In the wake of this past week’s historic Supreme Court decision affirming the right of gay people to marry throughout the land, and in the face of ongoing idiocy opposing this among some of my friends on Facebook, I started to think about how I myself came to support gay marriage, moving from an initial stance opposing it. This post obviously isn’t directly about interior design, but a) lots of designers are gay, to the point that the entire industry is associated with gay men, and b) I simply needed a platform for this post. Some things are important enough that I feel no compunction in straying off-topic here.
There was a time, long ago and far away, when I was opposed to gay marriage. Yes, hard to imagine now, for anyone who knows me, but it was true. I never hated gays, but I bought into a lot of the same arguments I hear from other opponents, thinking they made sense – things like how the increased cost of benefits would supposedly sink employers, the so-called “biblical” ones equating marriage with one man/one woman, and probably others. Why wasn’t domestic partnership good enough? What difference did it make if it was called “marriage” or not as long as they were together?
So yes, I understand your arguments, because I was once there myself. Once, but no longer, because I’ve got a brain and used it to think for myself about these issues, along with using my inborn compassion for others.
And then I found out that one guy I’ve always liked and at one point had a crush on was gay, back when I didn’t even really quite know what that even meant. Then that a couple of others were, lovely men who shared their stories of how they were tormented in childhood by other kids, and even by their parents, not to mention their own self doubts, including thoughts of suicide and even attempts because of hating themselves for who they were and couldn’t help being.
I not only survived a pass being made at me by a woman with whom I was friends, but the friendship survived it, because I simply liked her and we had a lot in common. I ultimately realized that it takes a lot of courage for *anyone* to make a pass at someone they find interesting, much less someone of the same sex, not knowing how that person might feel about it. I also realized that not only was I no more harmed by a pass from a woman than I was from a man in whom I have no interest, but it also occurred to me that at their core, most such passes are actually deep compliments. Why should I be insulted or upset that someone whose company I already enjoyed was complimenting me that way? So, another chink in the armor fell…
Then I started meeting a lot more people who were not only gay but bi and even poly, both of which add even more complications to people’s lives. I learned that a guy who had been incredibly kind to me when we were children and all the other boys in the dancing school class were mean to me was not just gay but actually grew up to be the one spearheading the whole gay marriage movement in the US. Chances are good that he was fighting a lot of his own battles at the time we were cavorting on the dance floor in fifth grade, unbeknownst to me, and I know for certain he was ridiculed by a lot of others for his kindness to me, because I witnessed that much myself, but there he still was, and I am grateful to this day for his gestures of kindness. And a girl I’d grown up with and always liked, whose parents and mine were close, someone I don’t remember life without being in the wings. Mutual friendships and interrelationships that have turned out to be without number, and this was only two of them.
Throughout this all, of course, was woven the realization that these people were no different from me. How could I ever even *think* to deny any of these lovely people the same rights and privileges I enjoy, solely because they happen to love people of the same gender while I am heterosexual to the core?
To this day, I continue to learn about others around me with whom I grew up or went to school who are gay, even a distant cousin with whom I have become close. People I *know* to be good people by any definition – upstanding citizens, successful and productive businesspeople, civic leaders, doctors, judges, lawyers, homemakers. Good children to their parents, good parents to their own children, caring partners, good friends to others of all genders and orientations. Caring, loving, intelligent, and *interesting* people, the same as any others I have called friends over the years.
Then I started to learn about how people were being banned from the bedsides of their lifelong partners by those partners’ biological families just because those people didn’t approve of the relationships. People who were deprived of the right that every other lifelong committed couple has to make decisions on behalf of one another in healthcare. People whose partners’ bio families were literally barring them from even visiting their beloved in the hospital even as that partner lay dying. People who were literally being disinherited despite even as much as half a century of building lives and businesses and fortunes together, solely because they had not been able to “seal the deal” with a wedding ring and someone made a mistake and not included them on the deed, or assumed that they would automatically inherit, or whatever.
People who were losing the homes they had helped buy themselves because their now-deceased partners’ bio families were kicking them out, in some cases literally overnight after the death.
People who were even losing their *children* when they split up or especially if the other party died, solely because they were not legally married to the other parent and not themselves the biological parent. Children being taken by the deceased parent’s parents to raise, who were then denying access to the surviving real parent. And this being not only possible and legal but *acceptable* (to some people), solely because the two loving parents did not have the advantage of the legal sanctification of their loving partnership that was a committed lifelong marriage in all aspects but name and law.
And let’s not forget the effect of losing both of their own parents in one fell swoop that these situations have on the innocent children themselves. Horrible.
Can you imagine???
No, I couldn’t either.
And I *doubly* couldn’t imagine it happening to people I knew and cared about.
I had had no idea that things like this happened. Or *could* happen, and yet they do, every single day.
Gradually I started to realize that among other things, no company was going to go any more broke paying out benefits for same-sex spouses/partners than they would if those employees had been married to someone of the opposite sex. The very idea makes zero actual sense, and I became embarassed that such a stupid thought had even ever occurred to me.
And if people were going to marry just for this sort of economic benefit, so what? That has been what marriage has historically been about for most of its history anyways – a purely economic, social, and often political contract, usually between two families or even two nations. Love only entered the equation as a criterion at all in recent times. Put the same legal requirements on gay couples as on straight ones, and fewer people will abuse the institution for personal gain anyways, because people aren’t stupid.
I started to think about how unfair it was that some of my friends were having to face things that others never would, particularly around hospital visitation, end-of-life and other healthcare decisions, insurance, parental rights, and inheritance.
The topper came when I learned that there are something like over 1,000 rights and privileges that married couples have that unmarried couples do not, even beyond these. Yes, that’s the correct number of zeros – more than a *thousand* separate rights, privileges, benefits, as well as obligations. One thousand one hundred and thirty eight of them, actually, give or take a few that may have fallen since this list was written – 1,138. http://www.freedomtomarry.org/resources/entry/list-of-1138-federal-rights-benefits-and-privileges-of-marriage
Read through this list: it will completely blow your mind. There are various other sources of similar lists, and there are state rights and obligations as well as the federal; this is just federal.
Literally thousands of rights and privileges we all take completely for granted and in many cases don’t even know about until a need to know arises. They are financial, legal, social, and cover all other areas of life you can imagine – including obligations such as being responsible for one another’s debts, which may not look like such a benefit to many, but is part and parcel of how society keeps itself together financially, and is often a viable deterrent to people who might otherwise marry irresponsibly. If you are a heterosexual person who is married, you bear these and other similar burdens, along with reaping the benefits of the various rights. Why shouldn’t others partake on both sides of that fence as well?
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I became an interior designer, joining a profession that had been decimated in the 80s by the AIDS epidemic, especially in San Francisco where I lived and went to design school and was active in the design community, and that in many ways is actually directly associated with gay men because of how prevalent they are. In my growing friendships and professional relationships with many of my colleagues, it became increasingly impossible to fathom why so many of them were being denied rights that the rest of us took for granted.
So, bottom line, my route to supporting gay marriage underwent a significant transformation over time as I not only learned of the real human toll its denial was taking on millions of people, some of whom were people I myself had come to care about, but as my own sense of myself as a caring, just person came into question as I continued to ponder the question.
How could I reconcile my own self image as one who does not discriminate against others, who supports equal rights, who simply does not like to see people suffering unnecessarily with a stance that systematically denied so many people so many of the rights and freedoms I took for granted and didn’t even know about? How could I continue to support a position that left so many people hurting for no legitimate reason, and for no fault of their own?
The answer was I simply could not.
Especially when I learned that people I myself had come to care about were having to worry every day about these issues. When I heard the first hand stories and saw the heartbreak at close range.
There is a saying that familiarity breeds contempt, but truly, what it really breeds in caring people is compassion. Compassion and understanding, and a desire to set things right.
I can just about guarantee that even you biggest gay-bashers out there know and care about people who are themselves gay and facing these same issues, even if they have not identified themselves to you. They may not be in your immediate social circle, but they are for certain somewhere out there, and definitely somewhere in your extended family trees, if nowhere else, even if you don’t know anything about those branches yet.
Why didn’t that maiden aunt or confirmed bachelor uncle of yours ever marry? Why didn’t you ever see them with a date? What was that best friend they always spent so much time with *really* to them? Yes, lots and lots of these may well be gay – but also people in branches you never knew existed yet. I’ve found them because of the genealogy research I’ve been doing. Your own flesh and blood – I can guarantee they are out there somewhere, because it is statistically impossible that they are not.
Open your eyes and see the *people* and the humanity that your homophobic and anti- gay marriage stances hurt.
And don’t tell me you believe in equal rights or Jesus’s teachings or anything of the sort if you can truly still support that stance after trying to put your own self in those people’s shoes, and after reading this. If you are following the Bible’s teachings, it puts forth a remarkably wide range of definitions of marriage, well beyond the “one man, one woman” notion people think about today. It also preaches compassion, not exclusion. And there are many other things it commands that we no longer do today, including prohibitions against mixed materials in clothing, mixed crops, marrying women off to their deceased husbands’ brothers, keeping slaves, and much more. There’s a letter to Dr. Laura Schlesinger attributed to various authors making its way around the Internet that snarkily (but accurately) outlines a few of these, as commanded in Leviticus: http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/drlaura.asp Times change, and so do many biblical interpretations and commands of this nature. We must change with them.
If nothing else, there but for the grace of God go you or I. And who are any of us to deny the comforts of loving relationships to others solely on the basis of the gender of those they love? How would *you* feel if it were your rights being denied by others like this?
Love is a beautiful thing, wherever we find it. Let us do what we can to foster it instead of perpetuating war, ugliness, and hatred of others just because of who they happen to love. Live and let live, because other people’s marriages have precisely zero effect on our own lives just because they are married to people of the same sex, any more than other people’s heterosexual marriages affect us.
Let us work towards a world in which there is only love, not gay or straight love, and only marriage, not heterosexual or homosexual marriage. Let us celebrate that people want to spend their lives together creating something bigger than the sum of the parts, and let us work together to create a world in which the genders of the people involved are complete nonissues.
In a world increasingly torn by strife and war, both between nations and between political parties within our own country, never has the 60s cliche mantra of “Make love, not war” been more relevant or important.