Sea Change/See Change

Momentum and Impatience for Marriage Equality

During the last week in March, like many others across the country I was focused on the Supreme Court hearings about same-sex marriage. The cases they heard stand to have enormous impact on my life personally, so I was eager to follow the tweets and the Facebook posts by friends who were at the hearings and on the steps of the Supreme Court on those days, as well as to see how the story was playing out in the press.

During that news cycle, the meme seemed to be that same-sex marriage has “already won,” that there is a sea change in public opinion, and everyone acknowledges that eventually one day same-sex couples will be able to get married legally. I was practically blinded by all of the bright red in my Facebook news feed that week as all of my friends changed their profile pictures to express support the Human Rights Campaign. For a while there, politicians and public figures seemed to be stepping over each other in order to publicly declare their support for marriage equality or civil rights. Indeed it really does seem like folks are starting to truly recognize the bigotry for what it is, and realize that they are going to look ridiculous in the history books. I’m encouraged by the so-called “sea change” in public opinion. Indeed, we seem to have some real momentum in terms of popular support for LGBT civil rights.

While I gladly welcome this change and momentum, I also wonder what is taking so long, especially for those in public office. I’m pleased that Rob Portman, the GOP Senator from Ohio, has done some soul searching to come out on the right side of LGBT rights, particularly marriage equality. What bothers me is that he made the decision for personal reasons instead of considering how this discrimination impacts LGBT citizens that he represents. When Portman’s son came out as gay, he challenged his father to rethink his position on the matter. When he was able to see how discrimination impacted his own son’s life, he had a change of heart.

I know that this is how it this sort of evolution and revelation works for many people, and it makes sense. Once you know someone personally, a family member or a friend, the issue becomes personalized for you. You feel the impact yourself. It becomes about you and your community. This is how progress has been made in the LGBT rights movement.

However, Portman is a public servant, and he has a responsibility to represent ALL of his constituents. I feel compassion for him personally, and I applaud his efforts to evolve his personal beliefs about the issue of same-sex marriage. He stands as a role model for other parents of gay children. But when it comes to policy, I hold people in public office to a higher standard, and I expect them to understand fairness and justice. It is irresponsible for elected officials to legislate based on how those laws are going to impact the lives of their family and friends.

This incremental change, though ultimately moving in the right direction, is really hard to endure at times. The  recent decision of the Boy Scouts of America to accept gay kids into its membership, though to keep the ban on gay scoutmasters seems to some like progress. But truly this policy continues to send the message that being gay is wrong. It seems that some think I should be happy about the decision, but in fact it really hurts. Likewise, the public debate on the marriage equality vote in MN was really painful to hear. The anti-gay folks who testified spewed such hatred and bigotry that I had to turn the hearings off. I just don’t want to subject myself to that any more. I know that change is gonna come, and we’re on the right side of history. My right to exist is not a matter for public debate, so it is hard for me not to feel some resentment about the level of public discourse about public policy that impacts my life.

Twenty years ago it never even occurred to me that marriage equality would happen in my lifetime. But now it’s becoming a reality state by state, and now that I am building a life with the love of my life, I have grown impatient for it. I have glimpsed what a world with respect for my spouse and me will look like, what it will feel like to me and to us. Once you are used to living with an injustice, you get used to it, and you almost don’t notice how uncomfortable you are after a while. After the Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8 and DOMA, after all of the shows of public support for marriage equality, I was suddenly aware of the additional confidence I felt just walking down the street with Gillian. I hadn’t even been aware of the self-consciousness I feel each day, the worry that people will stare or be uncomfortable because we are two women together. I like to believe that I don’t have to worry about what people think, but the fact is that I do.

The truth is that we couldn’t be more “normal,” whatever that means.

So as we celebrate marriage equality in my home state of Minnesota, and we eagerly await the decision of our former home state of Illinois and the Supreme Court decision on DOMA and Prop 8, we continue to live out our days here in on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia. I go to my 9-5 office job, we make dinner together at night, walk the dog before bed, maybe go to the movies with friends on the weekend, or stay in for a flick with a bowl of popcorn. We’re building our little nest egg, saving to buy a house, saving for retirement, and just hoping that we will soon have fair tax laws,  inheritance protections, and hospital visitation rights that will be respected everywhere.

Martin Luther King, Jr. On Complacency #MLK

On this anniversary of the March On Washington for civil rights, I have been looking for some choice quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. One pattern that I have found is his clarity in speaking out on complacency and inaction. Those who do nothing while witnessing injustice and wrong-doing do worse than those who commit acts of injustice. The privileged have a responsibility to do what they know is right.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.

We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one’s soul.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

Paradox: August 23, 2010

How do we respect the points of view of ourselves and others with whom we disagree as our boundaries bump against each other, and yet be open to challenges with our differences?

The only way we are going to have constructive public discourse is if  each of us is willing to listen to each other with compassion and openness, while maintaining our own integrity and self respect.

On Moving, Stuff, Home, and Gratitude

As I was riding the bus home from work the other day, I realized that I am only just now starting to feel that Chicago is making an imprint on my identity. Gillian and I moved our lives, our stuff, and our cat here two and a half years ago. We have always loved our home here, feeling that our neighborhood, for all of it’s challenges, was a good fit for us. I can now claim my place in this city; I am a Chicagoan and I love my home here.

During my time in California, I had a pretty transient life. I lived all over the Bay Area, finally adopting Oakland as my home. All of the various moves in the fifteen years I was there, though I hated the process, made me keep my possessions to a relative minimum. When you move, you have the occasion more frequently to cull your life of stuff.

Mind you, we have our fair share of stuff, and I have been reminded each time we move how much books weigh. But I am finding that, with some effort, Gillian and I have both become mindful about the stuff that we bring home, even as we stay in one place for a time. We’re not perfect, but we’ve made a commitment to ourselves and each other to downsize and make sure that everything we own has important meaning and usefulness.

As a member of this mall culture, I am just as prone as anyone to covet what others have, to feel deprived when I don’t have the latest gadget.  The other day, Gillian and I went to the grocery store and filled up our cart with all kinds of things that we were convinced we needed and wanted. At the end of the trip around the store, we took inventory of what we had collected, and decided to put several items back that we didn’t really need. We still came home with enough for several meals to get us through the following couple of weeks, and though we didn’t leave with that bottle of wine or that jar of honey, we don’t feel the least bit deprived.

Our new rule of thumb when it comes to stuff: When we bring something home, something else must go. I want to own stuff, I do not want stuff to own me. I’m not there yet, but the daily practice of mindfulness is helping me to live more presently with gratitude for what I have.

2010: Resolve and Determination

In the tradition of New Year holiday reflection, I am reorganizing my goals and creating a plan to achieve them. As I embrace the opportunity to join the popular conversation about resolutions, I remember that every day presents the opportunity to make changes, that the New Year is not the only time to find resolve.

Gillian and I were discussing how we want to start this year with a plan of cleaning up our joint finances, and although we are beginning this new plan in January, she would rather establish long term goals than make resolutions. Indeed, many people don’t succeed in attaining their resolutions, so I wonder what besides the inspiration of a New Year and a clean slate will make one’s resolve stick.

In 2010, I resolve to work slowly day by day on achievable goals, and to enjoy the journey without obsessing about the destination. Meanwhile, here is a working list of things I would like to be mindful of in my daily plans.

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Food
  • Rest
  • Yoga
  • Spirit
  • Connections
  • Knitting
  • Responsibility
  • Courage
  • Community
  • Forgiveness
  • Sustainability
  • Gratitude
  • Generosity
  • Breath
  • Always Love

Namaste. Amen.