Leading the Way

20140401125946Yesterday, the Presbyterian Church voted to allow same-sex marriages, continuing on a journey started when this woman, Ninia Baehr, and Genora Dancel, along with two other couples, sued the state of Hawaii for the right to marry in 1991. “We won in court,” Baehr says at her kitchen table in Amsterdam, Mont., “but then we lost in the court of public opinion.”

Baehr and Dancel have since split up, but the movement they started continues.

20140115200453Communities around Montana are currently debating laws that would prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation. These images are from a hearing in Butte last January.


20140115201623Writer Al Kesselheim wrote a wonderful story in the current issue of Montana Quarterly about Baehr and her life. She talked about her decision to move to Amsterdam with her partner, Lori, in 2004, buying a house together that used to belong to a conservative Dutch family. Here’s an excerpt that quotes Baehr:

“This is a very conservative community, but people take your measure and make their call. Our neighbor comes over and mows our lawn. We worked in his flower garden. We both know we have political differences, but we’ve built a strong relationship. He told me that we’re the best neighbors he’s ever had. That means a lot to me.

“Recently, after a wind storm, neighbors from down the street came over to clean up downed branches. It’s the kind of community that does that. It might not always be comfortable socially, but these are good people.”

 “It’s one of the chances you take,” Baehr says. “I don’t know what people say privately. I don’t know if any votes change when it comes to that, but they treat us well. It’s been a learning experience, this business of separating politics from personal relationships.

 “I wake up every morning thinking how lucky I am, what a good life I have.”

20140401132328Al and I visited Ninia at her Amsterdam home again in April, when her mother, Cj, was visiting from Hawaii. “I’m enormously proud,” Cj said of her daughter.

I would be too.

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