Now when I say non-believer, I don’t mean it in the religious context where it is so often used, but instead in terms of not believing that love between two women or two men is worth the same respect under the law as love between a man and a woman. Chances are that we haven’t had a chance to talk in person. Most of my friends these days seem to fall squarely into the 50 plus percent of Americans who support same-sex marriage, but apparently there are anywhere from 36 to 48% of Americans like you that don’t support it. This open letter is for you. I’m not going to sit here and call you names and say that you are close-minded and ignorant because, honestly, that would be kind of close-minded of me. Instead, I’d just like to tell you about how I came to be a fervent supporter of equality in all forms.
I remember vividly the day that my mom told me that my uncle was gay. I had come home from school after what I’m sure was a particularly rough day as a 7th grader and was complaining about some chore or homework being “gay”. Unfortunately, I meant it as in stupid and not as in my homework assignment having affection toward another homework assignment. My mom stopped and looked over to me and then just said, “You know, Uncle Michael is gay. You might want to think about how you use that word and whether or not you really want to equate it with being stupid and not worth your time.” I wish that I could be one of the people that could say that I stopped being hateful with my language because I’m just that socially conscious and that I’m not the Sen. Rob Portman type who needed a family member to draw the point into stark relief, but I did. I also cannot say that I immediately turned my thoughts to how my uncle couldn’t get married, but I did so sooner rather than later and it just didn’t make sense to me. Granted my uncle did not seem to have any strong desire to settle down, but it disappointed me that our country looked at my uncle and did not value him the same way that they valued me. I felt the same way that I found out that he couldn’t serve in the military. Now my uncle is as anti-war as you can possibly get, to the left of Dennis Kucinich really. However, the fact that my uncle who is probably in better shape than people 30 years younger than him would be and one of the smartest people I know and yet would be viewed as “unfit to serve” based on his sexual orientation was appalling to me.
I was still in high school at the time and wasn’t much of an activist yet so I cannot say that I was out there marching in the streets or taking the issue all that seriously. I just knew it was wrong. So I guess my first point to you is that I don’t expect you to become an enthusiastic supporter and take to the streets demanding change, but you can still get out of the way of progress and let us move to a more equal society. Then, when you see that the world does not come crashing down and hellfire does not rain from above, maybe you will move to a place of acceptance.
A more significant jump for me came when my sister came out to me when I was in college. My sister is my world and the person I am closest to on this planet so to see how hostile a society she was having to live in struck me more as a clear and present danger. I became a pretty outspoken ally on Syracuse’s campus while I was a student there and have since taken all opportunities when and where I can to stand up for equal rights for gay and lesbians (and bisexual, and transgender and really all people everywhere). My sister is in a loving relationship and the fact that she can’t get married is pretty tragic to me, but she is only 23 years old and I have hope that our country is moving fast enough in the right direction that she will have that freedom soon. Still, justice delayed is justice denied so I’m hoping I won’t have to wait all that long to be at her wedding.
Now, that was the family I was born into and it would have been pretty cold hearted for me to turn away from them (though it is done every day). It is a different story all together when talking about the family you choose. When you are talking about the people you let into your life and treat like kin, the people that you would drop everything and fly across the country for, when you are talking about those people, it takes on a special meaning. I had the distinct privilege of becoming fast friends with a woman at my grad school named Heidi. I had been going through a pretty tough time during the week of our orientation and she was one of the first people that I opened up to and ended up becoming one of my best friends during my time in my master’s program. Through Heidi, I got to meet her wife Jamie and their house became a place of refuge when I was reeling from depressive episodes and a place of joy when I simply needed good friends to laugh with. I even spent my first Thanksgiving away from home at their house and it felt more familial and joyous than any I had ever experienced with my family in Maryland.
All that being said, the more I got to know Heidi and Jamie, the more I came to realize that I had never seen a love as deep, unabiding and profound as theirs. I remember being with Heidi on a trip to a conference and it being the first time she had spent a night away from Jamie since they had been married. To see how broken up she was about it and how genuinely it pained her to be apart from her soulmate, was one of the more moving sights I’ve seen. I hope upon hope that it is written in the stars for me to one day find what they have. Yet their love, the purest of pure loves, is not recognized under the law. Their marriage wasn’t recognized in the state they had their ceremony, the state we went to grad school, or the state they live in now. However, if I were to have a wild trip to Vegas, I could end up married to a perfect stranger without having my marriage viewed as an assault on an institution. I have no doubt in my heart, no question in my mind, and no hesitance in my soul that marriage would be stronger as an institution if more people who share the type of love my friends share were able to be officially recognized. In a country that was founded on freedom, in a country that is supposed to offer promise to the hopeless and in a country where we hold ourselves up as a shining city on a hill and an example to the world, what could possibly be more American than that?