An old column about love and marriage and equalityMay 11, 2014
I told you so. And I’m proud of my neighbor, Judge Chris Piazza, for making it happen. This column originally ran July 3, 2011.
Justice is inevitable
I have known gay people all my life. So have you—and if you think you haven’t, you’re probably wrong. I could no more tell you how many gay people I know than I could tell you how many blue-eyed people I know.
What I mean is that I know that while I may know that this person or that person has blue eyes, if you ask me whether a specific friend of mine has blue eyes, I might or might not be able to tell you. It depends on whether I’ve noticed or not. Because it’s not that big a deal to me if someone has blue eyes.
Now, I can guess what some of you are thinking — you’re thinking that homosexuality is nothing at all like whether or not a person has blue eyes. That blue eyes are a trait passed down by one’s parents while homosexuality is a behavior. And that may be so. I don’t think it is; I think gay people are born not made, but I’m neither prepared to (nor very interested in) arguing the point.
Because my point isn’t that gay people can’t help it, my point is that it doesn’t matter. Someone else’s homosexuality doesn’t affect you anymore than someone else’s blueeyedness does. Someone’s gayness doesn’t really matter to you unless you find yourself attracted to them. And that’s between you and them.
Now when I say I have known gay people all my life, that is simply the truth. But in another way, there were no homosexuals around when I was a kid. I don’t remember there being any homosexuals — except for maybe Liberace — until about 1970 or so. There were confirmed bachelors and sissies—and there were ugly, hurtful names for gay people that you could call people you didn’t like—but there were no gay people.
By the time I got to high school, the gay people started showing up here and there. We were pretty sure Elton John was gay. Maybe David Bowie too. I met a few bonafide gay people—arty guys who, I swear, really wore scarves and berets—when I got involved in theater groups. A kid in my high school class who joined Up With People—I was pretty sure he was gay.
If you ask me how I felt about that back then, I guess the most honest answer I can come up with is I felt vaguely sorry for gay people back then. I thought it must be terrible to be different, especially in such a profoundly elemental way. I thought most of them must be lonely. But not the ones I knew—they seemed more or less as happy (or as unhappy) as anyone else.
I know I was ignorant, but I suppose that was inevitable given the circumstances of my upbring. Most gay people weren’t openly gay back then (most gay people, I would guess, aren’t “openly gay” now any more than most heterosexuals are “openly heterosexual”) and the flamboyant stereotype prevailed as the dominant trope. In the 1970s, Lady Gaga would have been instantly pegged as a homosexual man.
I became a lot more sophisticated in the 1980s. My namesake uncle, a man with whom I’d spent several summers as a child, was the first person I personally knew to die as a result of AIDS. In retrospect, of course he was gay, but until he’d become sick, I’d never given a moment’s thought to his sexuality.
I had already begun writing about HIV and AIDS before my uncle died; though my work I came to know a lot of gay men who disabused me of the stereotypes. They were just guys. I found out a guy I’d played baseball against—who’d no-hit teams I played for twice—and who’d been drafted by the Baltimore Orioles was gay. Teachers I respected were gay. Colleagues were gay.
I didn’t find out that a good friend of mine was gay until I showed up at his hospital bed after he’d attempted suicide. He didn’t want to be gay, he tried so hard all his life not to be gay, but he couldn’t help but be gay. He thought there was something wrong with him.
There was nothing wrong with him.
There’s something wrong with a world that puts these kind of thoughts into the heads of young people who feel the need of a certain kind of comfort. There is something wrong with a state that denies the integrity of the human heart.
I don’t understand why some people feel threatened by what other adults do in private. I don’t understand the ferocity of some folks, or the cynicism of others.
I do know that one of the ways of achieving power over other people is to make them afraid—and to then offer them yourself as the antidote. But gay people are not a threat to you—they can’t unmoor your marriage, they don’t want to steal your children. Trust me, you have nothing to fear from them.
After all, you’ve lived among them you’re whole life. And unless they’ve wanted you to, you haven’t noticed them.
Gay people ought to be free to live and love as they choose; the law should not obstruct a person’s nature (and whether it’s really nature or some Freudian melodrama that produces homosexuals makes no difference—in any case, homosexuality exists, has always existed and it’s not a choice anyone would make).
It goes without saying that there are things we would rather not condone, sad panicked fumblings that are carried out with strangers in semi-public places. Certainly there are sexual practices unworthy of society’s sanction and protection. Not all sex is loving, not all arrangements are supportable.
But whoever and however an adult human being loves is none of the state’s business. And I’d have no problem supporting gay “marriage,” though I understand the semantics can be problematic. Some people have religious convictions that don’t support the concept. Fair enough—these people don’t have to recognize the legitimacy of same-sex marriage; they can tsk and avert their eyes and kick gay folks out of their churches if they so desire. They can shun them; they can behave like insolent children if they wish.
But they also have to follow the law.
And so it is important that the law be clear. Gay people are citizens, as good as any others. They have a right to be treated fairly. To deny the legitimacy of same-sex couplings is to deny nature itself.
I do not mean to scold our governor, for he is a good man and an able politician and it is not always easy to be both those things. But he needs to realize that not all issues are subject to compromise. And that civil rights are not negotiable. History will not be kind to obstructionists and those who attempt to preserve political viability by deferring justice.
And justice is inevitable. Because brown-eyed parents have blue-eyed children all the time.