By Sheila Kennedy
I first began writing a column for the Word over 20 years ago. It got to be a habit, so when Mark Lee – the Word’s fantastic new editor! – asked me to continue doing so, I agreed.
Then I did something else.
I went into my files and reviewed several of my very earliest Word columns. That review left me with two contradictory impressions: how dramatically things have changed – and how little.
Here, for example, was a column from the year 2000. Just 16 years ago:
– – – – –
My youngest son recently attended the wedding of two co-workers. It was a lovely affair – formal, at an expensive Chicago hotel, conducted with meticulous attention to detail. One of those details was a program book, listing the numerous bridesmaids and groomsmen and each one’s relationship to the happy couple.
The program book had another entry, however, that merits recognition. On the back page was a message from the bride and groom, reciting how enthusiastic they were to enter into wedded life together, how sure they were that matrimony was the right choice for them. In fact, they said, there was only one hesitation, one fact that gave rise to a certain reluctance to marry: the fact that others were legally prevented from doing likewise.
It seemed unfair that the status of matrimony was available to them, a man and a woman, and not available to others merely because they were of the same gender. The message concluded with a request that those present, who had shared the happy day with this particular couple, work toward a time when everyone can enter into the institution of marriage and have their union recognized by society and the state.
I couldn’t help thinking about the implications of this simple, powerful statement.
Will a paragraph in support of gay marriage on a pamphlet distributed to friends and families change the world? No, of course not. But the simple, revolutionary act of a black student sitting down at a counter and ordering lunch was ineffectual individually, too. It was only when hundreds, then thousands of blacks were challenging the status quo that laws and attitudes began to change.
What would happen to the pervasive bigotry against gays and lesbians if hundreds, then thousands, of heterosexuals added similar paragraphs to their wedding programs? What if every church and synagogue that believes in human dignity added such language to their bulletins? What if businesses catering to families advertised for business by interpreting “family” in an inclusive and affirming way?
That WOULD change the world.
What a contrast I see between my son’s friends and the group of shrill and homophobic clerics who called a press conference in Washington last week to announce that God hates homosexuality. (It constantly amazes me that people who claim to speak for God are so certain of His – or Her – opinions.)
I am confident that, if there is indeed a judgment day, a good and just God will offer a special place in heaven to the young couple whose love extended beyond each other to embrace the human community and all its members.
The real question is, how would that good and just God respond to those who used the name of the Lord to justify their hatreds and excuse their bigotries?
– – – – –
As we now know, what did “change the world” was the courage of thousands of LGBT people who refused to live dishonestly and came out with the support of their families and allies. Last year, marriage equality became the law of the land.
What’s more, survey research tells us that solid majorities of Americans now endorse marriage equality and support the extension of full civil rights protections to the gay community.
What didn’t change, of course, are the antics of the religious extremists who continue to use their religions and their crabbed versions of Deity to justify their homophobia and their efforts to roll back LGBT rights. They will be out in force as the Indiana General Assembly considers adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Indiana’s civil rights law, and their persistence is why the rest of us can’t rest. Not yet.
I’ll see you at the Statehouse.
Sheila Suess Kennedy, J.D. is Professor of Law and Public Policy in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis. Her scholarly publications include nine books and numerous law review and journal articles. Professor Kennedy is a columnist for the Indianapolis Business Journal and a frequent lecturer, public speaker and contributor to other periodicals. She blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net.