Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dialogues II

Last night was my third session volunteering at Minnesotans United for All Families talking to people on the phone about the proposed amendment that would ban me and my husband from being legally married in our own state.

It was a rough night. A lot of folks I spoke to were gruff and impatient. One guy I spoke to engaged in an extended rant about how the fact that individuals of the same sex wanting to be in committed relationships disgusted him. I asked him if he knew any gay people, and he said he had nieces and nephews who were gay. I asked him if he had ever spoken to them about this issue and he said he hadn't and he didn't want to. I said, "It sounds like you think people choose to be gay." He said he didn't know, and he didn't want to know, and he didn't care to discuss it. I told him I was gay, and I told him about my relationship of 18 years with my husband, and I told him that all I hoped for was the same thing anybody hopes for: love, respect, and law that protects my family on the same basis that it protects anybody else's. I suppose the fact that I had been willing to listen to his views opened him up to listen to mine with patience. (And I acknowledge it took patience on his part!) I thanked him for taking the time to talk, and we ended the discussion amicably. Still, his harsh words had taken a toll on me. There were quite a few other conversations like that, many where I was hung up on after even harsher words. And by the end of the night, I was exhausted!

After the phone sessions, we reconvened as a group and debriefed. "This was a rough night for me," I confessed to the group. Fortunately, every night has not been like that one, and I don't anticipate most future nights will be either. "Still," I told the group, "I'm glad we're doing this. I feel very good."

I am glad that in this campaign we are focusing on the substantive issue of gay folks and their families. The question is whether or not to pass an amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay and lesbian couples from getting married. Marriage is already prohibited for gay and lesbian couples in Minnesota, which passed a "Defense of Marriage Act" in 1997 -- shortly after my husband and I decided to buy our house together. Passage or failure of this amendment will have no immediate impact on my legal rights. And the campaign could have chosen to focus on legalistic finery such as whether we really need an amendment to ban something that's already illegal.

Instead we are talking about marriage, and what it really means. When I ask people, "What does marriage mean to you?" They talk about things like "commitment." In fact, "commitment" is probably the number one response I get from people when I ask that question -- regardless of their attitude toward gay and lesbian people or their personal experience with marriage. That gives me a chance to talk about the fact that that's what marriage means to me too. This isn't about "changing" marriage.

When I ask people why they object to the idea of gay people getting married, the two most frequent responses are they believe homosexuality is unnatural, or they believe their religion is opposed to it. Of course there is nothing unnatural about me or the love I share with my husband. And I believe that if people search deep within their hearts they will realize that their religion demands treating others like they themselves would like to be treated. And I don't think any of the people I've spoken with -- even the ones who have told me stories about unhappy marriages and divorces -- would like an amendment to the constitution banning their marriages.

My religion taught me that if I lacked wisdom, that I should ask God, and God would "give liberally" and "not upbraid" for asking. (Yes, my religion -- and the Epistle of James, chapter 1, verse 5 -- teaches me that God is that kind of loving, generous being!) And the things that people in my Church said and taught about homosexuality just never seemed to actually make sense in light of my experience of my own homosexuality. That disconnect, that contradiction, seemed enough of a problem, enough of a "lack of wisdom" to permit me to seek greater light and knowledge from God himself -- from the person who made me, who knows my inmost parts, who understands me completely and who loves me unconditionally.

I have witnessed a similar journey on the part of my fellow Latter-day Saints. Those who have known me and loved me have recognized that the pat teachings, the packaged answers about what homosexuality was supposed to be didn't jive with what they knew it actually was in the lives of real people. In my life.

I think ultimately, at its best, religion doesn't ever give us packaged answers to life's difficult questions. Rather, it gives us a set of tools to wrestle with those questions ourselves and to find answers that make sense in the light of Love. And I believe that Saints who avail themselves of those tools will be surprised by what they learn.

Last night was difficult. But I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. And I will go back again and again and keep making those phone calls. And I encourage others to get involved, to do what I did. Because as difficult and as painful as this situation is for many of us -- and I acknowledge it is difficult and painful for people on both sides of this political question, this constitutional amendment -- this situation is a gift. It is a gift to every single one of us, because it gives us an opportunity to learn lessons about the nature of love, the nature of justice, and the nature of brotherhood and sisterhood. Regardless of how the vote ultimately goes, this particular challenge, this issue in this place and in this time is our chance to learn about the depth and breadth of God's love for us all, his children, and how we each need to work to manifest that love.

That we may come into an ever deeper understanding of that love is my prayer each and every time I pick up the phone to have one more conversation about a difficult topic. It may be difficult, but this is a conversation we need to have.


Brandon said...

I was wondering how it feels to be opposing your church and it's efforts to pervent marriage equality in MN now, like they did in CA. I can't understand how you can feel so warmly towards a church that goes out of it's way to make sure you get treated like a second class citizen. Are you a glutton for punishment? Why are you trying so hard to go back?

J G-W said...


Thanks for giving me the chance to clarify a couple of things by asking this question.

First of all, to my knowledge, the LDS Church has not taken an official position on the proposed Minnesota amendment. I am aware of letters that have been read in congregations from the stake presidencies of the Minneapolis Stake and the Anoka Stake informing members that the Church is not at this time advising members to take a particular position on the amendment, but encouraging them to study the issues and act in accordance with their conscience.

Having said that, it is certainly likely, given the position the Church took in the Prop 8 campaign, that many Minnesota LDS will assume that they should work and vote in favor of the MN amendment. On the other hand, I have LDS friends who have studied the issue out, and who feel that, in good conscience, they cannot support the amendment, and who will be working and voting against it.

I love and want to be a part of the LDS Church for the same reason that I want to be married: because I have faith in our ability to grow and become better, more loving people through the commitments we make to each other. Both forms of commitment are an expression of my faith in and love for God.

alan said...

Your comment above reminds me of a radio interview with Romney where he was trying to explain the religious/secular divide in the Mormon mindset. I noticed he was having a lot of trouble getting his points across because other conservative Christians generally require belief and action to correspond for the identity to be considered valid. For example, the conversation was about how, officially, the Church is "pro-life," but that doesn't mean an individual member isn't allowed to be "pro-choice." If that individual member were to get an abortion, however, there would be ecclesiastical consequences -- but being "pro-choice" does not make one any less "faithful" a Mormon. In fact, Romney specifically noted that there are a great number of pro-choice Mormon Democrats.

This same logic seems to be happening with same-sex marriage more and more in Mormondom. A Mormon can support same-sex marriage and there be no ecclesiastical consequence, as long as that Mormon does not him or herself get a same-sex marriage.

J G-W said...

Alan - I was merely clarifying that as to the specific issue of the proposed marriage amendment in Minnesota the Church has -- as of yet, anyway -- taken no official position.

However, it is good to point out that even in states where the Church has advised members to take specific actions (in relation to Prop 8 in California, for instance), members were free to oppose the amendment without consequence to their church membership. In fact, I'm aware of general authority statements made effectively guaranteeing that no member would suffer church membership consequences for positions taken on political matters.

Also, I'm not entirely sure how this is -- in practice anyway -- any different from how things work in other churches. I've heard of members of conservative Protestant churches being excommunicated for violating moral rules of the community, but never for positions taken on political issues.

Formal church action against members, of course, is also different from social ostracism individuals may experience for expressing a viewpoint that is seen as controversial within their community... That, of course, happens all the time in all sorts of religious communities, liberal, conservative, and in between.

alan said...

Yes, I think you're probably right. It's just that the LDS Church is vocal about its policy of "political neutrality," which gives things a different flavor than how other churches approach the issue.