This is Part 3 of an ongoing series of diary entries depicting my change of heart from anti-gay activist and paid staffer of the National Organization for Marriage, to advocate of marriage equality. Part 1 of this story can be read here.
As a reminder, I am no longer a Republican. However, to paint the picture of what forces influenced me to take on the crusade against gay marriage, it is important for me to share with you my old Republican ideologies. I don't want anyone to think that what follows is even similar to what I have evolved to believe today. This is the final 'introductory' diary, which I have writing to set the stage for my eventual conversion.
By the fall semester of the following year, I had accomplished my goal of returning to Iowa where I began my college career as a political science major with a minor in international relations at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. The fall semester began at the end of August that year but in my mind I had already been there since the spring when I received the decision letter in the mail. I opened it there at the curb and threw my hands up in excitement upon learning of my acceptance. In retrospect, the University of Northern Iowa wasn't a very competitive school to get accepted into but I had so many plans and frankly banked my entire future on Iowa – just as so many presidential candidates do – that the excitement was warranted.
At the time of my acceptance I was working two jobs and living at home with my mother and step-father. My primary job was a nine-to-fiver working for a collections agency on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. At least that’s how I was trained to identify myself on the phone to intimidate borrowers defaulted on their student loans. As a part-time job to supplement my income from the collections agency, I delivered pizza for a local pizzeria and made pretty good tips in that affluent suburb of Buffalo. Around the same time, I signed up as a volunteer firefighter for the Getzville Fire Department because I believed in service to community and wanted to be involved. Civics and service to community were important virtues to me because after all, the question was not what my country could do for me but what I could do for my country. However, this commitment as a volunteer firefighter unfortunately had to be abandoned early on as I set out to pursue my dream in Iowa.
That August road trip to Iowa was the beginning of a series of life-changing events for me – including the rise of my anti-gay crusade. The ride took me through northwestern Pennsylvania where I stopped for a breakfast sandwich and stood leaning up against the fender of my maroon Oldsmobile Alero taking in the fresh air, the smell of the fresh morning dew on the blades of grass nearby and the early sun.
It takes about three and a half hours to drive across northern Ohio. Once through, that’s where I said my trip actually began since I was no longer in my own geographic backyard. As I drove westward through Indiana on I-80, the first thing I noticed were the unmarked silver Ford Mustangs of the Indiana State Police. Then, about halfway through, I drove past the city of South Bend where the University of Notre Dame is. It only bore significance with me because of Rudy, one of my favorite movies, and someone I knew from high school went there.
Just beyond that, I crossed into the next county to the west where a road sign told me I was entering the Central Time Zone. That was nice because it gave me an extra hour of sunlight for driving. I don’t like driving in new places at night – not because I am afraid of driving in unfamiliar places in the dark but because I want to actually see these places; stop and take a picture of the welcome sign as I pass into a new state; visit the welcome center; observe the landscape and not miss anything along the way.
The fastest route to Iowa was due west on I-80 but Wisconsin was just a couple of hours out of the way. I was drawn to the state because I had never been there and I was in no particular rush. I also enjoyed collecting rocks from every state I visited and going there gave me an opportunity to add to my growing collection. At the time I did not know but the rock I picked up in Wisconsin was primarily made of the mineral calcite but geology will come into play later on.
Going to college – something my grandfather did as he could to encourage – set me off on what I expected to be a head-on collision with those who had taken the Democratic Party from the center to the far left. I was not deterred by the idea that universities are a liberal haven used to brainwash impressionable students – I was encouraged and I welcomed the challenge. Together with stories my father shared with me about his economics professor when he was a student, I felt I was headed into the lion’s den of liberal politics and as a political science major, I would be able to confront these… communists who had abandoned me and the American way in pursuit of everything we defeated when the Soviet Union collapsed.
These were the people – and not just the academics – responsible for the era of political correctness becoming more and more prevalent in our society. Take the effort to remove “In God We Trust” from our currency. The attack upon our national motto began as early as 1970 by a Woodland, California man who felt the inscription of that motto on our currency violated his freedom of religion. His argument was ultimately rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who ruled “it is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion.”
Yet that ruling hasn't put the issue to rest and since then a number of similar challenges have made their way through the courts. One of such challenges occurred that fall semester when another atheist liberal from California took to the Supreme Court to attempt to wipe out our national motto. That is only half the story, though. This particular "godless liberal", as I learned from Fox News, had also spent the four preceding years fighting to stop the recitation of the pledge of allegiance in public schools because it too contains a reference to god.
What does it matter if our currency and our pledge of allegiance contain a vague reference to god? More people use credit cards nowadays anyway and schoolteachers don’t force anyone to say the pledge. Besides, neither the national motto nor the pledge of allegiance defines a specific god. So what does it matter? Over ninety percent of Americans believe in god and the references to god in question can be applied to each faith by its faithful. Everyone should be content. Except in a politically correct society like the one I saw developing in the United States of America. In that kind of society it is enough that eight percent didn't believe in god to erase all public references to it. It is a tyranny of the minority when all suffer so that the few are appeased. This was infuriating to watch – and I do remember watching it – powerless to stand up and do something about it. What I wanted to do was scream at the top of my lungs: What the hell is wrong with you people?
And these were by no means isolated events. The first and second time you laugh it off. People are crazy. It’s like they say, though: once is an incident, twice a coincidence but three times is a pattern. What about fourth and fifth times? The regularity of these cases – some targeting the national motto, others the pledge of allegiance – came across as a premeditated leftist assault on the beliefs of this country. It was all about them – those selfish godless liberals, as I referred to them. The motto and pledge embraced monotheism in their view and made them feel like outsiders. Only in a hypersensitive, politically correct society could this be an issue. We have abandoned the concept that it is impossible to please everyone and instead we now focus on ensuring that at least we address the concerns of minority groups. God forbid we come across as racist or sexist or anti-gay or anti-this-or-that. This was reverse utilitarianism, in my view – the opposite of securing the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Our society instead adopted a doctrine which put the happiness of the few above the happiness of all the rest.
So, I looked forward to the day – and I didn't think it would be a very long wait – that one of my professors with an agenda started preaching because I would be there waiting for that moment and I would say something. I was not afraid to be that one conservative student in the room versus the liberal professor. I’m not the kind of person who can just bite his tongue and not speak his mind. When I have something to say, I say it. I won’t be aggressive, but I’ll speak my mind. It’s a core piece of what it means to be an American.
To my surprise, the opportunity to stand up against liberal bias in the classroom never came that semester. Sure, I had become a frequent participant in my Introduction to American Politics course and there’s no question the professor and the rest of the class knew I was conservative but throughout the semester, she went out of her way not to identify her political beliefs. She played Devil’s Advocate with that one long-haired, bearded student wearing a beanie that everyone in the class knows is more of a communist than the professor, just as much as she did with me. She challenged us to defend our beliefs – whether they be conservative or liberal.
In fact, not only did I not observe any instances of unequal treatment but the professor – this woman I expected to give me a hard time and make my life as difficult as possible because I was conservative – made special accommodation for me to take the final exam early so I didn't have to wait all week. She knew I had a long drive ahead of me and nothing to do on campus from the Monday of final exam week to the Thursday our exam was scheduled for. So she helped me and I went home a couple of days earlier for the winter break. It was a nice thing she didn't have to do.
Winter break – a time we take a break from studying in all levels of education to go home and spend time with our friends and families for the holidays. It wasn't always called winter break, though. I remember my first years of school up through about middle school when we had two weeks off at the end of December and beginning of January specifically for Christmas and creatively enough we called it Christmas break. That began to change as our society grew more and more hypersensitive.
More than four out of five Americans identify themselves as Christian but over ninety percent celebrate Christmas. That tells us more people in this country celebrate Christmas than believe in Christ and only about half of those who do celebrate Christmas consider it a mainly religious holiday. So why is it an issue if the break we take at the end of December is known as Christmas break? For those who don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s a free vacation, everyone should be content – who cares what it’s called?
Unfortunately, that was not the case, as I saw it. The traditions and beliefs of the vast majority of Americans again were up against the discontent of about seven percent of the population – this time the secular godless grinches – who don’t celebrate Christmas and were offended by not only the linguistic reference to ‘Christmas break’ but they had also been fighting to remove nativity scenes from public view which had been on display for decades; there’s been dispute over Christmas caroling; Christmas trees are now Holiday trees; and there’s an effort to overwrite ‘Merry Christmas’ with ‘Happy Holidays’. What the hell is wrong with you people?
Ninety percent of us celebrate Christmas! Whether it is a religious holiday and you go to church to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ or for the ham dinner with your family, or even just for the opportunity to give and receive presents on Christmas morning – it’s something we do and have done since the beginning of our country’s founding! Yet, as I saw it, our hypersensitivity was permitting our tradition to be removed from public view and quarantined in our homes to appease a small minority within the population who felt left out or unrepresented. Again, the happiness of the few has trumped the happiness of all the rest.
There was a political cartoon in the editorial section of the newspaper I remember from that year. The illustration depicts two young boys, the first in an AC/DC T-shirt and the second in a collared dress shirt, sitting outside the principal’s office in what must be middle school.
“I am here ‘cuz I said the S-word,” the first boy says. “Why are you here?”
“I don’t know,” the second boy responds. “All I said was ‘Merry Christmas’.”