I suppose one could use that term "straight ally" to describe me. For a human rights issue such as advocacy against anti-gay bigotry, I wish the sentiment behind the term would go without saying, however. I hope to raise my kids in a community in which we are all offended when some are denied equal rights, and we are all downright bewildered when inequality is not just tolerated, but promoted by churches and other organizations (I'm talking to you, Boy Scouts of America). My friend Kate married her wife in California during our brief period of marriage equality in 2008. This year, the two of them became parents to an adorable little son. Kate wrote to the Director of Alumnae Relations at her alma mater, the Catholic girls' school La Reina High School, to announce her good news. Kate received a curt response informing her that they would not publish a birth announcement in the alumnae newsletter, citing the church's "unequivocal" stance on same sex marriage. Below is my response, addressed to the Alumnae director and the school principal.
Betsy Potts, Director of Alumnae Relations
Dr. Shannon Gomez, Principal
La Reina High School
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
Dear Mrs. Potts and Dr. Gomez,
My friend, [Kate], recently told me of her sadness and disappointment that arose from having her alma mater refuse to share in her joy at the birth of her first child. I’d like you to consider the way a person feels when a child enters one’s family. This seems like a simple thing, does it not? It is something that marks our unique humanness in the course of time – the bliss, the wonder, the open-mouthed grin as we gaze, almost unbelieving, at every feature of an infant. My baby has eyelashes!, we marvel. When a woman becomes a mother, her life transforms in ways that are profound and that feel miraculous and that are, in the loving circumstances that God intends, wonderfully life-affirming.
I would like you to next imagine what it is like to have a heart that falls in love. Craft a love in your imagination that swirls and enlivens and speeds the heart, and that rests then on another feature that makes us human: the desire to remain like this, to affirm this relationship and to, simply, grow old together. After all, Jesus teaches us, we are made to love.
It is not an exaggeration to say that as a lifelong practicing Catholic, I have been aghast in recent years at the Catholic Church’s bold bigotry against gays and lesbians. To tell them that their relationships are counter to God’s will, and then to not stop there, but to actively campaign against them in the public sphere, is misguided at best and abjectly un-Christlike at worst. I shared Kate’s disappointment in the decision of La Reina High School to refuse to publish tiny [baby's] birth announcement. Of course, one could try to comfort Kate by reminding her that low expectations, given the church’s recent history, were probably best. I get the sense, however, that Kate’s fond memories of her time at LRHS made her hope, however naively, for something different. I think she was hoping that your community would have seen fit to look beyond the institutionalized message against her family and would have extended a kind hand. We too share your joy. You have been blessed with a son!
I ask you to imagine one last thing. Please, pause to envision perhaps just an hour, just a regular old hour, in the life of a gay or lesbian couple. Hopefully this hour is one in which their humanity plays out just like anyone else’s – perhaps this hour, they are lunching outside a café. Hopefully, for them, it is a warm fall day. Imagine, then, that someone pauses to comment on their baby. Perhaps that person’s eyes dart, however subtly, from Kate to Tanya, and from Tanya to Kate. Perhaps that person’s eyes narrow. Imagine what it is like to think, to wonder, in however fleeting a fashion, if someone is conveying their disapproval. I suspect gays and lesbians grow weary, or learn to steel themselves against this, or wrap themselves willfully instead in optimism and hope. I don’t know what this life is like, but at least I can try to envision it. I recently received a large magnet for my car, to express my support for President Obama’s re-election campaign. It’s quite a large magnet, and I live in a neighborhood known for voting for Republicans. At times I do put that large magnet on my vehicle, but sometimes, I just take it off and carry it inside the vehicle with me. Sometimes I can exist in this community without anyone knowing my political beliefs. I can just be a mainstream suburban mom with a husband and three children, and I could even “play along”, if need be. If I were married to a woman, I wouldn’t have that luxury, would I? I would have to learn to be strong and proud, even in the face of bigotry, even when bullied, and even when that bullying came from sources – like my church – which should exist to promote the opposite force.
Jesus did not rant about the need for gays and lesbians to live celibate lives, as the church demands. On the contrary, Jesus spoke with frequency of a life in which others are fearful and hostile towards oneself, in which others will shrink from change and growth, and the individual must rely on steady faith to weather this. To believers he offered this: If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first(John 15:18).
Remember they hated me first. Please reflect prayerfully on the message of Jesus. The church’s inane campaign against gays and lesbians will, I promise you, be left to wallow in increasingly dim light as the push for dignity for all God’s children continues its relentless progress. History will not favor your view.