Monday, July 25, 2011

Newlyweds in New York

A few weeks ago, I had an in-depth discussion with an acquaintance of mine about a variety of topics, including gay marriage. Ironically, this discussion came just a day or two before the historic legalization of gay marriage in New York State.

Quick background. The gentleman in question is elderly, mid to late 70's. He is a devout Catholic who lives his life with the teachings of Jesus forefront in his mind. He attends church virtually everyday. He spent a number of years in seminary towards becoming a priest but did not pursue this call so he has a much stronger knowledge of the dogma and teachings of his religion than most. Before we broached the subject of gay marriage we had touched on many topics including politics, greed, helping the less fortunate, life choices, etc. In many areas, we were in sync with our opinions, not perfectly the same, but close in most respects. Until we hit on gay marriage.

While not one with the extreme position that gay men and women are condemned to hell for that sexual orientation, he still held firm in his belief that the gay lifestyle was a life style choice and that those with thoughts of attraction to the same sex needed to seek help to tame those urges. While he did not say they could "pray away the gay", he clearly believed that people with these desires needed to control their urges, just as a married man (or woman) needed to resist the temptation of adultery. He was not mean-spirited in his opinions of gays but stated as fact that the vast majority of societies throughout history had disapproved of same sex activities and relationships and that the very existence of the human race was dependent on marriage between man and woman.

And, of course and most importantly that God did not approve.

When I asked him how he knew that God did not approve of gay marriage, he easily cited words from various holy books, not just the bible. When I pointed out that these books were written by men, he quickly responded that they were inspired by God. While he clearly believed in the bible and its words, he was not ignorant of the holy words of the other major religions so he was not of the mindset that his religion was the only true path to God/heaven/salvation, etc. Again, he was/is a tolerant man, and in so many ways a wonderful role model. I would be hard pressed to say or think that he will not be rewarded with the salvation that he believes awaits him after death.

Yet, I also believe he is dead wrong on this issue.

So, congrats to all the gay and lesbian newlyweds who were legally married these last few days in New York. May your marriages be filled with all the happiness that you deserve for making such a commitment. May your families, neighbors and friends rejoice in your new status and celebrate with you this new privilege.

I don't envy your position. You will be judged in a different light than the heterosexual community of married couples. Your failures will be magnified, your successes ignored. You will be held to a different standard just as biracial couples were, and still are in many parts of our world.

I had another conversation along these lines just yesterday with a young woman. I stated my sincere belief that my grandchildren/her children may very well look upon this debate about gay marriage incredulously, just as we look at those same debates in our recent past that surrounded interracial marriage. She agreed, although not with the same certainty that I have. She related a story of her grandparents' children and how one of the four had turned back the clock in his perceptions of the roles of women and men. Despite having been raised in a very forward thinking environment, he was not in favor of women working outside the home. Her comments led to a discussion of individuals, as well as society's reaction to change and how a certain percentage of people will react by looking to the past for examples of how to live, rejecting the changes as too radical. In effect, finding the changes went beyond their comfort zones.

So, the pendulum swings, forward, backward. We advance, we step back and evaluate, we advance. Let's hope that we use tolerance as one of our guiding posts in this process so that regardless of whether we, as individuals are comfortable with the changes, or find ourselves seeking solace in past ways, we agree to treat those who react differently to change, as well as those who are the focus of the change, with humanity.

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