Why I Support Equal Access to Marriage for Gays

May 20, 2011

I grew up in the Deeeeeep South, in the State of Mississippi.  Progressive thinking people live there, you just don’t hear about them on the news.  And despite my good fortune of being raised by comparatively progressive parents, the population of my hometown was no more open-minded about homosexuals than anywhere else.

The world progresses slowly.  By the time I graduated college, I believed gays should be allowed to…well…be gay.  I knew too many gays to think otherwise.

But as the debate over the right to marry began to be vocalized in places where I could hear it, I thought, Pfft. That’s ridiculous. That’s just going a bit too far. I thought, Well, if they really want the same thing, they should find another word for it. And if they want all the rights that come between married couples, they should hire a lawyer and get it all in writing.

Feel free to take a break from this blog and go throw darts at my picture.

A couple of weeks ago Rep. Steve Simon (DFL), in opposition to an amendment to ban gay marriage in my current home state of Minnesota, called out the elephant in the room of religion-based argument favoring heterosexual unions over homosexual ones.  If you, for some strange reason, missed it, here you go:

I was so proud to live in this state that day.  And so sad a few days later when a majority seemed to favor the amendment.  That vote put it on the ballot for the citizens of Minnesota to voice their preference on Tuesday, November 6.  But my greatest sadness was when I posted this video on my Facebook page.  Someone commented as though Simon did not really understand the issue, as though his comments were ill-formed and ridiculous.  It kind of broke my heart.

I don’t really know this woman, but what little I know about her is that she loves her children just like I do.  Because of that commonality I’ll assume she wants her kids to live in a safe and supportive community, just like I do, want them to have a quality education.  Just like I do.

But I am certain if she and I sat down and defined safe and supportive community and good education, we would have strong similarities and strong differences.  I am also pretty sure I would see a former version of myself in her ideals.

The debate that ensued reminded me of why I don’t often post political pieces and that those who feel strongly on either side of this argument are not going to be changed by reason.  I felt helpless in the belief that nothing I could say would help at all.  My instinct is to call the other side hard-hearted.  In all fairness, my heart is concrete on this one, too, poured and hardened around the philosophy that Rep. Simon described of “justice, fairness, wholeness, openness and compassion.”

How did I come to change my mind?  Quite a few things.  I saw two lives ended and their families capsized over the consequences of hidden sexual orientation.  But those are not my stories to tell.  Which is unfortunate, because it is hard to have the necessary compassion to see this issue clearly if you have not seen the relevant suffering up close.

In 1997 we began trying to conceive a child.  It took years.  During that time we considered the options: not having children at all, adopting, infertility treatments.  We spent six years letting our lives revolve around something we could not have.  Those years were some of the worst times in my life, and I ended up conceiving a child, and later two more the old-fashioned way.  I ended up being so lucky.

During that time a close friend, who served on the board of an adoption agency, loaned me the book The Kid by Dan SavageThe Kid is the tale of how Savage and his partner chose to become parents and, eventually, adopt their son.  It is the story of heart-ache that all couples who struggle with infertility go through, except that the legal system and cultural biases were stacked against them, not to mention physiology.  It is the story of being rejected by birth-mothers and taking a chance on the one mother who chose them.  It is the universal tale of the uncertainty common as we enter parenthood, but with the added layers of judgment from flight attendants, the necessity of paying for quality legal services, and having one’s natural capacity to give and need love be degraded to immorality by large factions in our culture.

What do you know, these men are just as human as I am, with the same basic emotional, psychological and physical needs as I have.  I heard their story, and I never again lived under the ignorant assumption that heterosexuality was superior.

It is said that the mind is changed through the heart.  And the heart is only changed through empathy – through seeing the world from another’s point-of-view.  Dan Savage helped me see the issues that matter, and the ones that don’t.

At a quick glance of state legislative battles, change is very slow.  From the amazing duo’s fight in California being stalled to the Governor of Wisconsin attempting to enforce one of the cruelest manifestations of the bigotry and ignorance behind the opposition to gay marriage, denial of hospital visitation between same sex partners.

So I hope these stories of personal pain continue to get told.  It is through the telling of a personal struggle that we look at another person and see our own humanity reflected back.  One day I hope to live in a place where gays live openly and without judgment, without compulsion to be secretive and ashamed, free to fully participate in their communities.  This Pink Dot campaign is for Singapore, but I think it expresses my hope the best.

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5 Responses to “Why I Support Equal Access to Marriage for Gays”

  1. Jon Odell said

    Thanks, Sally. Beautifully written as usual–but it really packed a personal wallop for me. It’s so easy to insist on perfection instead of progress in others, while it is the other way around with ourselves. As a gay man I’ve had to travel a similar journey as you, not to hate myself, to dismiss my needs and rights, to feel that I am deserving of happiness. And yet, I am so upset with those who don’t “get it” instantly.

    • sallysmart said

      Jon, you are one of the best tellers of the stories that change hearts – a powerful example of the value of story-telling in our collective evolution. The only reason I don’t demand perfection is it is not possible and believing otherwise creates unbearable frustration (I smack of recovery, don’t I? 🙂 ).

  2. brennagee said

    “It is said that the mind is changed through the heart. And the heart is only changed through empathy – through seeing the world from another’s point-of-view.” These two lines, for me, are the summation and truth of this piece. I grew up a slightly small minded country bumpkin from Michigan. It took a panel of gay people at Michigan State telling their stories of fear and worry, for me to understand homosexuality is not a choice. I understood their fear of rejection. I am so grateful I had the chance to see the world from their point of view, even if it was late in life.

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