I didn’t want to write about this, but the subject cannot be avoided after a week of historic statements, most notably by President Obama himself. If you’d rather read about something else, turn the page, but this affects real lives of real people.
In a May 9 interview with “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts, the president matter-of-factly stated, “Same-sex couples should be able to get married.” The president, whose previous statements were not so progressive, said his thinking evolved over time and was influenced by his daughters having classmates who were raised by two loving moms – and they can’t understand why that’s a problem.
The president’s evolution thus followed the path that many, like me, have taken – and are taking. We are all evolving, some just faster than others.
Like the president, I was once happily ignorant of GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual) issues, but personal experiences have a way of changing things. Those of us with gay family members – a minority of 5-10 percent in every age and place – are among the first to arrive at full inclusion, as I did 10 years ago.
In my “Impressions” column of Sept. 25, 2002, Linda and I came out of the closet as parents of a beautiful lesbian daughter who was well-known to many of our readers after 13 years and scores of friends in the North Scott schools. Aimee’s likeability put a familiar face on an emerging issue and made me a target, but none of the things I feared the most happened.
Sure, we received letters of protest from certain people whose opposition didn’t surprise or disappoint, but the overwhelming reaction was an outpouring of love and acceptance we didn’t know existed. We found ourselves meeting people and making friends in the GLBT community right here in North Scott and the Quad Cities.
Through these experiences, I became one to whom closeted gays and family members of gays felt safe telling their stories, sometimes amidst tears.
Through those experiences, I offer this warning to all with eyes to see and ears to hear: Gay and lesbian people are part of the normal spectrum of creation. They’re not the drag queens. They are normal people who are part of our lives whether we know it or not. Sexual orientation is a matter of nature, not nurture. Gays and lesbians, like the rest of us, want to live, love and be who they were created to be. So watch what you think and say, and be sure to treat all people well. The little things do make a difference. “Queer” jokes are not funny!
The good news is that the attitude I just described is winning. Even on the most controversial issue – marriage equality – a majority nationally now support it, compared with 29 percent five years ago. The trend is certain and especially pronounced among young people. Despite a setback last week in North Carolina where they voted to put discrimination in their constitution and even made civil unions illegal, GLBT issues will eventually be settled in favor of inclusion.
While the long-term outcome has been decided, the path won’t be easy. There will be setbacks. We don’t know how long it will take or who will be the heroes, the villains and the victims, but inclusion is a settled issue. Never in human history has a prejudice been raised to the level of public debate and gone backwards.
The president’s words were thus mostly symbolic. So far, marriage equality has been decided state-by-state. As Iowans, we can be proud that our state was among the first to approve, in 2009, when the Supreme Court ruled that legislation limiting marriage to heterosexual couples denied equal protection under the Iowa Constitution.
Nationally, the legal issue will be settled when the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a high profile case from California: Perry v. Schwarzenegger. The case challenges the repeal of Proposition 8, the law that favored marriage equality. (The vote was very narrowly decided, and a $17.6-million blitz by Mormons made the difference.)
In Perry v. Schwarzenegger, marriage equality is being argued by the bipartisan all-star legal team of Bush administration solicitor general Theodore Olson, and David Boies, who represented Vice President Al Gore in Bush v. Gore, the case that decided the 2000 presidential election.
My hunch is that the libertarian streak within even the conservative members of the Supreme Court will decide in favor of marriage equality. Maybe not. The REAL issue, however, is already being decided in the hearts of the people. When the face of discrimination is little Johnny or Susie who grew up next door, attitudes change.
As was true with both race and gender, the institutional church will be the last to change. Even the official declarations of my own United Methodist Church do not support marriage equality, and Methodists are thought to be inclusive. But there is a widening gap these days in most denominations between what the doctrine says and how the people actually live their lives. Witness the 98 percent of Catholic women in the U.S. who practice birth control.
The widespread support of Clinton (Iowa) Prince of Peace gay student Keaton Fuller is another example. Just last week the bishop of the Davenport Diocese announced that the Eychaner Foundation would not be allowed to present its $40,000 Matthew Shepard Scholarship to Fuller at his high school graduation because homosexuality was in conflict with church teaching. (The school’s staff and students stood with Fuller. The issue made headlines and the diocese compromised by saying Eychaner’s pre-approved statement could be read at his graduation, but not by Eychaner.)
The words of the hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation,” by James R. Lowell (1845) sum up our need to rethink things: “Time makes ancient truth uncouth,” the hymn writer said. Knowledge evolves and understandings change. The Biblical text most commonly quoted to condemn homosexuality is parallel with texts saying it’s wrong to eat pork, wear mixed fabrics and glean to the edge of the fields – none of which are taken literally today.
President Obama’s arrival at a point of inclusion that some of us reached 10 years ago merely signals the ongoing movement toward inclusion. How this will play politically is anybody’s guess. Initially, the bases of both parties seem to be energized. Whatever happens, I give the president credit for taking a stand on principle regardless of the consequences.
As for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters being allowed to marry the person they love, the sky has not fallen in Iowa and will not fall anywhere. The importance of families, though redefined, remains strong. (Note that in 1967, 70 percent of Americans opposed interracial marriages, which are now widely accepted. One day our children and grandchildren will view today’s opposition to marriage equality with similar amazement.)
As for us, we will each evolve in our own time; some maybe never. But even if you can’t support marriage equality, please don’t actively oppose it. Be still. Let the spirit move. Strive to be more accepting and less judgmental. Let others live.
The president led by example. Now it’s up to us. What will our legacy be?