27 June 2015

All over the map

It’s here! By a narrow 5-4 vote at the Supreme Court, gay marriage is now legal across the United States of America. Just 10 years ago, few would have been able to imagine this day.

Gay marriage did not arrive at our doorstep yesterday because of five “rogue” justices in the Supreme Court. In fact, in ruling after ruling over the last couple years, state and federal judges at various levels have overwhelmingly been on the side of marriage equality.

Gay marriage did not come to the country because LGBT people, who only represent 3-4% of all Americans, somehow pushed their minority views on the will of the majority. In fact, well over half of all Americans now support marriage equality, a rapid evolution in public sentiment over the last decade.

Marriage equality did not become the law of the land because there is some conspiracy to destroy “religious freedom”. Churches will carry on as they always have – First Amendment rights intact – but they each have been reminded by the court’s action that their specific moral beliefs cannot be imposed on others through law in a pluralistic society.

Rather, gay marriage came to America, because as slow as we can be to correct historical wrongs, justice usually finds its place in our society. As parochial as we often are in our politics, the greater American tradition we all share stands for equality, community, and respect for diversity.

Marriage equality is now here because many good Americans have come to better know the LGBT people in their lives. Gay people have been coming out, younger and confidently, to their friends and families. Our community has greater visibility than ever before, and in listening to our stories, our straight friends have chosen love and understanding over tired stereotypes and misinformation.

Personally, my awakening came later in life than some of my gay peers; I only came out to family and friends some five years ago. Of course like most gay people, I knew I liked, and even fell in love with, my same sex far back into my youth. But for too long, I feared my sexuality and the judgment that might come my way. My religion, which should have been a place of refuge, told me in subtle and unsubtle ways that homosexuality was evil, perverse, and could only lead to unhappiness. I didn’t confront these false ideas, but instead retreated inside. I married an amazing woman instead of a beautiful man. And so ... complicated as it is, we're doing our best to move forward.

On this weekend of gay pride, my thoughts have been all over the map. I’m truly happy for my gay friends who have, or who will soon, marry. Their relationships are no longer inferior in the eyes of the state. They have all the legal protections and benefits that the government confers on straight married couples. I am happy for the young people, including my sweet children, who are now growing up in a nation that shows more acceptance and more equality than a decade ago. I am happy that coming out today is easier for young gay people and that they have more hope than ever that their futures will be proud and bright.

Because my own path as a gay person has been unconventional, there have been other thoughts and emotions too along this journey. I admit to being a little envious of my gay friends who are married or in relationships. Deep down I want a loving same-sex relationship, the experience of having feelings of romance flow naturally. Observing the excitement of gay couples I wonder a bit: did history pass me by this weekend because I chose to suppress my sexuality for so long?

At a celebration at the California state capital last evening in the hot evening air, the crowd that gathered was reminded of the sacrifice of many LGBT pioneers who helped America reach this historic day. In thinking of my own journey, I’m glad to have participated in a tiny way in this conversation over the last several years. I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t have enough courage to come out in high school, or college, or even graduate school, to embrace my own truth at a younger age. Perhaps I could have been an example for others who were struggling too. The generation of LGBT people that did come out in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are largely unknown names to me, but they were pioneers who made today’s road much smoother.

These are some of my disparate thoughts at this season in life. I’m not sure how I will feel about all of this in a decade or two. I have even less certainty about what my life will look like. The road over the last five years has been difficult emotionally. But I’ve been immensely fortunate to be on that journey with my spouse, a best friend whose compassion has few bounds. Despite the challenges, there is much more to celebrate than to worry about. All over the map, Americans can celebrate, whatever their circumstances, on this historic occasion. 

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