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Matthew and I were graciously invited by a friend of ours to speak at an LGBT rally against DOMA and Proposition 8 at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ, a couple of weeks ago. The timing was perfect, since on the day we spoke (27-Mar-2013), the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) was hearing arguments for an against DOMA that day and had heard arguments for and against California's Prop 8 the day before.

The speeches we wrote were not completely the speeches that came out, but the essences are here.  I spoke first and Matthew spoke second. What an exhilarating experience!  Three of our friends were there in real time and others have seen the initial video taken by one of those friends.  These videos below were done more professionally by a student at the university.  Enjoy, comment, and please forward these speeches to others who will benefit from them.  We are interested in becoming more and more active in these fights and would like many more opportunities to speak out against discrimination.



The original text of my speech took more than 10 minutes to verbalize, so I cut it down tremendously:

Good evening.  Thank you, Johanna Durazzi and The Justice League of the LGBT center at MSU, for inviting my partner and me to share our stories and perspectives on the issue of Marriage Equality in the US.

My name is Stephen Lambeth and I am a local business professional here in NJ. This is my partner of 9 years, Mr. Matthew Vecera.

I grew up in a small town in NC and never felt comfortable with the truth that I was gay. As a Protestant Christian, I had been taught all my life that homosexuality was wrong. Sunday school teachers and spiritual "leaders" told me that if I were gay that I would go to hell, EVEN IF I were a Christian. Deep inside I didn't believe that to be true. My God is bigger than that.

Sure, I was bullied in school for being gay even though I never said I was. I was lucky enough to be able to change schools three times before graduating high school.

For many, many years, my father has told me to be quiet about my attraction for men. "It's nobody's business," he says. He allowed me to run away from bullies rather than confront them. In some ways, that was good and in some ways counterproductive. He had led me to believe that I should stay in the closet, settle down with a young lady, have a family, and not come out of the closet - just bury the urge to be with a man. I took his advice and was almost engaged three times. I cannot imagine the heartache I would have caused or how much of my soul I would have lost continuing to live a lie.

As I became an adult, I decided to go through 5 years of ex-gay therapy. It seemed the right thing to do because these feelings for men and my desire to have a relationship with a man just wouldn't go away. I obviously wasted a LOT of money!! My southern family had strongly condoned me going to ex-gay therapy. They wanted me to lead a "normal" life and thought I could just pray the gay away.

So, after 5 years of spiritual abuse by men who thought they held the keys to the kingdom of God, I chose not to live a lie any longer. As a man with integrity, I wanted to live without lying to the world any longer. I'm no longer living a lie. It took me the better part of 20 years to work up the courage to fight for my happiness and leave the lies and deception behind me. I have never been happier.

I also started dating. Matthew and I met early in 2004, after I had been living as an out gay man for about 2 or 3 years. Matthew sent me an email on January 31, 2004. His note to me was honest, genuine, and very friendly. I replied immediately and waited impatiently for a response for a whole 12 hours by the time he called. From that first conversation till now, we still talk and laugh even though we know each other better sometimes than we know ourselves.

Our typical day, much to the surprise of many family members, is pretty normal. I get up, empty the dishwasher, make my awesome coffee, check my email, and update my Facebook status. Then sometime during the day, we start doing laundry together or go grocery shopping.

Our relationship has already outlasted at least 3 family members' federally recognized marriages. Yet those family members enjoyed rights that are denied us as a same-sex couple. We are forced to be regarded as legal strangers by the federal government and by some states.

Too many conversations with opponents of marriage equality quickly devolve into religious banter. Civil marriage law has absolutely nothing to do with religious marriage ceremonies. All marriages require a state-issued marriage license in order to be considered legal. Under the law first. A separate religious ceremony is optional to add a spiritual dimension to an already legal union. In order to file a joint tax return, every married couple must possess a civil marriage license.

In the fight for marriage equality, Matthew and I are simply striving for the legal right to have legal status as a couple. Why? Matthew and I have been building our life together - as a couple. We do not need a religious ceremony in a church, but we are entitled to, deserve, and demand the right to be a legally married couple in the eyes of the state as well as the federal government.  In fact, the Supreme Court has already acknowledged and firmly stated 15 times before that marriage is a fundamental right of every citizen of the US.

Issues facing us with decisions surrounding Prop8 are about equality at the state level. My home state of NC has amended their state constitution that bans us as a legal couple. Sure, we can travel and spend our money there, but we are not secure in their borders. Discrimination is still blatant in NC.

Much of my side of the family still lives in NC. We have had an annual family beach vacation in NC since about 1993. I had also never spent Christmas apart from my NC family until 2012. We wanted to go to NC for the annual beach vacation and Christmas, but knew that one of the potential side effects of Amendment One in NC was that hospitals and businesses became freer to discriminate against our community because of how poorly the amendment was written. So, I began looking into hospital visitation rights.

I called at least 10 hospitals in NC from the Outer banks to the Appalachians asking about visitation rights for same-sex couples. At each turn, hospital personnel dodged this question: "My partner and I are traveling to NC. If either of us needs to come to your hospital, would the other be allowed to visit the one admitted to your hospital?" Simple question, right? Hospital personnel "connected me to another department" or "wanted me to call back during regular business hours to talk to their Human Resources department". They even had me go to their website "where all that sort of information was readily
available. No one gave me a direct answer. Nowhere on the hospitals' websites did it state that the hospitals DIDN'T discriminate based on sexual orientation. Even when I said we had a Health care Power of Attorney, they still gave me the run-around.

Matthew and I now have a Health care Power of Attorney, which in many places affords us the right to make decisions for the other if either of us is unable to make decisions for ourselves. Typically, couples with federally recognized marriages never have to worry about this type of document or a situation where one would not be able to make decisions for the other in an emergency or visit the other in the hospital. We, however, carry our Health care Power of Attorney with us whenever we travel outside of NJ and make sure we have a copy with us if either of us goes to the hospital here in NJ for routine things.

If Prop8 is struck down with the finding that bans on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional, it is possible that all laws currently in states, such as Amendment One in NC, that prohibit same-sex marriages will fall. Right now, there are 38 states that outright ban same-sex marriages. With Prop8 gone, so is hopefully that one level of law-based discrimination.

My partner and I have been reluctant to get married in a state, such as NY, MA, or our nation's capital, where we're "allowed" to get married. We don't want to drive across the border only to have or marriage dissolved by our governor's veto. We are almost patiently
waiting for this to change here in NJ, but our hope is that first things change federally that will make our state's decisions as easy as they should be and more binding.


Right now, in this state, we cannot be legally married.  If we were legally married in another state where it’s legal, our marriage would not be recognized in NJ, which is unfair.  If Matthew and I draw up wills, leaving everything to the other, either of our families can challenge those wills and most likely win, removing everything from the other that we have worked together to build.

We, as a couple, are being denied our fundamental right as citizens in the US to get married legally.  At this moment, no matter how emotionally secure we are in each other and our relationship, we cannot enjoy the rights of millions of our fellow citizens because we are being treated as second class citizens under the law.  Our hope is that legal discrimination continues to lose ground and equality gains greater footing in our nation.
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Stephen Lambeth

May 2017

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