The recent months have been a pivotal time, not only in the midst of what some call a 'culture war', but also in my own life. Many of you I have met since having moved to California a few years ago, another pivotal moment that opened my eyes to a whole microcosm that I never before knew existed in this suburb I reluctantly now call ‘home’ – an intensely polarized, us-versus-them mentality that permeates many suburbs like mine all across the country – the ‘us’ being people who believe in monotheism as the only valid approach to living life, and the ‘them’ being anyone who dares to live differently. Never before have had I lived anywhere this line in the sand was made more visible, plain, and contentious to me than where my family currently resides.
As you already know, I’m gay and have been in a relationship for a long while now. Christian and I celebrated our 10-year “anniversary” this year. Not a marriage anniversary of course because, well, we’re not married. We met in person officially in May of 2002 (after two months of online and telephone interaction), so we chose to make that our anniversary.
Prior to meeting Christian, I spent about eight closeted years in a heterosexual relationship, raising two boys and trying my damndest to avoid an unchangeable, irrepressible truth about myself. No matter what I did or how badly I wanted to change, it was not possible to deny: I’m gay, I know it down to the very core of my being. You might be reading this and saying the same thing to yourself: You know you’re straight, down to the very core of your being. You can’t ever remember a time when you didn’t feel that way. The same is true for me. Or, perhaps you’re saying to yourself, that’s just a preference, a choice. I think that’s a condescending way to invalidate another person’s way of life because it’s different from your own, and it would be just as condescending and invalidating if I told you I thought you were choosing to be straight. But even if you do want to insist I’m making a conscious choice to not be straight and be gay instead, why are we debating and legislating that? Why don’t I have the right to choose to live my life as I see fit if it is not harming you personally? Wouldn’t that be like outlawing one religion in preference of another? Isn’t it like arguing the preference of apple pie over cherry pie?
For all this time since I have known you we have carried on our friendship, maybe somewhat cautiously, and at times even speaking frankly about current events and politics that have a profound and overwhelming effect on my life and the lives of those I love. In myriad ways we have discussed and debated, or sometimes simply avoided certain issues altogether, tacitly agreeing to disagree. Sadly, I think that tenuous arrangement I have with many of you who insist on invalidating my right to be treated as an equal citizen of this country under the law is drawing to a close. I'd be remiss of course if I didn't explain calmly, rationally, and logically why I feel this way.
As a friend, I want you to be happy, healthy, and successful in your life, by your own standards. I applaud your happiness! I will cheer you on from the sidelines in whatever your pursuit may be because it brings me joy to know that you are running toward happiness. That’s truly what I want for every living being on the planet. Call me an idealist, that’s okay by me. Ideas are what move us forward.
Good, so now that you understand that I want you to be happy, now hear this: I don’t suggest or imply I know best about what might or should make you happy. Your happiness belongs to you. I don’t set the standards. If you want to choose that your religion sets the standard for your happiness, then by all means, please do so. Even if you chose a different path to happiness than I do, I can’t disagree with that because again, it’s your path, not mine. All that matters is that we are both striving toward happiness and fulfillment without infringing upon one another’s pursuit of such.
Where we begin to diverge perhaps is in that last paragraph. As a minority in this culture, my happiness is being infringed upon quite severely. People and organizations are attempting to coerce me into a way of life dictated by biblical prinicples and insisting those views influence how the government treats me and my family. I want to make clear I don’t have a problem with everything written in the Bible. Even I can agree that some biblical teachings and rules are great, like doing unto others as you would have them do to you. I love that rule and live by it freely, even without having a Christian belief because that rule seems like common sense to me. Nor is it a life-rule exclusive to Christianity. But as for the Judeo-Christian and Islamic rules about who I can love and spend my life with… that I can’t abide.
Some people make the argument that, as a compromise, Christian and I (and those like us) still get to live together, can maybe in some states adopt children, and sometimes even have both names on legal documents. We don’t get to have a marriage, but we can have a civil union, or a domestic partnership. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that the middle ground and the most we can hope for?
Frankly, no, it isn’t. It’s still not equal. Even in a state-recognized civil union (which is still illegal in many states), Gay and Lesbian committed couples:
· Don’t have Federal recognition and are therefore exempt of any and all tax benefits exclusive to married couples
· Can’t inherit each other’s Social Security benefits in the event of a death
· Pay *additional* taxes on the health insurance that one partner receives from the other’s employer
· Are denied the same Federal employee (including military and veteran) benefits like spousal health insurance, death pensions, family medical leave to care for a sick same-sex partner, and so on
And those are just four of more than 1,100 family rights and protections I am excluded from enjoying by our government, largely because religious people say that’s the way I should have to suffer for being different. I dare to ask you, why should I be treated as anything other than your equal just because we view life differently? Equality is more than just about the institution of marriage. Those in power – corporate leaders, congress, and government at large decide to include or exclude, and their policies and laws set the tone and direction for institutions such as this, thus collectively defining freedom for Americans. Yet too often, people are given the message that it’s acceptable to trample upon the freedoms belonging to others because they disagree. Bear in mind that it is still perfectly legal in almost 30 states for companies to fire employees simply for being gay. 75 countries make it illegal to be gay, many of which enforce life imprisonment or death. There is no compromise on equality, nor should there be. Although we might disagree on this issue, I have every bit as much of a right to be treated equally by the laws of our land as you do, to be protected by them, to not be discriminated against by them, to feel safe and whole within them. Can you honestly say that’s not so?
We are in fact in a culture ‘war.’ Each side is feeling attacked, affronted, and angry. Recent arguments have been mostly about marriage, but that really is just a piece of the puzzle. Mostly this argument is about acceptance, about freedom, about tolerance of diversity. Many Christians complain we are attacking their religion by raising our voices against their beliefs, but that simply isn’t true - we’re attacking your belief that it’s okay to force other people who don’t share your views to live by your chosen religious beliefs. And it isn’t persecution against your religion or intolerant to tell you it’s not OK to discriminate against us. We’re not trying to take away your religion, or tell you not to speak about it, or to go to church in secret. We’re not legislating against your right to be yourself, to make your own choices in life about who and how you love, or to force you to behave like a gay person. Unfortunately, conversely that’s exactly what many religious conservative movements who are anti-gay in message and policy seek to do to us.
There are truly hateful organizations out there that seek to outlaw homosexual behavior, that want to banish us from the country, or even put us to death, simply because we’re different. *Never* have I heard those kinds of threats made toward Christians from the pro-gay side of this argument – there are no movements among the gay and lesbian community that exist solely to take away the rights or citizenship of religious people to be treated equally under the law, seek to imprison / fire / psychologically recondition them into not being religious, or to revoke their American citizenship solely because of their beliefs. Yet, on the pro-religious side, the anti-gay side, there are literally hundreds. And many of them are funded by donations made by people like Dan Cathy, by your neighbors and friends, and maybe even by yourself. All in the name of enforcing your religious views onto me and mine.
The motivations of these hate groups are largely based on fear. Decades ago the Civil Rights movement was about racial and gender equality. Similar arguments were made about how damaging this equality would be, and many of them were made from pulpits in churches across the country, just like today. Have we as a country been harmed by interracial marriages? Have you personally? Or did even that paradigm shift prove that the sanctity of marriage was unshakeable?
While I’ve had mixed emotions about all of this for quite some time, The Chic-fil-A debacle has clarified a few points for me. Some might argue that it’s a matter of first amendment rights. Dan Cathy and anyone else is absolutely free to tell the world how they feel about a given subject, gay marriage or otherwise. I’m also exercising my first amendment rights this very moment and I’m proud to live in a country where I can do so.
But here is where this particular debate is no longer a first amendment issue: Chic-fil-A actively donates millions of dollars to organizations that seek to strip me of my freedoms and/or outlaw my behavior and punish me for being a gay person. I have never before and never will give money to an organization that would strip someone of their freedom or block their pursuit of happiness, and *that includes* their freedom to practice any religion. It nauseates me to even think of doing such a thing.
However, when someone proudly supports a company with this exact set of ideals, a set of ideals that impinges on my rights and invalidates my very humanity, it is so egregious and offensive that I question our heretofore polite disagreement. Behaving this way is, in fact, bigotry. If you believe I don’t deserve equal treatment under the law of the land, the land we both legally reside in, the land we both pay taxes in, the land we both live and love and learn and raise children in, then you are a bigot. There simply is no other word for it. There can be no polite disagreement on this point because at the end of that discussion, currently, you get to keep all your rights granted to you by our government and I do not. That is simply blatantly unfair, never will be fair, and cannot be justified no matter what your sacred texts and revered religious books tell you is ‘the right kind of discrimination.’
Many of you argue that this fight for equality should take a back seat to the economy, or national security. Unfortunately, I must disagree with you. My family is under attack. I repeat: My *family* is under *attack.* This is our reality whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. I am not overreacting or blowing the situation out of proportion. Acts of violence toward LGBT people occur frequently and often go unpunished. My children have been bullied and outcast at school and in our neighborhood for having gay dads. I cannot and should not put aside my concern for these things. I cannot rest until I know that my family is safe. I would challenge you to tell me under similar circumstances that you would feel and think differently were it your freedoms, your rights, your family’s safety that was being threatened.
If our friendship harbors any roadblock to happiness, it is not a friendship. The love that I have for my partner and for my children is real, it is warm, it is comfortable, and it is worth defending. This is who I am, who I cannot and will not change to make you more comfortable. Anything you do to compromise that is more than just a disagreement, it is a threat, and I will not stand for it. Instead, I will shut you and your offensive discriminatory disapproval out of my life and instead focus on people who are interested in moving forward, not standing still, who cheer my happiness from the sidelines and for who I will cheer in return.
Wishing you all the best in your pursuits,