[Part 2 of a two-parter. Parental gut-check (1) here.]
It’s not just a fight to preserve our legal right to marriage; it’s not just that domestic partnership will do okay ’til we get this all fixed up in another five or ten years. Straight ally folks keep telling me that, and I appreciate the good cheer. Hell, my sweetie tells me that. She says, “The same people who love or hate us on November 3rd will love or hate us on November 5th, regardless of whether or not we’re legally recognized as a family.” “Two steps forward, one step back,” all that. But I’ve read too much from people in Massechusetts and Canada, reports that confirm my suspicion that equal legal recognition for same-sex partnerships does have a social and cultural impact. It does speed the process by which a group previously discriminated against becomes seen as worthy, equal, not wrong.
We don’t even need to limit the inquiry to Massechusetts and Canada. We could just ask any oldster who lived in the Jim Crow South, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Birmingham, Alabama, before that righteous bunch of people rose up and said NO. No more. And they made personal sacrifice on an order that ought to inspire all of us way past doing without this or that lattÃ©.
One of the finest first person narrative accounts of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s (Howell Rains’ My Soul is Rested) takes its title from a telling interchange quoted by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his March 25, 1965 speech “Our God is Marching On!” He is speaking of the third legendary march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Sister Pollard said a seventy-year-old Negro woman who lived in this community during the bus boycott and one day, she was asked while walking if she didn’t want to ride. And when she answered, “No,” the person said, “Well, aren’t you tired?” And with her ungrammatical profundity, she said, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” (Yes, sir. All right) And in a real sense this afternoon, we can say that our feet are tired, (Yes, sir) but our souls are rested.
That I am inspired by Dr. King, even when others may use his words to different ends in California churches these days, is but one of the hundred ironies drenching this Proposition 8 battle.
So back I come to my restless soul. The thing that pains me so much about the delay of justice in California– the very real possibility that, if everyone reading this essay rant right now, and everyone they know, and everyone they know doesn’t do something, and fast, we’ll lose this the thing that pains me is that it looks like I might not have been able to cheat homophobia after all. When the California Supreme Court handed down their ruling, I was taken aback by their ethical clarity, essentially, their very conservative reading of the state’s equal protection clause and the role of the judiciary to protect the individual rights of the minority from the whims of the majority. Never before this ruling did I think that my children might grow up with substantially less hatred, derision, and social approbation than I all along feared they would. We had been raising them, after all, to develop that precarious paradox: open heart, thick skin. Vast understanding of the limitations of others’ thoughts about: well, about them. Quietly, insistently equipping them with Things to Say, Ways to Cope.
After the court’s ruling, the thought had flickered that maybe, by the time they reach their third grade years – a point at which, so far as I can tell, homophobic taunts start to appear more commonly on schoolyards – the world immediately surrounding them might have lept to a higher plateau. One of those dramatic, yet utterly plausable evolutionary leaps. The hundredth monkey thing. The tipping point. And my kids would be safe.
In my mind, the fear and loathing of me, therefore my family, therefore my children, is a heavy, fast train. Before the tides turned and the No on 8 side inched behind (from just an inch ahead), I pictured not just me, but all of us – parents like me, our family, our friends at the critical junction, pulling with all our might at an old-fashioned lever on a railroad switch. I saw us redirecting that train away from my children, and the children like them. The train would switch tracks and hurtle past us, the breeze nearly knocking us over, and we’d look at each other and be frightened for the close call, and elated to have our lives back. The train would continue on, back whence it came.
So the thought of us losing this battle, being not just back where we were before the Supreme Court ruling, with our family officially separate and unequal, but in a new landscape, with the forces of fear and loathing emboldened? Not even a learned, conservative state supreme court will have been able to hold sway, not an equally protective constitution, nor the concerted efforts of much — but not all! — of my entire community. Well. You can see how that wracks my gut. It wracks that part of me that, as a parent, would do absolutely anything to protect my children. For whatever reason, last Tuesday it hit me that I was facing a threat to my children’s well-being that I couldn’t control, and can barely even influence. I’m still early enough in my parenthood to be knocked off balance by that.
My sister knows this battle, and it’s not an easy one.
When I think of her, I know I am blessed with my children in the first place. And I am blessed that, as of now (knock wood), they are healthy. If they have to develop thicker skins than I wanted, while they wait (and we all work our @sses off) for a more just state and a more just nation, so be it. They will have a deeper means by which to empathize with others, which is the only noticable difference found between kids raised in hetero families and those raised in queer ones. (Really? Really.)
I try now to think of these things, and think that, as so many keep reminding me, the love of my children for me, like mine of them, can never be legislated out of existence. ‘Til a week from Tuesday, though, I’m going to do everything I can — shy of ignoring the bright bright light emanating from my son and my daughter — to change the course of that train.
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[next in this marraige equality series: Listen, better angel]