from moon beam - Thursday, October 05, 2006
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Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Note to a Fundamentalist Christian Niece
Current mood: contemplative
It was a long time ago when we were first introduced. You were 0; I was 12. You were a pudgy baby being held by your mother on a cheap living room sofa on an unseasonably hot April day. I was dirty-faced, a little miffed that I had been called in from play to go check out the new niece, fresh from City Hospital.
But I watched you grow. And I saw a spark. You were different from your sister, and my sister (the three of you all within a year of each other in birth order…our weird family chronology). There was something a little odd about you (which was always a plus, even when I was 12). You said things like "Woe is me" when you were three; what kind of kid says things like that? Where did you learn it?
You grew. Always the joker. Always the one with a ready laugh, a willingness to listen, a sympathy for others that could seem flippant, but was always heartfelt. In college, you joked that if you ever had children, they would quickly learn what duct tape was. You wanted to leave the confines of the Ohio/Pennsylvania/West Virginia triangle. You wanted to be your own person, which I respected so much because it was so out of the norm for people from our little Ohio River town…and maybe because it was so much like me.
You were loud at your sister's wedding, drank too much, and danced barefoot and recklessly, your long thick hair swaying. You were beautiful.
You were the first person I told my marriage was ending…and why. I knew you'd understand. It was summertime, and you had come to Illinois to take care of our little son for the summer. You did understand and had wisdom beyond your teenage years about why a gay man could no longer continue to live a life that was wholesome, close knit, warm…and all a façade. Your easy strength and understanding made that summer, when my world was imploding, bearable. When I watched you leave in your parents' van at the end of the summer, I went inside and cried because I knew your leaving meant the beginning of a huge change…and that none of us would ever be the same.
But along the way came another change. As my big change came in my marriage, so did yours. Much to my surprise, the wild girl I had adopted (and that your sister and mine jokingly/jealously dubbed "America's Favorite") found Jesus Christ. The wild girl became a hardcore Christian, with strict beliefs.
I have always said that religion of any kind was not a road for me to travel. I just didn't believe. Like so many things, one can't simply decide on things like true belief and faith. We have to feel them. But I've always been happy for those people who have found solace and comfort in organized religion. Hey, if it works for them and makes their world a better place to live, who am I to argue?
But now that we're both grown ups and you have a husband and children and my only child has turned out to be a homosexual, a question I do not want to confront nags. In spite of your warmth and genuine happiness to see me when we're together, I have to wonder, with all that's going on in our red state/blue state county…how can you love me? How can you love my son?
You say that you do and I believe that you believe you do. But I read about things going on in our home state (Ohio…where you still live) and how that particular state is one of the most aggressive in legislating equal rights for gay people right out of existence. In Ohio, they not only want to ban gay marriage forever, they want to ban any kind of rights for committed, loving couples who happen to be of the same gender. In Ohio, the message is loud and clear to gays: you are not wanted here. On a personal level, I know that's not true, not for thousands, maybe millions of people living there. But officially, that's the message sent.
And what worries me…and what makes me question how you can love me is wondering where you stand on these laws that would prevent me from marrying the person I've been with now for years and whom I love with all my heart. I admit it: I'm terrified to ask you. I don't know if I could bear it if you said that you had voted in favor of some of the most sweeping anti-gay legislation in the country, legislation that not only banned same-sex marriage, but went further in its not even allowing the state to offer benefits to domestic partners, thus shutting out not only many upstanding, committed gay couples to share in the benefits straight people take for granted, but shutting out the children of those couples, who may rely on them for minor things, like, oh, healthcare.
What if you voted yes to this measure? I fear that you did, seeing how you "tow the line" of your church unquestioningly. I have to wonder, when you were casting your vote, if you thought of the uncle who loved you and his son, your cousin, who always looked up to and admired you. How did you justify casting a vote against us? How did you justify saying, in essence, "they're nice people and I love them, but they're not entitled to the same basic human rights that I am because they're different?" Did you tell yourself that the vote you were casting was God's will and, as such, trumped any familial ties of love? Did you ask yourself if, just maybe, excluding others from the same rights that you enjoy with your husband was a charitable or truly Christian thing to do? Did you ask yourself how love and exclusion can co-exist?
The scenario I want to imagine is this: that you went into that voting booth, secure in your beliefs, nourished and cultivated by your church, and ready to vote in favor of hatred and exclusion, and against tolerance and compassion, but that your hand paused, wavering before you punched that ballot with the stylus. You bit down on your lip, memory of a gay uncle who played (and plays) a unique role in your life (and his son who is just beginning the road to tolerance or intolerance, mostly in the hands of people like you). I like to think that you thought of us, and that your heart relented, and very quickly you cast your vote against that legislation. It went against everything you'd been told, and everything you now professed to believe, but your heart was lifted, because in your heart, you knew, really knew, you had acted out love.
That's the secret I will hold near to my own heart. I don't pray, but if I did, I would pray that our little secret is the truth.