As far as I know, there’s only one gay person in my extended family. She’s my youngest aunt on my father’s side and she’s been with her partner for almost 24 years though I never actually met her or her partner until after I’d graduated from high school. She lived less than 45 minutes away from us and I swear I remember being told that she lived in California which so completely out of my frame of reference as a child that I just assumed she didn’t really exist. Suffice to say that the reason my only gay relative was completely shut out of our family is a really long story with enough skeletons to motivate the writers of Bones with an entire season of fresh material.
By the time I graduated from college and returned home we still didn’t have much of a relationship. So when she suggested we go out for drinks and talk I decided once and for all that it didn’t matter to me who she loved or slept with because quite frankly I find it disgusting to think of any of my parents’ siblings having sex with their spouses. I decided to get to know my aunt for myself and ultimately judge her (or not judge her) based on the content of her character.It sounds cliché. I suppose it is. But I’d heard a lot about her lifestyle after she left the family fold that was completely encapsulated in judgment and it’s hard to start a relationship with someone so shrouded in negativity.
What I’ve learned from my relationship with her over the past ten years is that she’s eerily similar to my father. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I see someone who’s trying to repair the past in her present relationship with her mother, daughter, sisters, and nieces. And that’s not an easy thing to do in a family. To try to be someone other than who you’ve always been. It’s not easy to forgive yourself for hurting the people you love or forgive the people you love for hurting you. And I see someone who’s been pretty successful at achieving the American Dream despite roughing it without the support of her family for most of her adult life. Instead of a husband, two and a half kids, a dog, and a white picket fence, she opted for a same-sex partner, daughter, step-daughter, cocker spaniel, and an oak picket fence. A white picket fence didn’t fit in with the rest of the neighborhood which is what I genuinely believe everyone really wants at the end of the day. To come home to their family in a welcoming neighborhood and be left alone.
My aunt and her partner have built a life together that has lasted over the decades which is more than my parents can say about their marriage and our family. By all accounts, I understand the right-wing agenda that seeks to preserve the family unit. The moral decline of society can be traced back to the moral decline of the family but I find the finger-pointing at gays and lesbians to be wholly unjustified. If society is broken and the family is broken then I feel quite confident in saying that heterosexual parents are the ones with slippery slope fingers who broke it.
What my aunt could never say because she’s denied the right to marry someone of the same-sex is that her marriage is stronger than those of her siblings. Seven children, six marriages, four divorces, and one marriage that everyone shakes their head at because we know she’d rather be with her boyfriend. That leaves one sister who’s been married to her high school sweetheart for over 30 years and everyone has one sister who manages to pull that off if nothing else.
So I’ll say it for my aunt. Gay people aren’t the problem so why all the focus on protecting marriage from gay people? Why are we so concerned with protecting the family unit from gay couples instead of actually being concerned about families? Put your money where your mouth is and protect families and marriages from adulterers, drunkards, addicts, and abusers. Why don’t you tell someone with three failed marriages that they don’t have the right to try again because you have to protect the institution of marriage from those who are clearly intent to bring down society? No matter what side of the political or religious divide you fall, I’d bet my bottom dollar that you don’t look kindly on child abusers, wife beaters, heroin addicts, alcoholics, or men who abandon their families and responsibilities. Why hasn’t a single state voted for a constitutional amendment qualifying what kinds of people are worthy enough to be married? Because it’s discriminatory. Because it’s unfair. Because marriage is a civil contract between two people that the state recognizes and it has nothing to do with God which is exactly why atheists get married every day. We’re picking on this one lifestyle and saying that it threatens the decline of the family but nobody gay tore my family apart. My heterosexual parents did that all by themselves.
And all across the country, straight people contributed in great numbers to the decline of the family. Most parents work outside of the house in a two parent household because it’s what we in America have come to value. But there are consequences to valuing stuff rather than people. We can create all the community catch-alls we need to make sure little Johnny has a wonderful OST program to attend after school, and his mother can spend 10 hours in the kitchen on Sundays making dinners for the week to prevent childhood obesity, and grandpa can catch his baseball game and teach him the importance of showing up for the people you love, and his older sister can scoop him up from practice and learn some responsibility herself because that’s what families do. We pick up slack for our family because no one can do it all and we pick up slack for our neighbor because no one can be at two places at once and we invite everyone in the community to the proverbial dinner table regardless of the makeup of their family because it’s the right thing to do. Hopefully it teaches us compassion but at the very least in the act of recognizing the equality of different looking families, we’ll learn that there’s just one glue that matters. Love.