I was walking around Lake Morton with my wife, daughter, and little boy Wednesday evening when we came across a new political yard sign: “Yes on 2: One man, one woman,” it read. It’s in a very prominent location, and you can’t miss it. (In fact, since I first saw it, someone has defaced the sign. I want to make it clear that nothing I write here endorses that type of behavior. It’s important that we respect other people’s rights and dignity even if they seek to deny rights and dignity to others.)
Amendment 2 would change the Florida constitution to ban not just gay marriage and civil unions, but any possible government recognition of the meaningfulness of homosexual relationships. It would reduce them all in perpetuity to one-night stands in the eyes of the law. Here’s the relevant text: “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.” Note particularly the part in bold. Organizers say that won’t keep gay citizens from losing health care and other benefits provided through their partners’ employers. But I don’t trust them because their campaign for this amendment reeks of intellectual dishonesty and moral cowardice.
If the (mostly) religious leaders behind this amendment – like Jay Dennis at First Baptist Chuch at the Mall – were honest and serious about protecting the institution of marriage, they would be attacking legal divorce. I would disagree with them, but I would respect their sincerity. However, they know very well that such efforts would explode in their face, politically. They know this would erode their claims to moral power with the public at large. And it would also harm them with their congregations, which are, of course, full of divorcees, because our society is full of divorce. That’s the definition of moral cowardice. Ask yourself, before you deny gay people the chance to marry or engage in any other state-sanctioned civil relationship, if you would pull the lever to restrict your ability to end your own marriage.
In fact, this amendment has nothing to do with protecting marriage. It has everything to do with ensuring that gay relationships remain somehow abnormal and that gay people remain abstractions for some shrinking portion of the public to revile. At the very least, supporters of this amendment should produce campaign signs and other material that don’t lie about their intentions: “Vote Yes on 2: No state recognition of gay relationships.” That would be sort of honorable, if bigoted.
But I want to return to that sign and my neighborhood for a moment. I’m not sure anyone actually lives in the house where it stands. It’s a stately lakefront home, but the grass is sort of untended, and the condition of the house itself – when you stop and look at it – suggests neglect.
If I had the chance to meet whoever put the sign there, I would invite him or her to walk about a half-mile down the road to another home. It belongs to two of my neighbors and good friends, who happen to be homosexual women. A visitor to their home is welcomed by the intimate aesthetic of a classic Lake Morton bungalow. There’s an immaculate front yard – countoured by trimmed bushes and flower beds – that seems to flow seamlessly into an open air front porch. If it’s Christmas, there’s a Santa Claus or a reindeer on display. If it’s Halloween, fake spider webs and goofy witch statues greet you. Today, if you stopped by today, you’d see a large American flag mounted from the roof line.
If you’re a friend, they’ll invite you to the backyard, which they spent hours and hours crafting into a sort of outdoor living room, with a deck and tiny fountain and self-laid pavers and a tiki bar they built from scratch. And inside, man, it’s one giant homage to the cliches of gay taste and decorating skill.
In short, there are larger homes in Lakeland, but none I’d be prouder to live in. It is the product of professional success – they’re in the clothing design business together – and personal love -of years spent sweating and bickering and pouring themselves into their property and each other. This is the defintion of marriage.
I challenge the Lake Morton homeowner or Jay Dennis or anyone else who would vote for this amendment in the comfort of the anonymous voting booth to tell my friends to their face in their front yard that their love and commitment is a threat to someone else’s marriage. Spit on their edging. Drop trash on their flowers. Vandalize their home. That’s what you are doing with this amendment. It’s an act of moral vandalism. Supporters of this amendment want me to declare that my friends’ undeclared marriage is an abomination. That my wife and I help society, while my friends harm it. No damn way.
While we’re at it, I’d take amendment supporters to meet the two gay men with whom I work who just got married (not to each other) in San Francisco. I’d tell them about the mini-reception we held for one of them. They would have heard the story of the proposal, how my friend pulled out a ring during a dinner date and placed it on the table. And how his shy husband-to-be looked at it for an hour, saying nothing. “Will you marry me?” my friend asked finally. “Of course,” his husband answered. Tell them, to their face, that the delightful terror that accompanies real love and commitment belongs only to heterosexuals, that it’s a threat to society when homosexuals feel it. I dare you.
And I’d take that homeowner to meet the women who serve with me on a parent board for one my children’s schools, who host our meetings and help plan and carry out our fundraisers. Believe me, they do more work than I do. One of them sweated all day with me recently at a car wash, herding the kids and managing the flow of vehicles. There’s only four of us on the board, meaning an awful lot of social fabric-upholding heterosexuals are doing much less.
Organizers of this amendment would have you believe that gay marriage is a threat to children, that gay parents damage…something. Again, tell it to their daughter’s face. Tell her that her heavily involved parents are a threat to her. Convince her that her family has no more meaning than an encounter at “Pulse” or “Molly’s”.
It takes zero courage to raise a pitchfork against an abstraction. I hope that anyone who is considering voting for this obscenity will take with them into their precinct a picture of the real people they would spit on in doing so. As I said in a different post, beliefs have consequences. For real human beings.
Sex makes up such a tiny sliver of any marriage. (Some slivers are tinier than others, but that’s for another post.) The remainder of the vast expanse of a shared life is filled with washing dishes, making the bed, figuring out what to eat, gossiping, fretting over the behavior of the children, running errands, griping about co-workers, sitting on the porch drinking, worshiping in church, learning to live with each other’s irritating habits, fighting over money, making up, and the millions of other particles of living from which families construct themselves every day. Tell me the Jesus Christ of the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes would condemn the massive act of love and faith it takes to embark on that. Again, no damn way.
None of the people I’ve written about here know I’m writing this. I didn’t ask for their permission. They certainly didn’t ask me to do it on their behalf. And I hope they’ll forgive me if I embarrass them. But this is a fundamental question of human dignity, involving the real lives of thousands, if not millions, of real Floridians. I think the amendment will fail. I think there are enough fair-minded, thoughtful people in this state to reject it. If you are one of them, join the battle.
But even if this passes, supporters of this amendment have already lost the war. And I think they know it. Over and over again, polls show their children and grandchildren, even those in conservative churches, realize that gay citizens are no better or worse than anyone else. One day, if necessary, those children and grandchildren will undo what some of their parents and grandparents did. And they’ll ask, “Grandma, what exactly you were thinking when you humiliated my friends?” How will you answer?