Thursday, October 30, 2008

Proposition Eight

I have a brother in California who is married and has four children, the eldest of whom is now old enough to vote. I have other relatives living in California as well: an aunt, an uncle, numerous cousins (first and other).

It had not occurred to me to seek in any way whatsoever to influence any of them to vote one way or the other on Proposition 8, until last night when I received an email from a friend urging me to do so. Since last night, I have pondered a number of questions. If I could speak to a family member living in California about this issue, what would I say? What would I hope from them? Should I take initiative in speaking to them about it?

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I think Proposition 8 is wrong. It is wrong in terms of the injury it will inflict on an entire class of people who are harming no one. It is wrong in the sense of being incorrect or untrue in what it purports to do. Denying marriage to couples who love each other and are committed to each other will not preserve or protect heterosexual marriage. In significant ways, I believe Proposition 8 and anti-gay-marriage campaigns in general promote an erroneous conception of marriage by treating marriage as a club that belongs to the "right" kind of people, rather than as a solemn, loving, intimate commitment between two people. What comfort is it to a wife who is being abused by her husband that loving same-sex couples can't get married? How does that help her?

Despite the fact that I have strong feelings -- or perhaps because I have strong feelings -- about Proposition 8, I have avoided talking to other family members about it -- even those family members who are in a position to vote on it. Why?

As Göran and I were making plans to travel to California to get legally married, I called my brother, who lives in Riverside. I explained our plans to him. I asked him if it would be OK for us to stay at his place while we were there.

I did not assume that he owed us hospitality. Had he not been able to host us, we would have stayed at a hotel, which would have made the trip much more costly. We were committed to do this, one way or the other. Had my brother refused us hospitality, I think I can honestly say I would have tried not to let that cloud my relationship with him. When I made my request to him, I did my best to word it in such a way that he could refuse us without fearing that he would hurt my feelings.

My brother warmly extended us hospitality. Of course we could stay with him. It was clear to me, from the way he worded his response to me, that he wanted me and my family always to feel welcome in his home. We had a wonderful visit with them. It was an opportunity for me to get closer to him and to his wife and children in a way I never had before. My nieces and nephews warmly and immediately embraced Glen as their cousin, and had a fabulous time with him and with us. My brother and his whole family attended our marriage. He and his wife changed long-standing plans in order to be there. He offered a prayer at the beginning of the ceremony. His youngest son was a ring bearer for us. His oldest son took video and his oldest daughter took pictures of the event.

Still, my brother and I never discussed the "issue" of gay marriage. I do not assume -- despite his warm personal support for me as a brother -- that he believes in or supports marriage for same-sex couples. I believe it is entirely possible that his hospitality was extended to me, and his presence at and participation in my marriage ceremony was an act of love for me personally, and nothing more. It is entirely possible that he believes same-sex marriage to be wrong, but that he also honors my right to make free choices for myself, to learn for myself, to do what my conscience tells me. I make no assumptions.

I have written elsewhere in this blog about my brother's abiding sense of fairness, demonstrated by his strong opposition to racism. My brother is a fair, loving, compassionate person. This was clearly demonstrated by his hospitality toward me at my marriage, especially in light of the fact that there was a time when I was not equally hospitable toward him.

My brother married in 1988. He and his wife were married in the Manti Temple. Despite the fact that I had left the church a year and a half earlier, he invited me to come and be present at their wedding. Of course I could no longer be present at the ceremony itself, but he at least wanted me to travel to Utah anyway, to meet his bride and to celebrate with him. I refused. I had my reasons, all of which seemed good to me at the time. But I did what my brother clearly has not done: I let my personal feelings and needs cloud my relationship with him. I should have been there for him as a brother, and I was not. And he -- and his wife -- were deeply wounded by my actions. I have since come to regret what I did. I have shed tears over my actions. I have apologized to my brother and his wife. But the one thing I cannot do is take the time back and be there for him when I should have been. The fact that my brother did not treat me in kind at my marriage speaks volumes about the kind of person he is.

If I am to believe some of the accounts I've heard coming out of California, apparently there are many who support Proposition 8 for all the wrong reasons -- out of fear and hate. Or they have supported Proposition 8 in the wrong way -- in divisive ways, in untruthful ways, in ways that have belittled and even demonized those who disagree with them, in ways that have scapegoated and stereotyped gay people. I hope that such behavior would at least give pause to those who support Proposition 8 who have some sense of fairness and decency. I hope they would consider the concrete impact that discrimination against gay folks has had on us, and the concrete impact Proposition 8 would have on real people, on real lives. I hope they would consider the negative impact that every campaign against equal rights for gay people has on the psyches and souls of gay people. But I acknowledge that the fact that some people support Proposition 8 for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way is not in itself an argument against Proposition 8.

What I can say about my brother is that I trust him. I know enough about morality to know that the way we make a choice is every bit as important as the choice itself. I trust him to make whatever choice he makes for the right reasons, because I know what kind of person he is. I trust that if he votes for Proposition 8 next Tuesday, it will be because he has thought things through carefully, because he has weighed everything church leaders have said, he has weighed what he knows about law and ethics and morality, and because he thinks it is the right thing to do. I trust that, and I believe it, and I hold his right and responsibility to make such a choice too sacred to unduly influence it with emotional appeals. Which is all I could do at this point. He knows me, he knows Göran, he knows what our marriage means to us. That is all he needs to know. It would be unfair for me to coerce him in any way, to make him feel that my love for him in any way is conditional upon the sacred choice he needs to make in the ballot booth. And if I owe my brother that kind of respect, I owe it to all of my family members and friends in California.


Reuben said...

It sounds like you have a wonderful brother.

I recently spoke with a close friend and roommate of 4 years at BYU who now lives in CA. He described to me some of the things he was doing to support Prop 8. It seemed so foreign to me as he was describing his efforts because it simply didn't sound like a cause he would have supported while we were roommates. I asked him if he ever heard members of the church voicing opposition to Prop 8 during meetings. He was quiet, then admitted that he (and many others he knew) would most likely have voted No had it not been for such a strong push from the Church and are now voting Yes out of loyalty to the church. I can understand why many members choose this, but it makes my heart ache.

J G-W said...

I understand this. And this is partly why I have wrestled with this. Because I believe in the importance of obedience to Church leaders. Obedience is not the only principle we as Saints have to pay attention to, but it is a very important principle. So I understand why many good people, compassionate and conscientious people, will vote for Proposition 8.

But I think it is possible for Church leaders to on occasion be wrong. And Church leaders have also counseled us to think for ourselves, to be compassionate, and to follow the Spirit and our conscience. So I think there are also many reasons why many good and loyal Church members can choose not to support it.

I hope in the end that people will respect the choices of those who differ from them and that eventually we'll arrive at the right destination in the collective journey we are all on as the family of God...