#52in52 Week 41: Amanda McLain-Snipes

Amanda took a hazelnut creamer, eyed it, peeled off the seal, and tipped it into her coffee.  We sat in the front corner booth at Beverly’s – a little breakfast dive on Northwest Expressway.  The server came by and interrupted our small-talk banter several times before we committed to our orders. I got eggs, bacon, sausage, and biscuits.  She asked for a pecan waffle.

Amanda is a political operative and native Oklahoman.  She was an instrumental player in the Freedom to Marry campaign that worked tirelessly toward wholesale marriage equality in the United States.  When the fight was over, they were the happiest unemployed team in the country.

I had attended a screening of a documentary on the movement just a few months ago having not known Amanda’s level of involvement. Given our breakfast was happening the week of Coming-Out Day and a week after the anniversary of the marriage equality ruling, our meal’s timing was apropos.

Amanda recalled the documentary crew following her around and having them do re-takes on their otherwise candid lines.  But it was an important series of events to capture.  The team was helping to shape history in this country.

 

Amanda grew up in OKC.  Her grandad was from North Carolina, but moved here to collect a debt.  He jumped at the chance to take advantage of all the opportunity here. He also recognized the need to rebuild the Republican Party in the state and empower Republican candidates in their campaigns.  His insurance agency office became a party hub over the years.  Politics runs in Amanda’s blood.  She even recalls advocating for single-payer healthcare as a young kid.

 

Amanda’s mother was a CASA volunteer.  CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate – it’s a volunteer role wherein concerned community citizens investigate juvenile court cases and make recommendations to the judges.  The goal is to help communicate what is in the foster child’s best interest.

Amanda recalls a formative experience going along on a home visit with her mom and seeing kids her age in the home.  It reframed how she thought of the world.  How she thought about her role in it.

The food arrived.  It was everything I wanted on that groggy Saturday morning before I would go out knocking doors for one of our state Senate candidates.  The waffle looked pretty good – covered in crumbly bits of pecans.  Amanda lamented she can’t make waffles, always burning or overcooking them.

 

At the time Amanda was getting involved in Freedom to Marry, a lot of unconstitutional marriage ban cases were starting to move at the same time.  She was recruited into the team, with a lot of gusto behind her endorsement.  But she and her then-girlfriend Kate were reticent about moving to Oklahoma from Colorado.  It was important enough to make the jump, though.  A large part of what pushed her over the edge was the argument that she should return to her home state, win the war, and get married there.

Obergefell was the clearest opportunity for the Supreme Court of the United States to act boldly on marriage equality and they took it.  There was no consensus in the circuit courts on other cases, so it all distilled down to Obergefell.  Freedom to Marry fought the public opinion campaign.  The Supreme Court fought on the semantics of constitutionality.  Obergefell won.  America won.  And ironically enough, Kim Davis was arrested on Amanda and Kate’s wedding day.  Sweet victories.

 

Amanda told me of some of the continuing issues in the south, like with probate judges in Alabama who can still refuse to issue any marriage licenses – as a way to avoid issuing a license to a same-sex couple. “In some areas, it’s still 50 years in the past down there,” she said.

Hell, Mississippi only had its first Pride in 2015.

 

Part of the team’s continuing efforts saw them using a color-coded map of counties not issuing licenses in Alabama.  Local probate judges had legal discretion and would levy it seemingly at will. The team regularly phone-banked to keep a running database of those not complying with national law by way of this loophole.  Often the callers were greeted with prepared statements.

I simply don’t understand being so consumed by the personal lives of strangers.  “They’re just background characters in my life,” I said.  Who cares what happy, fulfilled, consenting adults of any walk of life do in their personal relationships?  Love is love.  Life is short.

Public opinion changed drastically over the years.  But it was not necessarily organic.  There has been a concerted grassroots effort to help advance the narrative of equality for all.  They learned over time that advocates must talk about love and commitment.  Not rights and benefits. People empathize with the human issues affecting other people.  Not social constructs.  The team had to stop focusing on the differences and instead focus on the ways in which we are all similar.  To connect, they would ask folks, “Can you tell me about a time you were treated differently than others?” It worked.  Remarkably.

 

Amanda hopes that skilled political operatives will continue to stay in the state of Oklahoma.  “We need people who say, ‘this is broken and I know how to fix it’ to step up and get engaged.”

Amanda’s right.  This state is broken.  Let’s fix it.

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