In the news today is Washington ratifying the rights for gays to marry. It awaits just a single signature, and one that has been promised will be given. As expected, a fire storm has erupted over this issue. The standard argument that marriage should be reserved for a single man and woman. Its against the laws of God. A promise that it will be protested and fought and attempt to overturn.
There was an amazing speech given by a Republican woman, Representative Maureen Walsh before the state legislature. She speaks of the life she had with her husband, the love they had, the things they shared. And she speaks of her daughter, who is gay and quite obviously one that she loves deeply by the passion she has in her voice as she speaks of her. That she believes that her daughter has the right and deserves the ability to have the kind of relationship she had with her husband. That it is just the right thing to do.
Listening to this woman speak echoes all the feelings and emotions I have on this issue. I am not gay. I do however have a child that is. I have a best friend that is. I have known more than I can ever begin to count. I have been their friend, their parent, their confidant. And what I have found is that they are equally wanting, equally gifting, equally just as human as anyone else.
I come from a generation when gays hid safely in the closet. Rarely was the time when you knew that a person you had spent time with was gay. It was a time of great bias about many things. Racial inequality, women’s right and the question of sexual freedom. As children, we were fed a myriad of misconceptions and prejudices about anyone that was different, that dared to challenge the way things were, “had always been”, that God had decreed.
I was raised by a man that was a small town born and bred Georgia boy. I lived on two different occasions in that rural area near where he was born. I even remember overhearing my grandmother tell someone that I was only “technically” her grandchild, because my mother was a Yankee. I went to schools that though they were “integrated”, they were only barely so. The separation was there. Held by the beliefs that had been instilled in the children by their parents and their community. We went to the same schools together, but we kept apart. The blacks knew their place and kept to themselves. They didn’t cause problems, didn’t talk back, didn’t do anything to make themselves stand out in any way. It was a time and a place where a black man didn’t walk on the same side of the street with a white woman, more yet, dare to hold her hand or touch her in any way.
By the second time we moved down to Georgia, I had pretty much lost most of my southern accent. And I found myself in a place of being shunned for being a Yankee girl. The blacks wouldn’t associate with me because I was white. So, I was effectively shunned by all. After a while, the blacks noticed that the whites had nothing to do with me other than harass me for the way I talked and befriended me. They took a great chance opening their circles to me. And I learned that they were no different than others. Well, they were down there, because they were able to step past their rules and accept one that was not one of their own.
The first gay person I consciously know of having made friends with was a woman that I went to school with. We became very close friends for a long time without me knowing that she was gay. I was stunned when I found out about her. I had undressed in front of her when we were trying on clothes, spent the night in the same room with her on numerous occasions. The truth is that I felt betrayed that she hadn’t told me as I felt I should have been made aware of such things given the things we had done together. I avoided her for a while after learning the truth. Not sure what to do about it. In this massive internal battle over the fact that I felt deceived and the fact that she had become one of my best friends.
She finally cornered me one day in the hallway and demanded that I talk to her. I told her what I had been feeling. She told me that there was never any doubt in her mind that I was all female and one that was completely heterosexual. That she never looked at me as anything other than a friend. She had no desire for any woman that did not share the desire to be with women. We talked and we talked, and we laughed and we cried and we laughed some more. And I realized that I had nothing to fear from her. Her sexuality did not change who she was or what she was to me. She was my friend. None of the rest of it mattered. She didn’t care that I was straight. She was just my friend.
Maybe that is why I have so often bonded with people that were so very different in my life. Because they have the ability to look past such things as skin color, sexuality, etc. Maybe it is their difference that allows them to see past the superficial things that make most find comparisons of better or less than. Sometimes it seems that the outcasts often have a greater capacity to love and accept. And to ask so little in return. They don’t ask you to share their beliefs, their color, their station. They just rejoice when you extend your hand to them, give them a smile or wrap them in your arms in a hug. They just want to feel that they are accepted.
I have been touched by so many of these truly beautiful people in my life. Their differences at first seemingly so alien, so daunting. But, they have taught me so very much. They have allowed me to see how far my own heart is capable of opening and loving. They have allowed me to peer into another alien realm through their eyes. Maybe not one that I would ever want for myself. But, I can see the love and joy they have in that world and I can rejoice that they have found a world that brings them such joy.
My own son came out to me when he was 18. I still don’t know why he found it so hard to tell me. Why he would even think there was a chance that it might affect how I loved him. I have come close to understanding it after talking to another friend of mine, who is a lesbian. She said that as much as he might have known how devoted I was to him, that he feared putting that to the test. For, what if he was wrong and it lessened what he was to me? That I was so very much to him and it was one of those things that one was afraid to put to the test on even the tiniest chance that you could be wrong. That I needed to understand how very many kids are thrown out for such a revelation. Shunned and disowned by those that were most important to them. It didn’t matter that I could never conceive of doing such a thing to my child. It is a fear that all who are born different harbor within them. I understood better after listening to her. But, it also filled me with the most immense sadness that a child, any child, should have to hold such fears. That “my” child would have such fears.
My son is one of the most brilliant, wonderful, compassionate people I have ever known. With both of my children, I wonder what I ever did to be given the immense gift of their being bestowed on my life. I don’t know what or who I would be if I had not had them in my life. They are my breath and my universe. And they are two of the most beautiful incredible people I have ever met. Not because they are my children. But, because they are. Last night, my daughter helped a total stranger on the road. He had been missing for over a week. He said he had been drugged and kidnapped. I don’t know if that story is true or not. What I know is that she helped him. She called the authorities, she stayed with him. And yes, she was smart enough to keep constant contact with friends and gave them her location. She took a great chance. But, she did a beautiful thing.
They deserve to love and be loved in whatever way meets with their nature, that brings wholeness to their lives. There are many that say that allowing gays to marry undermines what marriage is. Marriage is a bond and commitment that is made between two people. It is not something that should be subject to the influence of the world outside. It should be a sanctuary from that world, a place of solace and trust. The only thing that can undermine what it is is the people who make the commitment. It is defined separately and uniquely by each when they enter into it. It is inviolable. It is what you believe it to be. It is NOT what others believe it to be. If it is in danger from outside influences, by others who choose a different definition, then it it a danger that you injected into it.
My children, my friends, have the right to whatever happiness they reach for. So long as they are not doing harm in the process. Their loving one of their own gender or the opposite is not harming anyone else’s definition of marriage. They make that vow solely with the person they take the vow with. You make it with the person you make it with. Its between you and your beloved. You may choose to share it with others. But, the vow is a secret bond connecting you to that other. Vulnerable only if you allow it to be. Defined only by those making it. Its not “our” vow. We don’t have to understand. We can make our own vows. And if we wish the freedom to make our own vows freely, we must allow others to do the same. They’re our children, our friends. We must allow them to find their happiness. That’s what love is.