(I think that all too often we tend to talk, or shout, past each other when speaking of values issues. I would like to use my own personal story to explain why marriage equality (and gay rights, generally) matter to me. Hopefully I can inspire others to speak candidly about their own feelings.)
I would like to believe that I had a fairly typical suburban childhood. Two parents, dog, Little League, etc. Like many (most?) kids of my generation (b. 1970), I did not know any gays or lesbians growing up. What I knew about homosexuality came from the media. As lots of young boys do, I thought being gay was weird, different and peculiar. I cannot say that I had any animosity towards homosexuals, but I made the usual jokes and slurs.
I did not encounter my first openly gay person until I was in my late teens/early twenties in, of all places, Republican politics. You see, gays were very well represented in the Massachusetts GOP, especially during the Weld administration. Around that same time, I was also told that a former classmate had come out. But he didn’t come out to me, so I cannot say for certain whether or not he was gay, though it would not be surprising to me.
Anyway, this exposure to openly gay men did not shock or disturb me. Nor did it make me feel uncomfortable. I was approached by some gay men that wondered about my interest, but I never once felt pressured or put upon. I would tell them that I was not gay and that would end that part of the discussion. I certainly did not feel as though I could no longer trust them or that our working relationship had been affected in any way.
I would say that at that point, I was fairly comfortable with gay men generally. I was not really close to any of them, but that was not a product of our different sexual preferences. But when I moved out to St. Louis to attend law school I met a really nice guy at school who I immediately bonded with (I won’t use his real name here, because even though he is out, I want to respect his privacy). We were friendly around the campus and decided to hang out one Friday night. He came out to me that night and mentioned that he was interested in me (I had horrible gaydar when I was younger). It was a bit of a surprise, but I would like to think that I handled myself well. I told him that I was straight, but that I was flattered at his interest. It was all rather nonchalant.
We remained very close friends. We’d go out to dinner together, hang out, grab coffee, etc. I would also go to one of the local gay/lesbian nightclubs in the city with him. I met his boyfriend at the time, who also became a good friend to me while I was in St. Louis. I spent a lot of time with the two of them and some of their friends. I never once felt uncomfortable or pressured. Contrary to what some believe, gays are not recruiting!
From that point on, I have always had gay and lesbian friends. Not because I go out seeking some diverse group of friends to make me feel more liberal or tolerant. My friendships are all founded upon shared interests, beliefs, values, etc. A person’s sexual preference simply does not enter into my friendship decisions. I cannot imagine why it ever would, anymore so than someone’s hair color or eye color.
Over time my views on gay rights and marriage equality have evolved. I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of discrimination and so I was never one who labeled gay rights as some sort of quest for special rights. I truly believe that a just society is one that is as free from prejudice as possible. Anyway, shortly after returning to Massachusetts from St. Louis, I spoke out against DADT and in favor of civil unions. At that time (1995), I thought civil unions were just as good as marriage, so long as the rights and privileges were the same as heterosexual marriage.
As I said, my views over time have changed. I am now not willing to accept civil unions. I view them the same way we view segregated schools. There is no such thing as separate but equal. The only way to fully enfranchise gays and lesbians is to extend the institution of civil marriage to include them. To me, there is no good reason to deny two loving people the right to have society recognize their relationship.
Stable, monogamous relationships are the foundation of society. And, anything we can do to promote the forming of these relationships is a net benefit to society. Gays and lesbians do not love their spouse any less than heterosexuals. They want the same things as heterosexuals want- good schools, safe streets, economic opportunity, etc. They pay their taxes, as does everyone else. They volunteer in their communities. I could go on forever. Suffice to say that gays and lesbians are no different than heterosexuals, except in terms of who they love.
But isn’t love what really matters? Why should it matter if Steve loves John or Maggie loves Kate? What matters is that people form a loving relationship and contribute to society.
I look around at the mess that heterosexuals have made of marriage and wonder- what the hell do these people think two loving gays or lesbians are going to do to diminish marriage? It’s silly to me. I quite literally can not and do not understand people’s objections.
My friend from law school has been with his partner for over ten years. They even have a little family (dog) and recently bought their own house. All they want is to be able to have their commitment recognized. But they can’t because the people of California voted to strip them of that right. In doing so, they have consigned my friend and his partner to second class citizenship. And that is simply wrong.