I tend to overreact. Someone cuts me off in traffic. Do I give them a helpful gesture through the windshield? No. I’m plotting in my head the most expedient fashion by which to exterminate their entire bloodline from the earth. McDonald’s didn’t give me a hash brown with my Egg McMuffin. Do I pull back around and wait in the drive-through? No. I drive my car through the front of the store, up to the front counter and demand service. The electric company reads my meter wrong and is threatening to send me to collections if I don’t pay the extra $25 on my last bill. Do I call customer service? No. I refuse to pay – in fact, I create an elaborate plan to have all of my cash and belongings brought to my home in the event of my death and have it all torched so that, not even when I die, can they collect the $25 from the smoldering remains of my estate. So, actually, to say I overreact would be an understatement.
That’s why I was so proud of myself for my near saint-like behavior a few years ago during a visit to my local apothecary. It was just after that year’s election, and I was listening to a piece on NPR on the passage of Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage in California. It put me in a foul mood. As I pulled into the parking lot and began looking for a place to park, what did mine eyes behold? A beautiful, gleaming Lexus quite unceremoniously double-parked right in front of the store entrance.
I parked my car, got out and examined the offending vehicle. You might have expected me to drag a key across the driver’s door, or shoot out the tires, or concoct a diabolical scheme whereby an international courier towed the car to a barge and shipped it to Siberia, but I did none of these. I looked at the car, and I came to a truly profound realization. A calm came over me. I shopped and departed.
The prevalence of homosexuality behavior across the heterosexual-homosexual continuum is debatable, as is the number of men and women who identify themselves as having an exclusively homosexual orientation: Recent studies indicate a range between 2-7 percent of the population. Even using the conservative estimate on a planet of six billion souls, this represents 120 million people in the world, and approximately six million in the United States alone. This is a remarkably large minority having their fates decided by an often unsympathetic majority.
Traditional conservative (and in the West, predominantly Christian) ideology dictates that homosexuality is an affront to God and a sin; that it’s a choice, and that gay people just aren’t “putting their shoulder into it” when it comes to being straight; and that allowing gay couples to marry waters down the sanctity of the institution of marriage, thus invalidating “real” marriages between one man and one woman.
Meanwhile, the traditional liberal viewpoint emphasizes that if God created humanity, He placed homosexuality in it as part of the world and the natural order to which it adheres; that homosexuality exists in a natural, predetermined (and some would even argue, genetic) imperative in each person; and that, as human beings, homosexuals ought to be afforded the same societal rights and privileges as anyone else, free of prejudice.
As one might guess, I wholeheartedly embrace the liberal viewpoint on homosexuality, and by extension, gay marriage. I believe that homosexuality, while not the norm, is still natural. I believe that gays have about as much ability to “decide” to be straight as I have to “decide” to be gay. And more than anything, I believe that we as a nation and as a species, decades or maybe centuries from now, will look back on our predecessors with the same awestruck shame as we do those who championed slavery. Some people believe God hates gays. I believe God hates hate.
Why is there so much intolerance and hate for the gay community? Why are there people who seek to codify bigotry (the Federal Marriage Amendment) into the highest law of our land? The question can be answered with one word: Ignorance. There are many in this country whose lives don’t extend beyond the boundaries of their small towns. They are fed false information through media and entertainment and accept it as truth. They believe what the Rush Limbaughs, Bill O’Riellys and Billy Grahams of the world tell them: That homosexuality is a scourge, that they seek to undermine your marriage, recruit your children and usher in some age of decadence for which we’ll all end up going to hell.
Liberal politics, and by extension, support for gay marriage thrives in large cities and college towns. Why? It’s because education and experience are the enemies of bigotry. College campuses are regarded as hotbeds for liberals. Seattle, Baltimore, San Francisco, New Haven – these metropolitan areas are notorious liberal strongholds, and ones where you’re much more likely to work, live next door to, or share your favorite watering hole with a gay person.
The resident of rural or small town America fears what he does not know or understand (gays). Meanwhile, residents of big cities (who can see and understand the gay community, and even know and are friends with gay people) have no fear, and therefore, no such bigotry exists.
The whole scenario reminds me of the short story, “Guests of the Nation,” by Frank O’Connor. In the story, which takes place during the Irish War of Independence, two Irish Republican Army soldiers get to know and befriend two English prisoners in their care. Later, when ordered to execute the prisoners, their hearts and minds rebel. Why? Because, knowing their enemies – their hopes, fears, triumphs and tribulations, and discovering that they are, if nothing else, more alike than different – made it impossible to demonize them.
So, how do we solve this nationwide dilemma? We take a barometer of anti-gay sentiment in the nation, find the most egregious offenders and create something akin to a foreign exchange student program. The main difference: Instead of students, they’re gay men and women. They pack their bags, bid their lives farewell for a year or so and shack up with a virulently anti-homosexual family. But, in this exercise, the foreign visitor would not be the student – they would be the teacher. After a year of getting to know this gay person and being forced to put a human face on someone they would have otherwise merely labeled, maybe they would change. (This is a satirical suggestion, of course, but tell me it wouldn’t work.)
Let’s return to the parking lot at Walgreens for a moment. As I looked at that gorgeous car, parked so arrogantly and seemingly without regard for anyone else, a thought occurred to me: I don’t know the person who this car belongs to. I know nothing about them. Perhaps it was just another obtuse, suit and tie-wearing, Lexus-driving, six figure-earning piece of alpha-male flotsam with no regard for the yellow lines that separates us from animals.
Or, perhaps it wasn’t. Maybe it was a woman. Maybe she just finished up a year-long stint watching her five-year-old son die of some sort of rare cancer. And maybe she just came back from the funeral home after picking out his little casket. And maybe she had to stop at Walgreens to pick up her valium, in the hopes that something might offer her a moment’s respite from the horrifying, soul-annihilating pain she’s feeling, and couldn’t see the yellow lines of the parking spaces through her tears.
Maybe that’s who that Lexus belonged to. She doesn’t deserve to have her car keyed. So I didn’t do it.
I’m going to take a guess that most gay people in California voted against Proposition 8 – that is to say, they were in favor of gay marriage. And I’m going to guess that most people in California who could put a human face on the gay community because of a friend, loved one, coworker, or anyone else they’re close to voted against it as well. And finally, I’m going to guess those that voted for it – who are against gay marriage – have had little or no meaningful contact with a gay person in their lives.
It’s that last group of people – they’re the ones keying the car. They don’t even know the people they’re victimizing and marginalizing. They just see the Lexus parked across two spaces, make an assumption and drag their key across. Would they have done it if they had known? If they could hear the stories and see the love between the people they were denying this privilege – would they still pull out their keys? If every person in this world had a son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father or beloved friend that was gay – would they still do as they had done? I hope the answer is no – and I further hope that one day my hope becomes a certainty.
I know I’ve made a lot of broad generalizations here. There are conservatives who support gay marriage and liberals who take the staunch position that homosexuality is a grave sin. Some people are flat-out homophobic fascists, some people embrace every aspect of homosexuality and some people lie in between. The way I see the world is not necessarily the way things actually are in the world. But the way I first saw that Lexus is not necessarily the way things are, either.
All that being said … while the United States Supreme Court did strike down California’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional, the fight for marriage equality in Ohio is still a work in progress. But while that fight continues, I offer up the following suggestion to gay couples who long for the right to marry: Pay the state no mind.
A marriage has nothing to do with laws, ballot measures, voters, judges or churches. It has nothing to do with papers filed in the dusty basements of courthouses, tax breaks or, paradoxically, even the wedding ceremony that’s its genesis. It has everything to do with the vows that two people make to one another.
A marriage, no matter who approves of it, sanctions it or recognizes it, is merely a pair of mutual promises. No law prohibits it, and even the ugliest of bigotry can never negate it. No law, government or a single individual can stand in the way of two people from committing their love and their lives to each other.
Don’t put your dreams on the back burner while you wait for the rest of the world to catch up. The day will come when you’ll be married on paper – get married in real life whenever you want. And get in touch with me when that time comes.
I am an ordained ULC minister and am authorized and licensed by the State of Ohio to solemnize marriages.
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