Most days, the idea of making political statements is intensely uncomfortable for me. In all likelihood, this comes from a childhood spent trying to be a social chameleon out of self-defense. After all, the nail that sticks up gets hammered down, right? So, I’ve been relatively quiet, most days. It’s common knowledge that I self-identify as a moderate-to-far-left liberal, but I don’t usually talk much about it.
Today is a little different.
As you’re probably aware by now, the Supreme Court of the United States is hearing arguments this week on the subject of same-sex marriage. Today’s hearing was on California’s contentious Proposition 8, and tomorrow they’ll hear arguments on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
My phrasing probably gives away my feelings on the subject, but just in case it’s not obvious: I support the right of same-sex couples to marry. I’m fully in favor of marriage equality, here defined as the right of any adult person to marry any other consenting adult they want to marry, regardless of gender.
The disclaimer here is that I have several family members and literally dozens of friends who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Of course, that shouldn’t matter, if I believe that all human beings have a right to pursue love and happiness, regardless of their physiology or their orientation or any damn thing else.
It shouldn’t matter, but it does. It matters because my experience of growing up around LGBT people are what taught me that they’re not scary, mysterious Others; they’re just people. It matters because if I had grown up without that experience, I would probably have a different understanding of the world, and a different view of LGBT people. If I hadn’t grown up with LGBT relatives, if I hadn’t met and become friends with people who identify as LGBT, I might not see them as “just people,” but as dangerous people, as “not our kind of people.”
When you see someone as “not our kind of people,” it’s an incredibly short step to seeing them as less than human.
I know there are people on all sides of the issue who feel threatened, or who feel that their way of life is at risk. As much as I support the LGBT community, I can also feel compassion for those people who, in the face of the current upswell of support for same-sex marriage, might be afraid that the world is turning against them. I can feel compassion, even if I don’t agree with them, because it’s a terrible thing to feel like the world is against you, like you’re surrounded on all sides by people who disagree with everything you believe and condemn your very existence.
I can feel compassion for people who feel that way, because I know what it’s like to feel that way. And so does every other LGBT person out there. That’s what it is to be Other: to know that, no matter what you do, the world around you wishes you dead, wishes you erased and gone.
Those who oppose same-sex marriage may protest that they’re not wishing anyone dead, that they love the LGBT community, that they can love the sinner while still hating the sin. I’ve heard that exact argument from people I love, and from people I wouldn’t cross the street to sneer at, and every time I do, it makes me both angry and desperately sad, for the same reasons. The short version is this: when someone says that a part of you as fundamental to your very being as your desire for love and companionship is innately and irrevocably wrong, it carries with it the message that you shouldn’t have love or companionship, that you don’t deserve those things. That you deserve to die, alone and unloved. That your very existence is a mistake.
If that’s not what people mean when you say that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry, then those people need to sit down and think long and hard about what they do mean.
And, while they’re doing that, perhaps they might take some time to stop speaking, be quiet, and listen to the voices of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Listen to their stories, find out where they come from, where they’ve been, and where they are now. Learn who they are, beyond their genders and their sex lives. Learn about their lives, their dreams, their fears.
Learn that, in the end, they’re just people. Just like you, or me, or anyone else. They mean you no harm. They just want to live their lives and love who they love. Their loves, their families, are no threat to you or yours.
I am thrilled as an individual, a parent, a member of my community, and a citizen of my country to see the tide turning away from hatred and exclusion and fear, toward acceptance and inclusion and love. I am grieved that it’s taken so long, and turned so slowly — too slowly for Harvey Milk, Brandon Teena, Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill, Matthew Shepard, Gwen Araujo, and all the other named and nameless victims of violence against LGBT people — but the fact that we’re even having this conversation on a national level, in the highest court of the land and in local coffeeshops and workplace break rooms, is astounding to me. It may not be the mad rush to change that many would like to see, but neither is it the stasis and reifying of the status quo that many others would like to see.
It’s not a revolution, only a resolution to find a way forward for all of us, one that welcomes everyone to the party: gay, straight, bisexual, or something else entirely, transgender or cisgender or beyond gender. That’s what inclusion means: if you can accept that the person sitting next to you is a human being like yourself, and equally deserving of the love and respect that are, ultimately, what we all want, you’re invited to the party.
There may even be cake.