Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Gay Marriage - From the Perspective of a Mother of a Gay Son

I found out I had a gay son right in the middle of the 2004 presidential campaign. And though there is never an ideal time to learn such news about one of your children, this was in my opinion a pretty bad time. The Bush campaign was going full force in its efforts to rally and fire up its “base” by putting the threat of gay marriage front and center. It was so depressing to see how successful they were at hyping gay marriage to a threat level almost on equal footing as that of a terrorist with a dirty bomb. And it turned out to be one of their most powerful political tools for drawing out their far right evangelical supporters.

What I want to know is how on earth could so many people buy into the argument that allowing gays to marry would destroy their own marriage and family? I just could not understand why more people were not asking the obvious questions: how will it destroy my marriage and how will it hurt my family? But I guess there were enough people willing to accept the argument at face value with no questions asked because here we are today with George Bush as our president for a second term.

I still firmly believe that most Americans are a fair and kind hearted people. It is the only thing that keeps me going at times like these. With that said, I would like to make my argument for gay marriage, admittedly from a very subjective and at times selfish perspective, that of a mom who has a gay son.

Let’s get the selfish part out of the way first. I have 3 children; some still in their teens and some in their 20-somethings. As any parent with teenagers at home knows, these years are a minefield to navigate. The worry level is set at high and every emotion, good and bad, during this time can be described in superlatives. During some of the more tumultuous and worrisome periods, I project myself into the future and imagine my kids all grown up and functioning as fine, upstanding, moral, independent, contributing members of society. I would be lying if I said that I don’t assume that some, if not all of my children will one day get married. Imagining my children in happy, stable, and fulfilling relationships gives me such joy and peace of mind. And why not, the term settle down did not just appear out of thin air. I would venture to say that many a parent breathes a sigh of relief when their children enter into this rite of passage. Taking on the responsibilities and commitments of marriage is very stabilizing, very settling, and very healthy, emotionally and physically.

By denying one of my children the opportunity to marry, the government is not treating my 3 children equally and is singling out my son by denying him the same rights the other 2 will enjoy. They are also denying me and every other parent of a gay child all of the benefits that we would experience from our child’s marriage. I can never be a mother-in-law to his spouse, I can never be a grandmother, I will always feel deep sadness and regret that my son will be denied the contentment and happiness that comes with committing to marriage and having a family of his own, I can never stop worrying about HIV and AIDS because he will not be held to the same monogamous commitments that his married heterosexual counterparts will be held to, I can never stop worrying that he will always be more vulnerable and at more of a financial disadvantage because he is denied the legal protections and benefits that married couples enjoy. And I will always know that society has deemed my son a second class citizen because of whom he chooses to love.

I would also make the argument that society stands to lose too, but I will let Andrew Sullivan do part of it for me. From his essay, Unveiled, the case against same-sex marriage crumbles:

In Denmark, where de facto gay marriage has existed for some time, the rate of marriage among gays is far lower than among straights, but, perhaps as a result, the gay divorce rate is just over one-fifth that of heterosexuals. And, during the first six years in which gay marriage was legal, scholar Darren Spedale has found, the rate of straight marriages rose 10 percent, and the rate of straight divorces decreased by 12 percent. In the only country where we have real data on the impact of gay marriage, the net result has clearly been a conservative one.

When you think about it, this makes sense. Within gay subculture, marriage would not be taken for granted. It's likely to attract older, more mainstream gay couples, its stabilizing ripples spreading through both the subculture and the wider society. Because such marriages would integrate a long-isolated group of people into the world of love and family, they would also help heal the psychic wounds that scar so many gay people and their families. Far from weakening heterosexual marriage, gay marriage would, I bet, help strengthen it, as the culture of marriage finally embraces all citizens. How sad that some conservatives still cannot see that. How encouraging that, in such a short time, so many others have begun to understand.

Another reason I think gay marriage would actually benefit traditional marriage and the American family is that there would be less pressure for gay men and women to try to conform to society’s view of normal by entering into sham marriages. Many of these marriages result in failure and among the casualties of those failed marriages are children. I never realized how devastating or prevalent this was until I started attending PFLAG meetings. I was shocked at the toll it takes on the children from these failed marriages. Their families are shattered and their lives are shattered. Their world as they thought they knew it is gone. It is a tragedy for which we as a society can take some blame.

I would also argue that legalizing gay marriage would be beneficial to the black community where homophobia is intense and often results in something called living on the down low”. The need to appear straight and avoid the stigma of homosexuality is so intense that many black men are secretly having sex with other men while married or in relationships with girlfriends. This practice has been blamed for the rising number of HIV infections among more women, more college students and people over age 50. If we legalize gay marriage, eventually we might be able to dilute this powerful stigma that drives so many gays to live double lives that endanger so many innocent people and tear apart so many families.

I know that for many people opposition to gay marriage boils down to their discomfort with the idea of gay sex. Understandable. But are these people any more comfortable thinking about their preacher and his wife having sex or god forbid their parents having sex? There are lots of things in life that are not easy to think about, but discomfort is not reason enough to deny a whole group of people the same rights that we take for granted and enjoy.

And then there are those people who are opposed to gay marriage on the basis of their own religious beliefs about homosexuality. I completely respect their right to believe what they believe. That is what our country is all about, freedom to believe what you want to believe. Heck the Catholic Church, my own former church is very dogmatic in their belief that homosexual sex and thus homosexual marriage is wrong. Again, I say fine, don’t sanction gay marriages. That is what makes our country so beautiful. Churches are free to preach whatever they want about homosexuality and back it up in practice. People are free to believe that homosexuality and everything that goes with it is wrong. But that is where it should stop. People are not free to demand legislation that denies equal rights to an entire group of people because their religion has deemed it wrong. Our laws must fall within the parameters set forth by the constitution, not the bible and not the church. Everyone should be treated equally regardless of who they choose to love and regardless of who they choose to marry. Share

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