the person who makes me happy and makes me laugh, and at whose side I wish to spend the rest of my life.

After falling in love, Laurie and I took steps to solidify our commitment to each other. We introduced each other to our respective families, and we asked them for their blessing. We sold our two houses so that we could build a home together – just like my parents had done. We drew up wills and put into place medical directives as a reflection of our trust and our pledge to protect one another.

I acutely wanted Laurie to have the legal power to voice my wishes about medical care and end-of-life decisions, and she felt the same. Both of us had mothers in poor health, and we knew the tough decisions – medical and others – that accompany growing old.

The night we rushed to the hospital to visit my mother brought the importance of family and decision-making into sharp focus. My father had taken my mother to the emergency room after she collapsed, ill with pneumonia.

As I stood by her bed, my mother introduced me to the nurse, and then she introduced Laurie: "This is my daughter's partner." She then quickly said: "No, here is my other daughter."

Laurie later told me that until that night she had never been acknowledged in such a way or with such love and acceptance.

To my mother, Laurie was family; however, we knew that the state of Utah refused to recognize our relationship, and in light of the state's ban on the freedom to marry, all of our efforts to secure our commitment to each other seemed futile.

That is why last year Laurie and I decided to join the lawsuit challenging Utah's ban on marriage by same-sex couples. On December 20, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled in our case, holding that the ban is unconstitutional. While that ruling is now stayed on appeal, Laurie and I were among the more than 1,000 same-sex couples who were able to marry in Utah.

My mother and my father loved their family. Both wanted all of their children to be happy. Mom and dad loved Laurie, perhaps in part, because they saw that Laurie was committed to me and supported me.

Like my parents, Laurie and I love to dance although we do not two-step nearly as well as they did. And like my parents, we often sing a line or two to the other although we cannot always carry the melody or identify the song. And just like my parents, our love is fierce (and tender) as we do our best to honor my family's traditions.

Kody Partridge and Laurie Wood are plaintiffs in Utah's marriage equality case, Kitchen v. Herbert. The couple resides in Salt Lake City.