What makes a person good and decent? Its a question I asked myself when I read the following story in my news feed. (The story is after the break). It's a question that prompted me to sit down at the computer and write the following rant, which poured out over 45 minutes on a rainy Saturday morning when I should be playing with my kids. This is probably my longest post ever, but I had to get it off my chest. I feel better now.
People fighting for equal marriage rights have long argued that so called "defense of marriage" acts will have unintended consequences. By passing laws that, by their very definition, label LGBT people as somehow "other," alien, lesser, as not deserving the same rights and responsibilities as other human beings, you were setting up millions of Americans for a future of legalized discrimination and persecution.
Now, to be fair, I know some good and decent people who struggle with the idea of two men or two women getting married. I get it. It's new, it's different, it's not something they ever considered. Change is scary. They feel threatened. Maybe it's not what they learned in church, or in school. I get it.
Now, to my mind, that's where a good and decent person starts. But a good and decent person is open to forming new opinions and beliefs. They'll realize that a strong and moral society evolves, that people become more free, not less, and that the prejudices of the majority must never be used as excuses to oppress a minority. They'll understand that equal marriage doesn't threaten anyone - more loving couples and families strengthen our culture. That, even if they'd make different choices for themselves or their family, even if there religion teaches otherwise, it's wrong for them to use the law to force their beliefs on their neighbors. A good and decent person can change.
I know this to be true because I've seen the evolution occur. Many of my straight friends and family were put off by the decision of my partner and I to adopt. They thought it was wrong for a kid to grow up with two dads. They supported me, because they love me, but I knew that they struggled.
But after seeing our family grow, they've come to change their mind. They've seen how we've provided a loving and supportive home for two children who were throwaways - nobody wanted them. They've seen how two neglected boys who were behind on every measure of developmental health and welfare have flourished. Not because my partner and I are so special, but because we've worked hard to give them every opportunity we could, and because there is no greater healing power than the power of love.
Many of those people have come back to me and said things like "You know, at first, I really had a problem with you adopting, but now I see it differently." They've come to accept and even celebrate our family with the same open heart they'd extend to any other.
So, I know that just because someone doesn't support full and equal rights for me and mine, it doesn't necessarily make them a bad person. Maybe they just need a chance to observe something different than what they've been taught or seen on TV. If I didn't believe this - that the world only turns forward, that people are essentially good, and that its in our basic nature to love and support each other despite the labels that make us seem different - then I'd be a much less optimistic person than I am.
All that being said...at some length, I admit...I wonder what the good people of Michigan think now that their Supreme Court has declared that, since they've passed a "gay marriage ban," LGBT people in that state are now welcome to suffer and die. Here's what the AP had to say on May 8, 2008:
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that governments and state universities can't offer health insurance to the partners of gay workers.
The court ruled 5-2 on Wednesday that Michigan's 2004 ban against gay marriage also blocks domestic-partner policies affecting gay employees at the University of Michigan and other public-sector employers.
I've been in the position where I've had a job while my partner was out of work. Because my employer doesn't cover domestic partners, what do you think would have happened to him had he gotten sick in that time? We don't have the money to cover catastrophic medical costs. What if he got hit by a bus, or developed a fast-growing cancer? What if he needed an expensive medication on an ongoing basis?
Should we let him die because he's gay?
That's what could happen. Does that sound like the good and decent thing to do?
Now, I'm willing to bet that there are some good and decent people in Michigan who didn't know that because they voted against gay people being allowed to marry , that that would mean that they couldn't be covered by their partner's health insurance policies. Nor did they really think though other basic human rights that could be affected - that perhaps their fellow citizen - just because they happen to be LGBT - couldn't visit their partners in the hospital, or legally adopt children whom they've supported and raised, or even leave an inheritance to their spouse of a lifetime.
Here's an example of an unintended consequence that would have affected our family. Had we moved to Virginia, which has a number of very anti-gay laws on the books, as we once considered doing, my partner couldn't legally be a second parent to our children. So, if I lost my job, not only wouldn't he be able to insure his own partner (that's me) but HE WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO LEGALLY INSURE HIS OWN CHILDREN!!! THAT'S INSANE!
Now, do I believe that that's the outcome that good and decent people who are afraid of equal marriage rights really wanted? Do I think that the majority of people in Michigan, or in other states that have voted for "gay marriage" bans really want to see the partners and children of those unions get sick and die with no access to quality medical care? No, I really don't.
But hopefully, the people of Michigan and other states will see that once you start using our country's greatest traditions and institutions to systematically marginalize and oppress a group of people, it will only get worse. You can't use your prejudices or fears or discomfort or lack of personal experience to justify denying other people the right to the full human experience. You can't be good and decent if won't share life's riches with other people who are also good and decent. Even if their lives look a little different than yours.
And if there's one thing I know it's that these labels we give each other, these small differences by which we divide ourself into different worlds: straight vs gay, conservative vs liberal, black vs white, etc, really mean very little in the great scheme of things. Good and decent people are infinitely more alike than we are different. We all have the same basic human needs. We all want to be loved, to be valued, and to be respected. We all want to protect our families, to reach our full potential, and to be free. We all eat, we all poop, we all breathe the same air and drink the same water.
So, what does a good and decent person do? I think he or she focuses less on the things that divide us and more on the things that can bring us together. I think a good and decent person truly wants what's best for other people and doesn't seek to harm them. A good and decent person understands that not everyone may think as he or she thinks, but that even those who believe differently deserve the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else. A good and decent person commits him or herself to leaving this world a little better place than he or she found it: safer, more loving, freer, kinder, cleaner, healthier, fairer. A good and decent person puts him or herself in the shoes of others and tries to see the world as they do. And acts accordingly. With love and respect, treating others as he or she would wish to be treated.
So, can a good and decent person be against equal rights for people who happen to be LGBT? Sure. We can't help what we're taught or see as children.
But can a good and decent person REMAIN anti-gay even after he or she sees the pain and suffering it causes? Can a good and decent person keep their head in the sand and deny the essential humanity of other good and decent people who are, in the end, just a little bit different from them? Can a good and decent person vote to oppress and discriminate against others?
Not to my mind. Not anymore than a good and decent person could keep someone as a slave or deny them health care or a vote. The world only turns forward. There are more and more of us everyday. We must get along. We must unite. We must love each other despite the labels we use to divide us. We must respect the rights of those whom we think of as different, if only because there are so many of us! We, society, must evolve.
I teach my children that they have to share their toys. So do we. We have to share our liberty and our love and all the other great gifts we've been given, including the gifts of freedom and equal rights and protection under the law.
It's the good and decent thing to do.
What do you think?