2014 has brought immense change to me and to our country. We have watched victory after victory-with one exception in a federal trial court in Louisiana-as marriage bans throughout the country have been declared unconstitutional. For the first time in history, a United States citizen can sponsor a same-sex spouse from a different country for permanent residency. Some same-sex couples can file joint income tax returns. The walls of segregation put into place by both the states and the federal government with respect to same-sex couples are finally crumbling at an astonishing pace (though never fast enough). And the conversation between religious institutions and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) people began to change. In June 2013, Alan Chambers, then President of the now-defunct Exodus International (the largest ex-gay ministry ever), issued a seemingly-genuine public apology to the LGBT community and acknowledged that reparative therapy simply does not work and has harmed tens of thousands of LGBT people. Prominent Christians, Jews, Muslims, and religious leaders from a multitude of faith traditions have started speaking out publicly against long-held religious notions that God abhors LGBT people. The church is now facing pressures from within its own walls. Yes, change has arrived, and the change is good.
At the end of the day, I am grateful because my prognosis is excellent. Interestingly, just days before my seizure, I gave notice to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law that I would be going back into full-time practice with my own law firm. It goes without saying that leaving a professorship is not a decision that is undertaken lightly. After months of reflection, I knew that providing services to others as an attorney was what I was being called to do. And my health issues only strengthened my resolve to make that a reality.
You see, health issues can bring a great deal of clarity. My partner and I had previously drafted powers of attorney and healthcare directives. And while in the hospital, I couldn’t help but think of all of the LGBT people in committed relationships whose “families” would prevent the partner from making healthcare decisions and from visiting the partner in a hospital. As a 35-year-old man, I had believed that I would have time to marry when the laws changed. And yet, my health issues brought into focus the fact that the laws need to change now, that marriage and LGBT families need to be recognized now. So many kids in our country and throughout the world need loving, nurturing homes, and LGBT couples in our country are still being prohibited from adoption in some places.
And so, while I had previously been certain that returning to full-time practice was the right thing to do, prior to my seizure I hadn’t yet decided where I wanted to focus my energy. I then learned that few lawyers in Kansas City are serving LGBT people and their families and that even fewer could truly understand the complex personal issues involved in LGBT relationships and families. As a gay man, I understand those issues. What remained to be determined was how my cousin’s practice would fit in with mine. It didn’t take long for us to realize, however, that what we both wanted to do was to help those who are often marginalized, forgotten, and who have historically lacked a voice. That is why Jenny and I make such an amazing team. We both have hearts for people, we both love the practice of law, and we know deep down that caring for the marginalized is what we are supposed to do.