April 8, 2014
That could be the opening to a great joke, but the story here ends with something better than a punch line.
My sister Sharon and I could not be more different. In high school, she was the super-popular and uber-cute homecoming queen, student officer, and North Ogden Miss Cherry Days. I was immersed in debate, girl’s athletics, and general rowdiness, while Sharon was the perfect Mormon daughter. On top of that, it seemed to me back then that we didn’t even look alike. Sharon, with her dark hair and eyes and petite frame seemed a stark contrast to my lighter hair, fair skin, and bigger build. I think both of us growing up felt that we would always be a bit alien to each other.
The gulf between Sharon and I grew seemingly impassable after she got married and began raising kids. I had come out by this time, and Sharon’s then husband was repulsed by the fact that I was both outspoken and lesbian. But I loved my nieces and nephews and my sister, and I pushed to spend time with them—even as I felt Sharon’s resistance.
Finally, things came to a head one evening after dinner at Sharon’s home in Grantsville, Utah. Sharon asked to speak with me privately and told me that she and her husband felt that it would be best for me to no longer spend so much time with my nieces and nephews. I was shocked. I remember feeling nauseous and furious. I also felt humiliated and betrayed. That moment marked what felt to me as the beginning of the end of our relationship.
That was almost 20 years ago.
Today, Sharon is so tightly woven around my heart and psyche that I never want to imagine life without her. We are best friends. There are a dozen powerful reasons we came back from the brink in our relationship. Sharon divorced her first husband, we lost our parents and baby brother all in the span of three years, and we never stopped talking, even when the conversation was tense or hard.
Last week, Sharon showed me her remarks from a recent talk she had given at a large Mormon church service. As I read her remarks, I felt such gratitude and relief that this person was MY sister. In the midst of a major struggle over the right of same-sex couples to marry in Utah, my sister, in a very public way and in a setting of great risk, stood up for me and my life.
Sharon’s remarks reverberated not just with me, but with the congregation she stood before. After she spoke, fellow church members asked her for a copy of her talk to share with their own families.
My sister’s love for me and her willingness to stay in a relationship with me even when it was hard or even when her faith led her to question my worth is a great gift. I know how lucky I am. Now, as we head into oral argument on Thursday before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal in our Utah marriage case, that gift is being shared with others who are in the midst of this same struggle. We may still be very different, but I now see those differences as strengths. I am a better person because I have Sharon in my life, the miracle to me is that she feels the same way.