Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fully Human

Most Mohos have had the demoralizing, often bitter, experience of being told that they are broken, deficient, unworthy, sick, corrupted, and all manner of evil speaking that could be directed to a person. Whether intentional, reckless or thoughtless, these words and actions dehumanize people. Leaders and members of the church who say these kinds of things, whether direct or subtle, chip away at the humanity of their gay brothers and sisters.
I am here to say that I am fully human. I am gay and I am fully human. I am gay and I am happy about that. Sure, I feel broken sometimes, but not because I'm gay. I feel deficient sometimes, but not because I'm gay. My worthiness and my worth as a person have nothing to do with the fact that I am gay. In fact, as I began to reject the notion that being gay someone limited me as a person (a notion that never made sense to me but one I tried very hard to make work because I was a good, obedient Mormon boy), I began to understand how being gay makes me a more complete person. Maybe it's different for other people. But I know what's true for me. And I know that I'm not alone in feeling this way.
Several church leaders and other luminaries, most notably Dallin Oaks, have made the valiant effort to get people in the church not to use the word "gay" in certain ways because they they believe "gayness" is a limiting factor, a faulty viewpoint. This has mostly worked among the majority of active Mormon churchgoers. It has produced contorted language and acronyms like SSA and SGA. But this isn't about semantics. There is a psychological and emotional impact from this.
This is how it works... When you say "gay people" it means you should whisper the word "gay" and look around to make sure no one heard you. If a faithful church member is having a conversation in which someone identifies himself or herself with "I'm gay" or refers to another person as "gay" they feel duty-bound to correct them, or at least remind themselves and those who they presume agree with this mindset that "gay" is a lifestyle choice, an act of defiance, an unnatural delusion or an abomination that will ruin civilization.
This dehumanizing mindset rests atop a deep foundation. That foundation has been strengthened by no less than Spencer Kimball (Miracle of Forgiveness), Bruce McConkie (Mormon Doctrine, et al) and Boyd Packer (To the One, For Young Men Only). Brigham Young also helped to build this firm foundation of misunderstanding and willful ignorance about what it means to be gay. For many Mormons, gay people are doctrinal irritants and cultural anomalies. They simply can't fathom how a gay person in a gay relationship could ever be fully acceptable in the church.
It's hard to fight a battle against real people who are your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors. But it's not impossible to make that happen. The key is always to devalue, dehumanize, delegitimize, demean. Then you can destroy. And if it goes really well, the people doing the destroying don't even know that's what they're doing. With only a few exceptions, I don't see the leaders or the followers as evil people bent on destruction. They are sincere. They are basically good people trying to find meaning in life. But they have been motivated by fear, misinformation and an adherence to dogma that doesn't have a place for gay people in "The Plan."
I fear that the social polarization regarding gay marriage has led to a deepening polarization regarding the humanity of gay people in general. It reminds me of Mark Twain's "War Prayer." The excerpt below has chilling application given the vitriol we have heard the past 12 years since the church's involvement in the gay marriage debate began in Hawaii in 1998.
"[F]or our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."
I can only hope that the leaders and members of the church listen to their gay family and friends and see them as full, happy human beings with as much to contribute to this world as anyone else. I hope they can find their way out of the mindset in which dogma trumps love. This isn't a war. Gay people aren't "a moral issue." This is about people.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gay Marriage is Advanced Citizenship

“America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight.” So spoke the fictional President Andrew Shepherd in the film the American President. Those words seem especially fitting today following the ruling by Judge Vaughn R. Walker in the Prop 8 case more formally known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger
Just like any time when society awakes (or is roused from a self-induced slumber) to the need for change to further realize the interwoven dreams of equality, the rule of law, human dignity, the pursuit of happiness, liberty and of life worth living, the debate over gay marriage in the American public sphere has been messy. And it’s going to stay at least a bit messy for a while. But what happened today is akin to cleaning up one room in a cluttered house. 
There’s a lot of work to do on the rest of the house, and there will probably always be that one space---we’ll call it a closet---that stays messy when it comes to gay marriage, gay rights and the place gay people occupy in society. But by holding a lengthy trial with hours of testimony from many witnesses, Judge Walker provided a sorely needed forum for real people to show how their real lives are affected by the reality of inequality and injustice. He also allowed argument and testimony from those who, mostly out of fear or sheer irrationality, oppose the rights of gay people to be full participating members of American society. And make no mistake, though the most vocal opponents of gay marriage couch their statements and actions in terms of the “dangers” of expanding the definition of “traditional marriage,” those who have put their weight behind Prop 8 and its siblings are members of a dysfunctional “family” of malcontents bent on limiting the scope of loving relationships between members of the larger human family.
Judge Walker’s conclusion sounds the final chords of masterful legal decision: “Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license.  Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.  Because California has no interest in discriminating  against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”
While he granted a motion by the latter group to forbid live coverage of the proceedings, Judge Walker did make a video recording, which I hope he will release to the public at an appropriate time now that the trial is over and the facts are established on the record, subject to all the rules and process as in any other case. It will be very hard for even the most fearful or bigoted or merely uncertain person to deny the power of the testimony in the trial---both the enlightening and the shadowy. 
This is not just a legal decision, though it certainly has impacts on the law. This is not just a move in one direction in a contentious public policy debate, though it undoubtedly refines that debate. This is our representative democracy at work, doing what the Founders and Framers of our nation hoped it would do: advance the cause of freedom, establish justice, secure the blessings of liberty for all its people, and perfect our Union.
As an American, I am proud today. Proud that the most important (and most sometimes vexing) of our ideals as a people have been vindicated, and that collectively we have lived up to the promise of America---at least for a day. I’m proud to be able to show up to our grand school of the public square to learn and struggle through advanced citizenship. And I’m proud that my humanity and that of gay people throughout this land of ours has been so powerfully recognized, and linked so eloquently with the humanity of us all.