Monday, November 17, 2008

All God's Children

It is easy for me to use this blog to lecture readers on the evils of racism and preach tolerance of one another, regardless of skin color. I suppose I could really go out on a limb and write about how having a daughter made me truly understand the evils of sexism. But, dear readers, this is approximately the one year anniversary of Prairie Pondering and it is time to get in your face about another civil rights issue, the issue of gay rights.

My children are fond of making fun of their father because over the course of seven years of college and law school, I had four different gay roommates who did not identify themselves as such until after we had lived together for a year or more. My children, who have been raised in an atmosphere of tolerance and for whom homosexuality is a non-issue, cannot fathom how I was too blind and/or naive not to realize that my various roommates did not share my sexual preference. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my children have not had to consider how tightly one can hold onto a secret when one believes that its disclosure will destroy every shred of self esteem and every relationship established in its shadow. Tolerance of same-sex relationships was not rampant in the Seventies and early Eighties and my friends, my fellow students, struggled with "coming out" and the ramifications that followed with family and less liberal-minded friends.

It seems like it should be easier today. Depictions of gay lifestyles in the media are not limited to the Some Like It Hot antics of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon or the faux homosexuality of John Ritter in Three's Company. On the other hand, it is not the straight community, even though more desensitized to the concept than thirty years ago, that is "coming out". I can imagine the internal struggle that persists for members of the gay community who consider the still prevalent homophobia in America before mustering the courage to live their lives as normal human beings, i.e., sexual beings not forced to feign attraction where none exists.

In August, 1973, I drove with a friend from Carleton from Minneapolis to Los Angeles where I was going to spend my senior year of college. We shared many mutual friends and many of them were gay. As we were driving across Nebraska's endless plain, I was asked "Why aren't you gay?" That was shorthand for "Sam, you have so many gay friends with whom you hang out, travel, party, confide in, rely upon, etc., so why aren't you gay?" I explained to my travel companion that I had no interest in physical intimacy, on any level, with another male but, as long as we all practiced "live and let live", I did not care what anybody else did. I knew, before being so informed, that my gay friends were hardwired that way, much as I was hardwired to stare at female cleavage. There was never a point in my life when I had to stop and consider which team my raging hormones would have me bat for. If I may mix a metaphor, I always assumed that my friends batting for the other team were similarly on auto-pilot.

That, dear readers, is the heart of the matter. If we can readily agree that there is no justification for discriminating against someone because of the color of their skin, or their gender, or their place of birth, then how do we justify discrimination on the basis of sexual preference? Like skin color, gender or national origin, sexual preference just is what it is. I believe that even persons with multiple preferences, bi-sexuals, were born that way and that claims of "curing" homosexuality reflect nothing more than successful exercises in repressing part of the victim's bi-sexuality.

All this pondering results, of course, from my reaction to the passage of Proposition 8 in California two weeks ago. Prop 8 overturned the California Supreme Court's decision that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional in California. It amended the California constitution to make it clear that marriage was allowed only between one man and one woman. In so doing, the majority of the California electorate, much like the Alabama electorate would have done in 1962 given the chance, trampled on the civil rights of a class of its citizens. Besides demonstrating why, in our system of checks and balances, an independent judiciary is needed to protect against the oppression of the majority, the passage of Prop 8 serves as a reminder of why so many gay men and women dare not live their lifestyle openly.

I am frankly outraged that discrimination on such a grand scale is still defended today in America. What are we so afraid of? Hordes of marauding interior designers? Leagues of women bowlers? Proselytizing dance instructors? It's ridiculous. We ought to be promoting loving, committed relationships as role models for our children and for ourselves. Live and let live! To believe that we are somehow threatened by the sexual preference of those who were born to be gay is idiotic and should not serve as a basis for minimizing the civil rights and citizenry of otherwise fully entitled children of God.

5 comments:

Charles Leck said...

Sam, CA and the gay community out there got bitten by the same ballot box democracy that has regularly helped them. It's why I don't like that kind of propositional voting. Our founding fathers intended our form of government to be a Republic. They actually spoke out about the weaknesses and dangers of a democracy.

Your general thesis in this blog is right on. I would prefer, however, to concentrate on what dangers lurk in propositional voting. Think about it! Here in our own community two-thirds of the voters supported John McCain and Norm Coleman. How do you think they'd vote on the question of gay marriage?

Chas

Davey said...

If I had known earlier, I'd have been checking the blog daily for updates. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity of interacting with you and your family. If there were more people in the world with your level-headedness, compassion and understanding, no group or individual would have to fight for rights and children would not be raised to fear variations of human beings.

I still remember Phil's reaction 5 years ago when I came out to him. It was bizarre at the time to have someone jump up, cheer and hug me for something I was told was shameful. I just wanted to say thank you for raising your children the way you and Deb did- if your goal was to help mold tolerant, accepting and altruistic children, you have succeeded.

Sam Stern said...

Davey,
My eyes welled when I read your comment. Thank you. It is probably the second nicest thing anyone has said to me on the subject. The first was the observation by my law school roommate after he came out at the end of our year together. He told me that there was nothing I had said or done during our time together that he had found offensive. Thanks. God bless.
Sam

Danny said...

FANTASTIC! You and columnist Leonard Pitts are the best when it comes to writing on this issue. Davey's comments and your words brought tears to my eyes, too.

My daughter Miriam states that one of the great advantages of the culture here in South Beach is the inherent acceptance of differing sexualities as one's own.

And, Sam, thanks for finally answering my question!

Much love,
Danny

Tessa Donald said...

Marvelous post Sam.