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Our First Fight

“April is the cruellest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot, whose words have been echoing in my head of late, with the recent passage of Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” and the ensuing debate about whether wedding professionals should have the right to claim a religious exemption when it comes to baking cakes or selling dresses to same-sex couples. The brouhaha engendered by RFRA alongside end-of-semester stresses have put me in mind of mine and Steve’s first fight.

♥ ♥ ♥

We don’t fight much, and “fight” is relative—our fights are probably more accurately described as “intense disagreements” or maybe, once or twice, “arguments.” We rarely argue about elements of our relationship, but sometimes we disagree about ideas or politics or some happening in the world. The first time it happened was back in July 2014, when the Supreme Court issued the Hobby Lobby decision.

I still remember sitting on my sofa, talking to Steve on the phone, expressing my frustration with the decision. I’d posted a question on Facebook: “Hobby Lobby purports to believe it is wrong for the government to ‘impose’ their ‘moral standards’ on the company at cost to the company. How then do they justify imposing their moral standards on their employees, at additional cost to the employees? (Who, by the way, are likely LESS financially able to bear the burden.) So it’s okay to impose a set of beliefs and morés on others, so long as they’re YOUR beliefs and morés?”

I was dismayed when Steve, though he didn’t exactly side with the Supreme Court’s decision, expressed empathy with their reasoning. He was (not unjustifiably, in a general sense) concerned about the over-reach of government. While he favored some regulation, he felt, on principle, there was inherent danger in the government dictating the policies of a privately held company, especially if they had moral objections to the mandate. If an employee didn’t like the specifics of a company’s insurance plan, he argued, she or he didn’t have to keep working there.

I responded that it’s not that easy to just quit a job when you have a family to support. And that I, too, was concerned about over-regulation by the government, not of corporations, but of women’s bodies. Here was yet another decision that made it that much harder for women to get access to the health care they needed. I didn’t for a minute believe the lawsuit had much, if anything, to do with genuine moral outrage.

I don’t recall all the specific backs-and-forths of the ensuing discussion, and re-hashing them here isn’t really the point. We got to a place of mutual calm, if not consensus, before we said good-night, but the exchange was upsetting and disorienting, the closest we’d ever come to a fight.

Fights, however, aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and not just because you get to make-up afterwards. I learned two important lessons from our first fight.

1. Fight fair, and everybody wins.

As far as fights go, ours was a good one. We both turned up the volume a little, but there was no yelling. We interrupted each other a few times, but we didn’t name-call or curse at one other. I may have felt misunderstood and frustrated, but I didn’t feel disrespected. We also recognized when to call for a timeout: we both had more to say, but it was late, we were tired, and we were on the phone. To keep fighting fair, any further discussion needed to take place face-to-face.

Steve and I are both pretty reserved, not to mention conflict-avoidant, so maybe keeping ourselves in check was a given. Still, they say couples who fight fair stand a better chance of going the long-haul. I’ve never understood what people think they gain by screaming or insulting their partner or disappearing behind a slammed door. It can be hard to keep the ultimate goal in mind in the heat of the moment, but it’s important to remember we’re on the same team, and we’re playing for keeps.

2. It’s good to have some differences to fight over.

We talked more over the next few days. I journaled, too, because writing releases my angst in a safe space and helps me sort out my thoughts. My Facebook post engendered a lively discussion, which alternately inspired and infuriated me. To explain my take logically and civilly, I ultimately spent several hours crafting a detailed essay, then posted it as a Note for interested parties to read.

Meanwhile, Steve did some research and discovered that the owners of Hobby Lobby had not, in fact, initiated the lawsuit themselves. They’d been approached by a lawyer for a religious foundation who was trolling for a case he could use to make political waves. To whatever degree Steve changed his mind about the legitimacy of Hobby Lobby’s moral outrage, I think it was this piece of evidence he found most compelling.

Neither of us was terribly invested in being “right.” Steve searched because he wanted to know the facts, and I wrote because I wanted him to know me. I needed him to understand the experiences that had shaped me as a woman and feminist. He gave me that gift: he read the essay I shared with care and attention, and responded to it with the same. And I came to understand that his defense of corporations is rooted in compassion for the good people he’s worked with. In the end I was glad we’d argued, because we learned so much about each other (and I learned quite a bit about myself) as a result.

We aren’t always going to agree, and that’s okay. It’s good to have some differences to fight over. The willingness to fight for something is a sign of passion and engagement with the world. And one of the joys of having a partner is having someone who offers fresh perspectives, who challenges me not only to open myself up to new ways of thinking but also to explore and articulate my existing values with more clarity.

♥ ♥ ♥

I’m going to be modeling this weekend in the first local Weddings for Equality Wedding Vendor Showcase. If a small town in Southwest Virginia can open their hearts, minds, and businesses to same-sex couples who wish to celebrate their commitment to one another, perhaps those folks in Indiana and Arkansas should take note.

On this one, by the way, Steve and I are in agreement. Private companies’ rights to determine their own policies end when they become blatantly damaging or discriminatory. One of the memes I saw circulating nailed it: when Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes, he didn’t ask if anyone in the crowd was gay. In Steve’s words, if you don’t support same-sex marriage, then don’t marry someone of your own sex.

Said it before, I’ll say it again: love wins.

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