Shawna and Lisa … just a walk in the park.

Our liberty,like our love, needs to be nourished every day. As executive director at Inside Out Youth Services, I am privileged to see love and possibility all around me in the LGBT young people who know that their lives matter equally, even if their legal rights are not yet fully equal.

This year in the Colorado Legislature, the likely passage of Civil Unions means a real step toward equality for all families.

I have for so long viewed civil unions as a civil rights matter. This year, civil unions makes its full journey from my brain to my heart as my partner and I plan our wedding.

You can’t be what you can’t see, the saying goes, so I want to take a special chance today — as the civil unions bill is in its first hearing in the Colorado Legislature — to share a few thoughts with the youth of Inside Out.

I am 47 years old, and I have never been married. But on April 28, 2013, I will be waiting at the alter surrounded by family and friends as Lisa comes down the aisle. We decided our formal union ceremony should wait until civil unions actually pass here in Colorado.

Lisa has had her wedding dress, which I am not allowed to see, for two years. We are tasting cakes next week, and meeting with the florist the following. We are putting our faith in Colorado’s leaders to do the right thing and move forward with us.

Even when this law passes, my union with Lisa to formally join, commit and share our love will not bestow upon us all of the rights that legally married couples have. But it will grant to us some important legal tools that we need in order to fully take responsibility for one another. Especially because Lisa has Multiple Sclerosis, an illness that will never go away and gets more debilitating with time.

Civil union law will help me take care of some essential hospitalization access and health insurance issues so that I can take responsibility for Lisa’s care. The law will mean Lisa is assured that the person she wants making legal and medical decisions for her is the person who will hold that responsibility.

But even more than those legal rights, our elected leaders are bringing an important light into the room today. Personally, the light shows me the real possibility of taking responsibility for another human’s heart.

For thousands of LGBT young people, the light is a beacon for their love and future equality. I know too many youth who face daily bruising and worse because adults around them perpetuate prejudice.

Trust me, they are watching this year very closely what happens in the Capitol. When our leaders send the message that LGBT people deserve the right to love and care for their families, it is a loud and important message.

My time fighting in this decades long battle for family rights has been merely days in the entire scheme of things. My heart is so grateful to the thousands of couples who before us have put their hearts, and sometimes their lives, on the line.

This year, when we pass Civil Unions in Colorado, it will feel to me as though I get to lay down a heavy shield that I’ve wielded for a lifetime. Now, hands free, I can finally fully hold Lisa’s hands and begin a new part of life with her.

I look forward to the countless union invitations I might receive in the far off future from the teens who forge their freedom and equality here at Inside Out. A blessing on all of their loves.

Shawna Rae Kemppainen
Executive Director, Inside/Out Youth Services