Photo Credit: Gardner Edmunds
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
We were sitting at a small table near the window of a bustling indian restaurant, my mother, my brother and I. It had been just over a year since I had told my parents that my brother was gay. The revelation was like approaching the edge of an enormous waterfall… desperate attempts to paddle backward, away from the edge, the mounting fear of what would happen… and the fall. It had been a year of resistance, free-falling, drowning, and fighting. I looked at my brother, a person I have loved ferociously since he was born, a boy I felt inexplicably bonded to by unseen strings. I saw a young man I adored for his humor, his gorgeous smile, his great dance moves, his peaceful wisdom, his creative spirit, his enormous generosity, his ability to make every person he is with feel truly seen. I felt there was nothing I would not do for my brother. Sitting there, with our mother, whose love and pride for her son emanated from her in almost palpable waves, we ate our navrattan korma and samosas. The subject of marriage and family somehow invaded our pleasant bubble.
And then I bravely told my brother.
My belief came thickly wrapped with true regret and remorse, as if it could insulate him from receiving the cold, hard center. I did not believe gay people should be allowed to marry. I saw the sharp, focused pain in his eyes, but he remained still in his seat, his eyes luminous with my rejection. I looked away, unable to bear his sadness. I looked at my mother, who sat quietly, not quite ready to voice her agreement with me, but not disagreeing either.
I felt sad for him, and I felt the loss for him… the loss of his future spouse, the loss of the family life I was in the midst of building with the love of my life.
I remembered him as a baby…his sparkling, joyful eyes, his dimpled knees, his fat cheeks. It was a sharp undoing… a death. The knowing that he would never have a son or daughter with his tenderness and infectious smile. The situation was terribly painful, and I gulped back some ice water, trying to swallow my need to weep for our family situation. Disbelief that this was really happening… that we were really being asked to deal with such an awful dilemma, crept up my throat. It often did, when we talked about my brother being gay. A sort of disconnect, that kind of out-of-body feeling that comes from true desperation, the need to escape even being.
I tried to let my love for him radiate through my presence, I wanted him to feel it. I tried to gather it up in a huge, tight ball and coat him in it. I wanted him to feel my love with same aching presence as I did. To know that I would give my life for him, my love was that great. I wanted him to understand that this one, small difference of opinion would not affect our relationship. We were stronger than that. It would not influence our ability to be a support for each other. We would overcome it, transcend it.
It need not define us.
The trouble was, my sense of morality, my belief…was bigger than just one sister and one brother. I knew that one must not allow the pain of our situation cloud the greater picture of what is right and what is wrong. My belief was Global. Natural. Social. And in support of God. My love for Gardner was bigger than I was. But I must stand in protection of the greater good.
Tradition and family and children and GOD HIMSELF must be held in protection.
If I were to falter, to waver in my faith and love of Jesus Christ himself, to acquiesce to this painful moment, I would crumble into a million pieces and blow away. If I conceded on this moral stance, if I overlooked the fact that God created MAN and WOMAN, if I turned a blind eye to scripture, if I denied the reality that sex was ultimately designed for procreation and homosexual sex is therefore not supportive of a natural order…
I may as well dissolve all of my beliefs. I may as well set fire to all that I knew to be true, and in turn, my very identity would turn to ash.
It was for these very good reasons that I sat at that table in 2005 and admitted to a brother that I adored that I could not support his right to marry another man. Or have children. I had to take a stand. For God. For my children. For my faith.
For my SELF.
My identity was 100% invested as a person who was strong enough to suffer any amount of pressure and pain from outside sources, as long as I was being true to my God, and therefore honoring my own values.
I left this agonizing night throbbing in pain. I was completely absorbed by the ache in my heart. Despite carefully avoiding his eyes, I could still feel the grief radiating from my brother. From my mother. We were drowning at the bottom of the waterfall, unable to find the surface, take a breath. Back at the house, I cradled my sweet infant daughter and wept. She fed, and I could no longer hold in the flood of emotion. The toll on my spirit was undefinable. Taking a stand for what I believe in was at great cost to my mental, emotional, and physical body.
I did it not because I was cruel or flippant or uncaring. I did it not because I was incapable of love. I did it because it was the only way I felt I could maintain my moral integrity.
My moral integrity defines me. There is no characteristic, no action, no feeling more important. I have been driven by this one identifying principle my entire life. I could not sacrifice that sense of integrity, it makes me whole and gives meaning to each breath I take .
1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished
3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition
I was consumed by my desire for him to validate my love for him, feel my intent, and understand my inability to offer him more. I truly did believe that if he had as much love and respect for me as I did for him, he would not ask this of me. He would not ask me to sacrifice my moral integrity for him.
I could see his pain. I could feel his pain.
Could he see mine?
Could he tell how much it hurt me, to see him suffering?
Could he see how this wasn’t easy for me?
The only way out of the mess was to simply agree to disagree. Agree to share a relationship of love and respect and kindness. I would support him in every way that I could, but he would not ask me to compromise myself. Because that is not what love is. Mutual love requires that we both offer up what we can, and respect the places that we can’t. I wanted him to love me as much as I loved him.
And he did.
As pure as I believed my offering of love was for my brother, as impossible as the situation seemed to me, as visceral and real as it pained me to maintain my integrity, there was one element that prevailed. An element that spoiled the whole exchange. Unbeknownst to me, it tainted my offering of love.
I was being selfish. Self-centered. Self-protective.
I was blinded by my very real need to preserve my sense of self. I was demanding that my brother see my dilemma, my pain, my guilt, my intent. And in all that, I did not see him.
My, my, my.
I was failing to recognize this selfishness, because I was so consumed by the threatening request to examine my beliefs. It is not an easy or comfortable undertaking, and I clearly spent a good amount of time insulating myself from the true discomfort that comes from doing an autopsy on my own moral character. What I was failing to recognize, in my fear, is the fallibility of some moral choices. I was so caught up in my own fear and hurt, I was unable to clearly see that some moral choices can safely evolve.
These evolutions end up magnifying the principles that I care most about. Love, charity, generosity, forgiveness, respect. There are countless examples in history of decisions and choices made with moral intent that have soften and changed and evolved for the greater good over time. While the intent may not be filled with malice, some moral choices are driven by fear rather than love.
The result is that instead of building upon the good and magnificent in human nature, creating more unity and peace in the world, highlighting beauty and divinity that exists in every person, these moral stands disintegrate and divide. They cause undue pain and anguish in our fellow human beings. The kinds of choices in the name of God and morality that result in families disowning their children, cruelty and bullying… they need to be examined. When children are taking their own life at the hands of our moral integrity, it is time that we ask ourselves if this is not unlike other dark points in history that we now look upon with regret and shame.
People against gay marriage take enormous offense to the comparison of gay rights to the civil rights movement. They can’t stand the correlation that is made between the discrimination and bigotry imposed on black people and the treatment of gay people today. I was one of those people. In that restaurant, with the sting of my morality shining bright in his eyes, by brother calmly and lovingly tried to make these associations for me.
They fell on deaf ears.
Words like “discriminate” and “bigot” and “prejudice” are words filled with hate and a long history of cruelty. It was unbearable for me to hear him say these words, when I was defending my integrity. And I loved him. There is no room for love and prejudice in the same sentence. In the same room. So, there was no way that he deserved to be using those words with me.
The fact that it was intolerable to me did not make it less true.
The similarity lies in how it makes people feel, and in turn the climate of acceptance and love it creates for people.
Black people had a seat on the bus. They were allowed to ride… so why did they care where we made them sit? (Why can’t they be happy with civil unions?)
Black children had schools. So why did they want to go to the same school as the white children? (It’s not like we don’t love you. We just can’t have your family visible to my family.)
Black people were provided a place to go to the bathroom. What was the big deal in making them go somewhere outside the home they worked in? (Fine. Get married. But not in my state!)
They were loved and trusted and cared for and provided for. I am sure that they were genuinely loved by some of the white people in their lives, their employers, their fellow christians.
But it didn’t matter.
Nothing at all mattered, when they were still being treated as second class citizens. Drinking out of the same drinking fountain is not a matter of law, it’s a matter of love. Of equality. The similarity lies in the message,
“There is something about you that is not as deserving.”
When we are willing to treat a whole group of our fellow citizens with this mindset, we are not only withholding something precious and respectful from them, we are creating a social climate where people feel more justified in participating in unjustifiable acts.
I am a loving sister, a person so sensitive I would never, ever dream of saying terrible, hateful things to anyone. But I was standing with a group of people, who to this day are innocently defending their position with things like:
“I have never, ever had feelings of hate, bigotry or discrimination against anyone homosexual, and I honestly don’t know many people that do. Although I’m sure they are out there, which is really sad,”
“ I don’t condone bullying ever, on either side of this issue. Love and understanding is the best in all cases.”
Just like me in that restaurant, these well-meaning people are simply not examining reality. We condone hate, bigotry, and discrimination when we are willing to participate in the creation of second class citizens in our country. It matters not what your intent is. Your love. What matters, is your participation in creating a superior class, ranking people’s worthiness, placing your self above others in the eyes of the law.
There are some things that we can not agree to disagree upon. And basic human rights should be one of those. We do not “agree to disagree” on matters of justice, of equality, of freedom, of safety, of dignity and respect for every human being born on this earth.
To me, at that restaraunt, marriage was the final piece of my conviction I would not allow my brother to take. I had come so far, but I had to draw the line. And I wanted him to respect that. But I had it backwards. To achieve mutual respect, there must be equality first. Always. There are not enough loving acts to overcome the indignity of unequal human rights.
It is the first and most crucial piece we must hand over.
I know that most of the people that oppose gay marriage are kind, caring people. They wouldn’t dream of hurting someone. They wouldn’t dream of using hate speech or violence. They are the people that would give the shirt off their backs, offer a hug when it was warranted, be the first in line to volunteer help when it was needed … gay or straight. I know this, because I was that person.
My moral integrity was in fact, in grave danger. Because I was willing to look my brother in the eye and communicate to him that he was a second class citizen. A person undeserving of something I held sacred and precious.
Marriage was a right I would afford to anyone at all, with any motive, as long as it were two people with the proper body parts.
I was willing to condone the mistreatment of gay people, by drawing a clear, bright line between us, that seperated us as dignified, and undignified, and in the name of Jesus Christ …whom would never do such a thing. I did it for selfish reasons. Because I was too scared to dissect my own moral character, and find that there were cancerous pieces that needed discarding.
In the end, I left my religion. As did my mother, father and married brother. This looks like an awesome step in solidarity. This looks like we were willing to toss our moral integrity into a blender, and flip the switch. But I can assure you, walking away from one’s religious beliefs, culture, and family security is not that simple.
It is also entirely possible to support the LBGT community and maintain your faith within your religious practice. It will not shatter you, it is a step toward a true practice of Christ-like acceptance. Our moral integrity is compromised when we confiscate from others that which is not ours to take. We can practice our religions, apply our moral standards, draw firm lines around what is acceptable, and unacceptable. Each of us can decide if homosexuality is a sin, a choice, an abomination. We can preach it to our children, our neighbors, from the pulpit of our churches. But we can not and should not willingly create a country that does not serve the rights of all. The LGBT community deserves dignity, respect, and equality because they are human beings, created equal.
The rest is a matter of opinion, and we can agree to disagree.