“We Did Everything We Could” – a speech from Cindy Amberger and Lynne Hvidsten

The below transcript is from a speech delivered by NCJW-MN’s own Cindy Amberger and Lynne Hvidsten at the Washington Institute Social Action Awards Dinner, where DOMA-defeating women Edie Windsor and Roberta Kaplan were honored. Cindy and Lynne tell the story of how they fought for their right to marry each other, as well as the rights of all same-sex couples in Minnesota and America as a whole.

CINDY: My name is Cindy Amberger, I am a past president of the Minneapolis Affiliate, and a Director on the National Board for this extraordinary organization.

LYNNE: I am Lynne Hvidsten, a State Policy Advocate for Minnesota. And, we are privileged beneficiaries of the Supreme Court’s ruling argued by Robbie Kaplan in favor of Edie Windsor. Thank you Robbie and Edie; and thank you to all you who worked for marriage equality, especially our NCJW Minnesota sisters & supporters.

CINDY: So, a funny thing happened on the way to Washington Institute… With how busy the weeks have been, I went shopping and brought dresses home for Lynne. When it came time to pack, Lynne left before I did and when I was packing, I realized we were going to be wearing the identical dress in different colors! (Luckily, I had a back up.)

Unlike the near wardrobe malfunction, there are moments in life that anchor true meaning. We don’t know when these moments may occur. It may not be until long after, when we reflect back do we realize how that moment influenced our life. These moments bring the greatest love into our hearts and sense of humanity to our lives, because we’ve made our time here worth something. NCJW is at the forefront of creating moments that allow us to change the world, and, in turn, we too, become changed.

20 years after our first commitment ceremony, on August 30th, 2013, Lynne and I were legally married in our synagogue, surrounded by our children, family and friends.

Like Edie and Thea and the many who’ve come before us, it took so much to reach that day.

LYNNE: We live in Minnesota, where, in 1972, the state supreme court ruled unanimously, in what was among the first same sex marriage cases in the world; that it did not violate the state constitution to limit marriage to opposite sex couples and the U.S. Supreme court refused to hear the appeal. Fast forward 40 years, fueled by fear and a conservative momentum, in 2012, Minnesota became the 30th state to introduce legislation, this time to amend the constitution to preserve marriage for only one man and one woman.

CINDY: We lived such a normal, day to day life, we actually forgot that we were gay and suddenly we were reminded all the time; driving, we’d pass yard signs to VOTE YES, Marriage = one man and one woman; television commercials warning of the dangers to our communities should same sex couples be allowed to marry; reminding us that we have been, and always should be, marginalized.

What was even more painful, was the realization that children across the state, with two loving parents would grow up knowing that no matter how nurturing their family life may be, the state says, they are not good enough to legalize that relationship and they too, would remain marginalized.

LYNNE: Immediately, I got involved and led the group that mobilized the state-wide Jewish Community to Vote NO. I told Cindy when we wake up the day after the election, regardless of the outcome, we could not say, “We should have done more”, we had to be able to say, “We did everything we could”. This was our moment and we knew it.

CINDY: “We did everything we could” became our mantra, it was the spark that ignited deep in our souls that kept us going for the next 11 months. NCJW joined the coalition with Minnesotans United and Lynne and I managed two phone banks. Every Sunday and Wednesday evening we’d head out to call voters, and then, brace ourselves for their response, ready to share very personal stories and persuade them to move along the continuum toward a solid NO vote in November.

And there were many times, after a full day of work, when it was cold and dark outside that we didn’t feel like going – sometimes it was only 3 or 4 of us making calls. But we reminded each other of our mantra, “When we wake up the day after the election, we will be able to say, “We did everything we could.”

So we returned, every week and something remarkable occurred, more and more people started showing up to make calls and persuade voters with their own personal stories, emotionally connecting the person on the phone with how voting YES would hurt people they cared about.

One evening, I looked around, there were so many people making calls, mostly straight allies, every available space in the building was full. At that moment, I realized, we had been so focused on doing this work for others, and here, all these volunteers were standing up for people like us – including us!

LYNNE: While I converted to Judaism before Cindy and I got together, I did grow up Lutheran in a small farming town, 25 miles south of the Canadian border. My parents were stoic Scandinavians and instilled values I carry with me today. I was never able to come out to my family, as that was surely something about which we would not speak.

My father passed away some time ago and after years of decline, my mother slipped into non-communicative Alzheimer’s. She was living in a nursing home in North Dakota and Cindy and I would drive 7 hours to visit her. In her prime, she was a feisty woman who wore designer clothing in a town with nowhere to go. But now, she was confined to a wheelchair and required complete assistance and had long ago ceased to recognize me as her daughter.

On one particular visit, we sat with her by the window, Cindy and I making small talk, simply to be in her presence, when my sweet mother looked up. As I leaned into her, she whispered, “Are you happy?” and I said, “Yes mom, I am very happy.”; then she said, “Do you love each other?” and I said, “Yes, we love each other very much.” and then she said, “Good, that is all that matters.”

Those were the only words my mother had uttered in more than five years and what came to be, her last words, as she died a few months later.

CINDY: Well, as you know, Minnesota became the first state to successfully defeat an anti-same sex marriage bill by popular vote. The campaign led by Minnesotans United was truly grassroots organization at its best – mobilizing 28,000 volunteers throughout the state. NCJW was a strong coalition partner and our volunteers worked hundreds of hours to ensure the defeat of this amendment.

Because of our NCJW training, we found the courage to speak, sharing personal stories in hopes that it will inspire others to share their story and however slowly, tip the scales of justice in the direction of equality and fairness.

Little did we know, that plans were already in place to introduce a bill in the legislature for full marriage equality. And once again, we found ourselves on the front lines of grassroots advocacy, this time advocating with legislators to support the Bill.

Again, this was our moment, a moment we never imagined possible. Our legislators knew that how they voted on this issue would determine their future. And we knew, that how they voted would determine OUR future as well.

On the day of the vote, shoulder to shoulder with supporters and opponents alike, we stood outside the House Chambers, waiting for the outcome. We knew that the Senate would pass the Bill and the Governor would sign it, but first we had to get the House to approve it. We remained hopeful yet steeled ourselves for a possible defeat.

In an unbelievable surprise we heard cheers coming from inside the House chambers and we all started screaming and crying and hugging and kissing – years of being sidelined, not allowing ourselves to imagine this day possible and so many months of work, first to defeat the amendment and then to urge legislators, all came crashing together with the reality that we had won marriage equality in Minnesota!

As Edie surely understands, when your fate rests in the hands of our elected (or appointed) officials, life gets very real.

LYNNE: We know from our own experience that federal court decisions have a very personal impact on our lives. When there aren’t enough judges on the bench, justice cannot be served. Fortunately, NCJW has long been a leader working to ensure our courts are fully staffed with competent judges who have a commitment to constitutional rights.

CINDY: For the record, being married does feel different, even after 20 years of “dating”. When we say, we’re married, people understand who we are to each other. We are free to represent our relationship publicly without hesitation, knowing our state and our country, recognizes our love and our family for what it has been for so long. In coming to Washington you have come face to face with an opportunity to create one of those moments and share our mantra, “Whatever the outcome, I did everything I could”.