Why would Anne Wynne, a successful, fourth-generation lawyer, wife and mother of three children, put herself on the line for gay and lesbian rights?
After talking to her, the answer becomes clear. She gets involved because of her humanity, because of what she feels in her heart and because of her profound belief in what our country stands for.
Wynne says she was jarred into action six years ago by what she saw happening to families and children going through the court system when same sex couples decided to break up.
“I had two wake-up calls,” she says. “The first one was during the national elections in 2004, when 11 states put marriage discrimination amendments on their ballots, and they all passed by huge margins. I asked myself, where were all of the people who think like me and my husband? Did they stay at home?”
She felt her second call-to-action after hearing about a number of legal cases where same gender couples with children were splitting up – not getting divorced, of course, because marriage was never allowed. “The parent that was on the birth certificate would say to the parent that wasn’t, ‘You’re never going to see your child again,’” Wynne explains. “Or the person that wasn’t on the birth certificate would say, ‘Well, I’m not going to pay you any child support.’ That’s when I realized that we have children in this country who don’t have the same rights and protection under the law as my children.”
For Wynne, this was simply un-American. Her response was to fight to correct the injustice, and make an impact where it counts the most. “I didn’t set out to start a group, but to join one,” she says. “But at that time, most of the nonprofits involved with these issues were primarily gay-funded and gay-run.” She joined those groups, knew she needed to do more. She also discovered that Texas wasn’t the only state lacking in groups where straight peo- ple support gay and lesbian rights. The real surprise was that nothing existed on the East or West coasts.
In 2004, Wynne’s idea materialized with the creation of Atticus Circle. Named after a crusader of human rights, Atticus Finch, in “To Kill A Mockingbird”, the group’s mission is to educate the public about the legal rights that every American should have, and to achieve equality for all parents and partners, regardless of sexual orientation.
“The rights we’re talking about are for these couples who are in committed relationships, and who want to protect their loved ones and families,’” says Wynne. “They want to get each other on their health insurance, to be able to provide social security benefits and to inherit property. They also want to be allowed to make difficult, end-of-life decisions for each other.”
Most Americans take these rights for granted, but imagine finding yourself in this situation: You and your partner are legally married in the state of Massachusetts, where you live with your two children. You leave with your family for a cruise vacation departing from Florida, and your spouse has an aneurism. You’re flown back to a hospital in Florida, and your ailing partner is rushed to the emergency room. You and your children are there, but even though you and your legally married partner have taken the extra step of signing a Medical Power of Attorney for each other, the hospital tells you, “You can’t come in.” Ten hours later, your loved one dies, and you’ve been denied the possibility of sharing the last few hours of life with that person.
“This is not an imaginary tale,” says Wynne. “It’s unthinkable, but it happened to two legally married women from Massachusetts.” The case against the hospital is actually in the courts.
Unbelievable horror stories like this happen every day to same sex couples who have been together for 18, 20, even 25 years, Wynne says. It’s situations like this that rile the activist and make her want to reach out and get more straight people involved in what she calls a “civil rights struggle rooted in love.” She believes that many people think the issue is only about religion and mar- riage, but says that once the vast majority of them understand that it’s about legal rights, especially legal rights that children are denied, many fair-minded individuals respond, “I don’t agree with that. Everyone should have those legal rights, and I’d like to help.”
Wynne acknowledges that the battle for gay rights is an uphill struggle, but there are signs that give her hope for the future. “I think that with our newly-elected leader, the pendulum is swinging in the right direction, and there will be meaningful legal changes over the next four years.” She also believes that the young people are going to save us from ourselves. “For the 38-and-under crowd, it doesn’t matter whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or not involved. Gay rights is not an issue for them. They just say, ‘Oh, of course.’”
Wynne says she missed the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s by about 15 seconds, but isn’t about to miss this one. In 2005, when the KKK came to Austin and staged a march in favor of the constitutional discrimination amendment, she, her husband and her three children marched across the First Street Bridge to protest their presence. “Any time the KKK is on the other side of an issue, you know you’re on the right side of it,” she says. “I tell people who have 17-year-old kids today that in 20 years, when these laws are off the books and our grandchildren are reading about what happened now, you’d better have thought about what side of history you were on.”
Clearly, Anne Wynne intends to be on the right side.
Wynne’s recommends reading “Crisis” by Mitchell Gold with Mindy Drucker to get a close up look at what it’s like to grow up gay in America today.
515 Congress Ave., Ste. 1320. Austin, TX 78701 | 512-450-5188