Q of the day — and a letter to John Edwards from a reader
What would you ask the presidential candidates at the HRC/LOGO forum next week?
It doesn’t have to be on marriage equality — think of questions that they are not likely to receive in another type of venue and pose them in a way that doesn’t lend themselves to weaseling out of an answer.
Below the fold is a thoughtful — and pointed — letter from a Blender to John Edwards about marriage equality. It could easily have been sent to any of the candidates who have opined that they believe marriage is between a man and a woman (that would be all except Kucinich and Gravel), or cite their faith and traditions as their personal stumbling blocks regarding treating gay and lesbian couples as equal under the law when it comes to marriage.Here’s the letter from J E Theriot:
Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.
— Thomas Paine, Common Sense
You said “I’m not there yet” last Sunday on Meet the Press when you were asked about same-sex marriage. I guess I should have been relieved to hear you add the word “yet”. It implies that there is a place where you are going, but due to some obstacle or distance have not at the present time arrived. I bristle at your characterization, Mr. Edwards, as a journey down some difficult road, for we are already standing on the shores of that land where you say you have yet to arrive.
You may not be “there yet”. I am. You may not be “an expert”. I am. It seems the only experts in homosexuality these days are, well, homosexuals themselves, so let me slice you a piece of my expertise. By the accidents of circumstance I am gay and you are not. By the accidents of circumstance I am gay and my brother is not. I am already there at that place where you’re headed, because that place decided to come to me. I didn’t have your luxury of deciding to travel there.
You are not a woman. You are not an African-American. You are not a corn farmer in Iowa. And yet you say you are an expert on all of these things? You are not poor. You are an expert on poverty. You say you don’t know any gay people, but your wife Elizabeth does. And yet you feel qualified to speak with intelligence as to the issue of marriage equality for gay and lesbian people. You say you are “enormously conflicted”. If you haven’t even known any gay people, you are just talking out of your hair-do and should probably educate yourself. If you haven’t spoken with any gay people about coming out, about the struggles they face, you still have a lot to learn. You say you are uncomfortable around “those people”. Trust me, “those people” have more reason to be uncomfortable around you.
If you spoke to any of us you would recognize our struggle, for at its heart is a familiar dynamic: The guys who make the laws get together. They are mostly, if not exclusively, straight. They say “Yeah, umm, we checked with all of the other mostly straight folks here and we decided that you shouldn’t be able to get married like us straight folks do.” And we say…”Why do y’all get to decide just because there are more of you? If it is your right, we say, it is our right too. Doesn’t “all men are created equal” count for anything? What about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” And then they consult among themselves, they analyze their documents, and then amend them to conform with their electorate’s desires.
And so, gay people go about their business. We are single. Sometimes we find our “other half”. We make do although our government gives us little regard. We raise a family or we remain as two (as many straight people these days do, too) although our government gives us little regard. We work hard. We pay our taxes. We harm no one in the process. And our government gives us little regard.
Once, on the way to a large gay event in Florida, I and a group of my friends walked through a crowd of picketers holding signs that said “God Hates Fags” and spewing venom. If you could have been there, you would have seen my friends and I hold each others hands and walk silently and proudly through that deafening mob. If you could have been there, you would have known who was right and who was wrong. Because we know hatred and meanness all too well, we try extra hard to be loving and kind. We know first hand that those are the better examples. Most importantly, however, we are ourselves, for that is the best example of all. In the end, I firmly believe, it is our example that will have made the difference. You are wrong to consider us weeds. If you chose to look, you would see us as we truly are: We are flowers. Inside our souls, you would see your own reflection. Only on the outside are we different.
There is one major difference between the struggle for gay and lesbian rights and the women’s rights and civil rights movements. For the most part, the closest members of our biological families are not homosexual: Nature has sprinkled us about her garden it seems. And yet even though we are different, we are still your brothers and your sisters. Listen to what we are saying. Who do you think you are? You are the son of a mill-worker. I am the son of a farmer. Why do you think that you have the right to exclude us from your institutions. Why would you want to? How does that harm you? Why do you get to make the rules? I don’t decree that you can or cannot be married to the person of your choosing, so how can you demand the same of me? Why do you get to sort us into those bins? Segregation is segregation. The back of the bus is the back of the bus. Can’t we share this same space together? What would it cost you to spare those few crumbs from your high and haughty table? What could some stroke of your pen, a sentence-worth of syllables, or the toggling of levers possibly cost? Is uttering the word “marriage” a pleasure for a man and a woman, but a painful pronouncement for a man and a man? Why is that so hard? Does your capacity for love and kindness have its walls around it, frozen and unable to expand?
You are not above me. I am not above you. Yet we have marriage on the one hand, civil union on the other. Why am I not entitled to the same meal as my brother? “For it is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it unto the dogs“, I believe Mark recalled Jesus as saying.
A civil union is not a marriage, even if all of the rights are the same. This is the crucial point. The fact that you label them differently is a reflection of the fact that you consider them to be two different things. If they were the same thing, in your eyes, you would call them by the same name. You call them by different names because you consider them different things.
And if they are different things, which one do you consider to be better? Which one do you value more highly? If you say you they are different, but you value them equally, do you hold them in equal regard? Would you trade your marriage in for a civil union? After all, aren’t they the same value? Would you promote marriage to some of your children, and civil unions to the others, the ones who happened to be gay? Would you print the same glad news in your Sunday papers? Throw showers? Toll bells?
Or would you wish for your sons and your daughters the same things you wish for yourself?
Some insist that allowing marriage equality for gay men and women would be tantamount to changing age-old institutions, or corrupting an ancient tradition. Open your eyes. Open your eyes. The social structure has already changed, whether you acknowledge and encourage it or not. Should we continue to deny our gay brothers and sisters the rights that our straight brothers and sisters freely enjoy? Straight people enjoy these rights so freely, in fact, that if they are inebriated or rash in Las Vegas, it practically happens to them uninvited. It is not uncommon for a person to be married six or seven times. Marriage is even broadcast as entertainment for reality TV and radio call-in programs. Yet happy, loving, productive, and sincere gay men and women are the ones called immoral, if you can believe it. We are destroying marriage, so they say.
Shouldn’t we, as a great nation, nurture all couples and all families of whatever color or stripe? Wouldn’t that be a step in the right direction? Wouldn’t the broadening of that canopy be the highest honor we could pay to the sacred institution of marriage? Or does our canvas stretch only so far? Why should we let any among us tread water when our boat is big enough for everyone?
Shouldn’t we be spending our money on health care and education — that’s what Massachusetts recently decided — instead of fighting to continue to exclude? Letting happiness multiply freely is actually easier than dividing it up and building fences around it.
Shouldn’t we be embrace our children, celebrating and learning from their differences, instead of excluding them? Shouldn’t we nurture and cultivate our children, instead of toasting their toes over empty threats of hell-fire? Children thrive when they are watered and fed. Shouldn’t we multiply happiness, especially when it is so easy to do? Happiness is the well-spring of love, Mr. Edwards, and isn’t love exactly the thing that this world could stand a little bit more of?
I’m looking you straight in the eye. This is a tyranny of the majority, the protection against which is the essence of our Constitution. Take a look at our bill of rights. Take a look at our Fourteenth Amendment. Each of us is equally protected by the law. Notwithstanding this question of American jurisprudence, it is a matter of human decency. You are not above me. I am not above you. My relationships have the same value as yours. This is becoming increasingly apparent to the planet. A change is slowly coming. Perhaps with some introspection on your part, it will become apparent to you as well — either today or at the dawn of some, I suspect, not so far away day. I aim this bright arrow toward your heart, so that it might find residence in some unrecognized hardness there and melt it.
Some of us are out to sea. Some of us are wading, waiting for the tide to wash us ashore. Some of us are standing on the shore of that land Justice. It is not a far or hard march, Mr. Edwards, in fact, you are already standing there with me. I am writing to you today to lift your head in that direction because I believe in your earnestness and your warmth. I believe in your passion for justice. I believe in the power of a well-timed and heart-felt letter to change a heart and change a mind. I believe that your candor will win you this race.
I leave you with the following excerpts. The first two relate to Loving vs. the State of Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court ruling that overturned laws banning inter-racial marriage of which I am sure you are well aware.
Leon Bazile, the trial judge in Virginia:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.
This third excerpt you will surely recognize:
Love thy neighbor as thyself.
(Hint: The words of the Lord are in red.)
J E Theriot