by Neal Lemery
“We holds these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” — the Declaration of Independence.
Treating people the same; equal opportunity; equal protection; one man, one vote.
Equality is in the Constitution; it is a paraphrasing of the Golden Rule. We like to think our government works this way, that our community lives this way. It is not just a principle of law, but a basic essence of our culture. It is a personal moral tenet.
Our spiritual saviors and our holy scriptures call us to not just give lip service, but to live this ideal of equality, as the word of God, divinely inspired.
We are confronted by reality, however. The reality of poverty, of discrimination, of
disparity among classes, races, genders, ages, sexual orientation, the powerful, and the powerless is here. Every day, we reap the harvest of anger, of hopelessness, and fear. Bigotry and fear are big in our culture. Most of the time, we sidestep these, and move away into easier issues.
“Them” and “us”. It is neat, and tidy, and insidiously easy to teach. The dichotomy is the instigator of war, and the fuel for much of our social woes.
This week, our newly re-elected President boldly proclaims that we should aspire to a society where anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be free to love, and to marry. He asserts that such freedom is a fundamental, inherent right of any person. He reminds us of those “equality words” in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and in the depths of our humanity.
After all, we have taken great strides in incorporating other classes of people into our society: women, people of all races, youth, the mentally handicapped. The acceptance of women, people of all ethnic groups and religious groups is now, at least, part of our laws and public policies. We pay lip service to such acceptance, and many of us, in our actions and our beliefs, do not segregate others from our lives.
The President has changed his mind. He has changed his perspective of what freedom and equality mean. In the last two years, he has given great thought to these issues, these questions. As a lawyer, as a politician, as a Black man, as a father, and as president, he has weighed the questions and wrestled with the debate. And, now, he takes his oath of office with a hand on the Bible of Lincoln and the Bible of Martin Luther King, and boldly speaks his peace. He leads us into change.
Equality. Of course.
It seems simple and profound, like most great ideas.
In nine states, gay people can now freely marry. In the last election, voters in three states decided the issue, saying now, in their states, marriage is open to all. The government will not restrict your right to marry the one you love.
Yet, I cannot find any newspaper stories relating the predicted chaos in social institutions and communities where these marriages now occur. In these states, gay marriage is not a disaster, not a major event, but commonplace, accepted, the norm.
If we read our country’s most cherished legal documents, our most inspiring speeches, the essence of our assorted holy scriptures, there is no debate. Of course, loving others unconditionally, and being free to love the one you love, without barriers, without caveats, would seem to not be debatable.
Not that long ago, I recall church burnings and lynchings, and the police dogs attacking civil rights marchers in the South, and how Black people couldn’t go into some places in my home town. And, women not being able to do some jobs, and hold public office.
And I remember the day the Supreme Court said that White people could marry Black people, that such a right was part of our Constitution, and it was a remarkable event. And, when Black people voted and went to college, and won elections, and women could work where they wanted and live fuller lives, the world did not end. Chaos did not ensue. And, lives became richer. Some walls came tumbling down, and life became a little more equal for all of us.
Young people gawk at me in disbelief, when I tell them of these things from my youth and early adulthood, of the cross burnings and lynchings, and voters taking out the racist language in my state’s constitution. It is, perhaps, ancient history, and yet, that fear, and that divide between “them” and”us” remains. Such fear, while it is ancient and deep seated, lives among us today.
Yet, we are deeply divided, even angry about whether or not people of a different sexual orientation than ourselves, can have the same rights, the same freedom. People cling to their readings of scripture, their own fears and doubts, keeping the barriers to accepting others raised high.
“Not here, not in my family, not in my community. It is not the Will of God.”
Yet, the neighbor, the person next in line at the grocery store, maybe even your son may be “Them”. Other discriminations, other segregations are easier. The color of skin, one’s gender, one’s language, they are easier to spot in the crowd. This category of “them” and “us” is harder to see, harder to root out. Somehow, it digs deeper into us, into our sexuality, into topics not prone to rooting out over coffee with a friend.
Are we not all human, are we all not endowed by the Creator, as having certain unalienable rights, to pursue happiness and liberty, to love, and be loved? Are we not entitled, as human beings, to enjoy families, to raise children, to be part of our communities, and be free from prejudice and not being labeled as someone apart from the norm?
Are we all not children of God?
“What would Jesus do?,” is an oft-asked question, used by those teaching morality, and instilling good parenting and decent morality in the lives of our children and in the affairs of our community.
Indeed, what would Jesus do? I have not found His views on homosexuality in the New Testament. Yet, His Sermon on the Mount and His other teachings speak of loving others unconditionally, of finding acceptance and brotherhood. He spent his time with religious outcasts, prostitutes, the poor, the sick, and politically impotent. He berated the money changers in the temple, and spoke extensively of forgiveness, acceptance, and love. He honored marriage as a celebration of love and partnership, and performed His first miracle at a wedding.
Love. It is found in your heart, and not in the color of your skin, or in your genitalia, or in how you seek to understand God.
In other faiths, there are profound teachings of love and acceptance, brotherhood and community without conditions. What would Jesus do? What would Buddha say? What would Muhammed preach? The answer seems clear.
I also look back to my youth, in spending time with my best friend. We shared our lives, our schooling, our hopes and our dreams. We would hike the beaches, and explore the forest, going through life and growing into men. We shared deeply, as best friends do, of fears and doubts, and what type of men we wanted to be.
Years later, when I had settled down a bit, he came by to visit.
“There’s something you should know,” he said. “And, its about me.”
He told me then that he was gay. He had stumbled through life, sorting things out, running away from himself. There were the stories of alcohol and drugs, of anger and loneliness, and broken relationships. There were the stories of fear and despair. There were stories of acceptance and love, forgiveness and healing. And, at last, relief and honesty.
He was coming out, and he was proud of himself.
“This is who I am,” he said. “And, now I know that about me. And, I want you to know, too.”
We hugged and cried, rejoicing in his acceptance, and in my acceptance. We rejoiced in his healing, and him finding his rightful place in life, and in finding a partner he could truly, and honestly love. That was what we had dreamed about, and that was what we talked about, deep into the night, around the campfires of our teenaged years, looking for love and finding our rightful place in the world.
Honesty. Best friends being honest, going deep, accepting each other for who we were. It was a rich gift he gave me that day. It was the best gift.
It was a day of freedom, and liberation. It was a day I would want everyone to experience, deep in their heart.
Would I not want the same for my son, or my neighbor’s daughter, or for the barista at the coffee shop, or the person next to me at the grocery store? Don’t they deserve to be loved and to love, to be with someone they cherish and adore?
And, shouldn’t that love be celebrated and embraced, by all of us? Isn’t love, unconditional love, and sharing all that that is with each other, isn’t that why we are here in this world?
Isn’t that really what equality is?