When I graduated college, my grandmother gave me a Bible. In it, she had placed a typed letter expressing her love for me and concern for my eternal soul.
You see, I am gay. My grandmother is an evangelical Christian. And she made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she believed I was going to hell for being gay.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that incident since news broke yesterday that Congressman Glenn Thompson, a Republican from Pennsylvania, voted against the Respect for Marriage Act three days before attending his gay son’s wedding. His son is a better man than I. After my grandmother gave me the Bible, I publicly ridiculed her on Facebook, leading to a massive family row. She wouldn’t have been welcome back in my zip code, let alone at my wedding.
I have written before about disowning my family because of our political disagreements. I have also written about reconciling with them after I realized we are more than our politics. I have been on both sides of this coin — during the irreconcilable differences and the reconciliation — and I can tell you that it is much more pleasant on this side.
And yet, I can’t imagine having someone who doesn’t support my union celebrating with me. Leaving aside the political arguments for a minute, the basic fact that you oppose my nuptials is enough to disqualify you. I don’t want to hold my breath when the preacher says “speak now.”
For many LGBT people, this is a constant dilemma. How far should we integrate our disapproving relatives into our lives? My grandmother loves me, of that I have no doubt. I have no problem being around her and enjoy her company. But would I want her there if I knew she was working against my very right to marry?
I don’t know what is in Glenn Thompson’s heart. “This bill was nothing more than an election-year messaging stunt for Democrats in Congress who have failed to address historic inflation and out-of-control prices at gas pumps and grocery stores,” Thompson’s press secretary said in a statement after the vote. Yesterday, though, she released another statement saying that “Congressman and Mrs Thompson were thrilled to attend and celebrate their son’s marriage on Friday night as he began this new chapter in his life. The Thompsons are very happy to welcome their new son-in-law into their family.”
Is his son’s wedding a messaging stunt or a thrilling new chapter, then? The reality is that Thompson probably thinks he can square this circle. The Respect for Marriage Act codifies, as much as it can, Obergefell v Hodges, the Supreme Court case which found a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Voting against it was, strictly speaking, not a vote against equal marriage because equal marriage is (for now) the law of the land.
That could change with this rogue and despotic Supreme Court and the rising Republican autocracy, though. RFMA, therefore, acts as a backstop. That’s why it was up for a vote in the first place. Thompson isn’t dumb. He knows this. And he still voted against securing his son’s equality.
After all, that’s what this is truly about: equality. Same-sex marriage is not some special set of rights. It is not, as Republican Senator Marco Rubio said last week, “a stupid waste of time.” It is about ensuring that Americans who wish to marry a spouse of the same sex are treated equally before the law to as those who would marry a spouse of the opposite sex. This is about basic respect for the equality of gay citizens, something achieved under Obergefell but which is now under threat from the very party calling protecting that equality a “stunt” and a “waste of time.”
It’s one thing to hear that come from elected officials with a political ax to grind. It’s another thing to hear it coming from your own father or your own grandmother. My grandmother coming into my house to force her beliefs on me on my graduation day was painful not primarily because of what that letter said — she’s not the first person to tell me I’m going to hell, and her views were not exactly a secret to me — but because she made my day about her and her views. She put her opinions above her respect for me.
She is perfectly entitled to those opinions, by the way. I’m not here to vilify her or change her mind or yours about the morality of homosexuality. To be perfectly honest, I don’t much care what you or her or anyone else thinks about my morality; that’s between me and God. As my grandmother and I discussed in later years as we walked the road of reconciliation, my hurt arose due to the when and where she chose to share them — and the fact that she did not view me as fully deserving of legal equality.
Republicans may not like it, but we live in a pluralistic society. There is no state religion, at least not yet. I can and do respect people with orthodox religious views. I even enjoy their company. I count some as friends, and I love some as family.
That road must go both ways, though. The bare minimum is acknowledging equality. Thompson probably feels good about himself because he loves his son, but he’s doing actual harm and insulting his son by opposing his right to marry (or, if you’re being generous, opposing protecting his right to marry) while insisting he is happy about it.
The cognitive dissonance is impressive. In an audio clip of his wedding speech leaked to Buzzfeed today, Thompson said that as a parent he always hoped and prayed his sons would “find that one true love so that they have the opportunity to experience that: Someone to grow old with… We love it when they find their one true love, especially when they become a part of our families then. That’s what we’re rooting for.”
Is it, though? Glenn Thompson is hardly a spectator here. He is a player in the major leagues, and last week he scored against us. You cannot love gay people and think we are unequal. You may have your own personal morality, but you must also respect us and ours. That means accepting our own free will while also understanding that for us to love one another, we must do so on an equal footing.
You cannot oppose legal gay marriage and support and love gay people. If you oppose my equality, you oppose me. That is not a “messaging stunt,” nor is it “a stupid waste of time.” It’s the bare minimum. Straight allies need to stand up and be counted — or else all their “rooting for” us means as little as his son’s equality apparently means to Glenn Thompson.