Dear Sarah

A fourteen year-old girl recently spoke to the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee against marriage equality.  I got left a link yesterday to a site that makes some claims about how the girl is supposedly being treated.  You can go read them.

The first thing that catches my eye is the way they are presented.  When the atheist bloggers were citing the vitriol against Jessica Ahlquist, we screen-capped it and linked to the examples.  That is not done on this site.  I wanted to investigate these to make sure they were true and not the result of Christians in full-on martyr mode embellishing or making things up (as they are wont to do).

However, if they are true, it’s a simple reaction: those people are jerks.  I won’t argue they’re not atheists because they probably are.  Then again, we’re not saying that being an atheist makes you more moral the way Christians do for Christianity.  I will say that reason makes you more moral, and I don’t think anybody can argue that the people making those comments (if they really did) are being reasonable.

When Jessica Ahlquist was receiving the full brunt of pious hate from Christians, I wrote about how the moderates, the ones we’re so frequently assured are the vast majority, were nowhere to be found leaving only the atheists to defend Jessca from the Christians.  This is the first I heard about these comments (and wish I could confirm them) and the response is immediate: condemn the bad people.  Easy, right?

Now, as for the fourteen year-old in question, Sarah Crank, she and her parents must learn that when you say things in public they become fair game for people like me.  So let’s take a look at what she said.

“Hi, I’m Sarah Crank.  Today’s my 14th birthday, and it would be the best birthday present ever if you would vote ‘no’ on gay marriage. I really feel bad for the kids who have two parents of the same gender. Even though some kids think it’s fine, they have no idea what kind of wonderful experiences they miss out on. I don’t want more kids to get confused about what’s right and okay. I really don’t want to grow up in a world where marriage isn’t such a special thing anymore.

“It’s rather scary to think that when I grow up the legislature or the court can change the definition of any word they want. If they could change the definition of marriage then they could change the definition of any word. People have the choice to be gay, but I don’t want to be affected by their choice. People say that they were born that way, but I’ve met really nice adults who did change.  So please vote ‘no’ on gay marriage. Thank you.” (January 31, 2012)

Alright Sarah.  Let’s talk about what you just said.

“I really feel bad for the kids who have two parents of the same gender.  Even though some kids think it’s fine, they have no idea what kind of wonderful experiences they miss out on.”

What do they miss out on, Sarah?  It seems to me that the children of gay parents get everything you get: a home, meals, love, sports, rides to school, etc.  Can you name something that your presumably heterosexual parents can provide that a gay couple couldn’t?  If you can’t, then why do you feel sorry for them?

I feel sorry for children without a home.  I feel sorry for children whose heterosexual mom and dad were such terrible parents that their kids got taken away from them.  Those kids have it rough, and a loving gay couple could give them all the things your parents give you.  They could rescue those kids.  Right now there are way more kids needing to be adopted than there are adoptive parents, and a large part of that is because people like you won’t let those kids be given a life by gay parents.

I don’t feel sorry for the kids of gay parents: I feel grateful to those parents for giving those kids the life you enjoy, Sarah.  I feel happy for those kids because they are the lucky ones who managed to not be affected by people like you.

“I don’t want more kids to get confused about what’s right and okay.”

Neither do I.  Could you explain why you think two men or two women getting married is wrong?  It was not long ago that white people and black people were not allowed to get married.  You can bet that back then young women just like you spoke against change because they “did not want kids to get confused about what was right.”

The irony, Sarah, is that they were the ones who were confused.  The sad part is that their confusion caused them to stand between lots of good people who loved each other.  The confusion of young women very much like yourself hurt other people and made their lives less happy.  Looking back, we know now that the people, including young women just like you, who were stopping ordinary people from marrying were wrong.

What would you have said to the those couples back then, Sarah?  What would you have said to the young woman telling them they were morally wrong, who fought to keep them from marrying?

So Sarah, what is so wrong about being gay?  Why must these couples be kept apart?  Why is it not you who is confused?

“I really don’t want to grow up in a world where marriage isn’t such a special thing anymore.”

But Sarah, how will letting gay people get married make marriage less special?  I assume your parents are married.  How will two women getting married make their marriage less special?  Will your father love your mother any less because two women somewhere else in the world love each other?

Think back not even a half a century ago when blacks and whites could not marry each other in the United States.  Exclusively white couples used your words long before you did, saying that allowing interracial marriages would make marriage less special.

But it didn’t.

Marriage is a lot of things, Sarah, and there is no one right way to do it.  In China, for instance, marriage is done very differently than it is here in the United States.  In lots of countries, including our neighbor to the north, gay people can get married and those countries are doing just fine.  Many cultures do marriage differently, and no one particular way is more special than the rest.

But there is something here that is more important and more beautiful than the most expensive and lavish ceremony: love.  Without love, marriage is meaningless.  Love is what is special, Sarah, and when you tell two people who love each other that their love doesn’t count because they love someone who you do not approve of, then it is actually you who is making love less special.  You are saying you should be able to choose who other people love, which isn’t fair.

One day you’ll fall in love with someone.  When that time comes, you won’t want somebody else telling you that you can’t marry them because they think you chose wrong.

Love should decide who we marry, not people we’ve never met.

“It’s rather scary to think that when I grow up the legislature or the court can change the definition of any word they want.”

The definition of marriage has always changed, Sarah.  In fact, what you think of marriage doesn’t look anything like the ideas of marriage that came before it.

You probably think that marriage was always between one man and one woman, but that’s not true.  In 1650, the parliament of Nürnberg decreed that men could take up to ten wives for a brief period, and the Catholic Church adopted it.  Starting with St. Augustine in the 5th century polygamy, a form of marriage where a man can marry more than one woman, was practiced for over seven hundred years before the Roman Catholic Church put an official end to the practice in the 12th century.

Marriage was also not even always about love, Sarah.  For a long time marriages were arranged.  That meant that a young man and a young woman’s parents decided they were going to marry for reasons that had nothing to do with whether or not the two loved each other.  This is because a long time ago the Hebrews looked at marriage as a way to manage property and financial issues.  In fact, in these marriages somebody would often stand in for the groom who wasn’t even in attendance!  It is this tradition of marriage as a financial matter that gave us the idea of a dowry.

In those times, Sarah, the way you think of marriage would have looked very odd.  But as time progresses, we need to change the definition of marriage to match what is going on in the world.  In the 12th century the troubadors introduced the concept of romantic love to the notion of marriage, and the definition changed.  In the 1960s we introduced the idea that white people and black people could marry, and again the definition changed.  The person we marry is no longer selected for us (even though people like you are trying to keep that tradition alive by telling others who they can or cannot marry, Sarah), because the definition of marriage changed.

It’s ok for the definition of marriage to change as human beings get wiser.  You should be grateful the definition changes because it has allowed your parents to have the marriage of which you approve.  Don’t be afraid of the definition changing when it needs to, and right now it needs to, Sarah.  Lots of people who love each other just as deeply as your parents can’t form a family, just like white people and black people couldn’t form a family, because people like you don’t want to change the definition of marriage one more time.

“People have the choice to be gay, but I don’t want to be affected by their choice. People say that they were born that way, but I’ve met really nice adults who did change.”

Sarah, even if being gay was a choice, why does that matter?

And why should gay people want to change?  If they are happy, why would anybody want them to change?  There are some behaviors that hurt others: stealing, lying, hating for no reason, and such.  People who infringe on the happiness of others are bad people and should definitely change.  But why should anyone try to not be gay?  How are you “affected by their choice”?  How does it hurt anyone?

Have you ever talked to a politician to say that the best birthday present you could receive would be for them to send more food to starving children?  Doesn’t that seem way more important than stopping two people who are happy with each other?  What does it say of you, Sarah, that one of those is more important to you than the other?  Is that the kind of person you really want to be?

And Sarah, the smartest psychiatrists on the planet think you’re wrong.  You surely don’t think you know better than them, do you?

No, human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight. For most people, sexual orientation emerges in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. Although we can choose whether to act on our feelings, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.

You say that you don’t want to be affected by gay people, and it doesn’t seem like you are.  Have you considered that they don’t want to be affected by you? Almost all of them just want to live their lives happily with the person they love, and they are very much being affected by your choice when you ask lawmakers to keep them apart.  How fair is that?  You don’t want to be affected by them, but it’s ok for them to be affected by you?

Remember Sarah, you don’t want young people to grow up confused about what is right.  Holding double standards isn’t right, and love is not wrong, especially when it only makes people happy and doesn’t bring harm to anyone.

I confess I was terribly disappointed when you asked for something so horrible for your birthday; when you said that the best gift you could think of was for you to be allowed to tell two people who love each other that marriage is good enough for your parents, but not for them.  The best gift you could receive wasn’t for war to end, or far the starving to be fed, or anything like that – it was to keep people who love each other from forming a family.  Your best should be better, Sarah.  And if your parents share your views, knowing how wonderful marriage can be for two people who love each other, then they should also do better.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • John Eberhard

    Well said.

  • Carol Eberhard

    Wonderfully said.

  • Nicole

    Very well said, JT. You even made me tear up.

    Indoctrination at its “finest”.

  • otocump

    Very well said.

  • mas528

    Thank you JT.

    I have wanted to say that atheists would not resort to “no true scotsman” when an atheist does something bad.

    We would denounce the atheist who said something bad, unlike the christians who always say either they’re not true christians or that just because they self-identify as christian does not mean that they are. Sometimes even worse, they say that it is atheists posing as christians.

    About the screen caps and evidence, conservatives and religious people seem to have no idea about the idea of evidence or sourcing, preferring to use word-of-mouth/telephone games to disseminate (mis)information. This has been true as long as conservatives have written articles.

    • Forbidden Snowflake

      I have wanted to say that atheists would not resort to “no true scotsman” when an atheist does something bad.

      Well… Real atheists would not resort to “not true Scotsman”.

  • ash

    My diagnosis

    From YouTube: “My god I hate people like this. Most (not all) Americans are [expletive] retards. If I ever see this girl, I will kill her. That’s a promise.”

    Other entries: “Her parents should be exterminated.”

    “The [sic] is why abortion must stay legal – to prevent little bigots like this from being Born…”


    “Kill this child and his [sic] parent, for my 11 birthday would be a wonderful gift, thanks.”


    “Her belief is hurting other people. I will attack her as much as I please.”


    “Parents like hers should be sterilized…”


    “I’m gonna kill ‘er!”


    Our vitriol, even when uncool, is more imaginative than that last one

    • ash

      sorry… and the first two

      From YouTube: “My god I hate people like this. Most (not all) Americans are [expletive] retards. If I ever see this girl, I will kill her. That’s a promise.”


      Other entries: “Her parents should be exterminated.”


  • Darrel Ray

    I only wish she would read your post. It would be the best present I have received all day. Loved the comparison to other marriage and previous definitions of marriage. Its a hard lesson for a 14 yrs. old whose parents have taught her that the world hasn’t changed since the bible was written – to learn that the world is constantly changing and isn’t going to stop for her or her religion. I wonder how she will react when a gay couple with two children move in next to her – when she is an adult and married?

  •!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

    I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but the first thing that stabbed me in the brain before I got three sentences in is this:

    A 14-year old can testify about marriage equality, but a college woman cannot testify about birth control?

  • ottod

    That was one of your best pieces JT. It was thoughtful, reasoned, and understanding. It would be nice if the girl could read your response.

    It would also be nice if parents would do the responsible thing and stop using their children as pawns to appeal to emotion and intolerance rather than reason and morality. It would be nice if legislative bodies stopped allowing this sort of hysterical blackmail to take place. Years from now this girl will look back on her role in this conflict and, no matter the outcome or her attitude then, I doubt she’ll take much pride in what she’s done.

  •!/gardenofboyo FredSamBoyo


  • Me

    Perfect response, I sure hope she reads it.. as well as those who have seen her letter.

  • Rory

    Really nicely done, JT. Pulls no punches, but manages to be civil and appropriately considerate of the audience. It reminds me of that open letter PZ posted to the girl who asked a museum guide if she was there when fossils were formed.

  • peicurmudgeon

    Excellent post JT.

    I read the post you linked to, and then tried to find the article on HP. I did find one article there that had over 2600 comments, and I read something over 10 pages out of 52. In there, I found comments blaming her parents, her home-schooling, calling her a bigot, a bigot-in-training, and a moron. No one was making any threats of violence against her or her parents.

    I didn’t read all the comments, but if death threats existed, they certainly weren’t all that common. On YouTube, the discussion was nastier, but most of the commenst were directed at other commentors. The mmost offensive one that I saw was soneone wanting to ‘hook-up’ with her. There were a number of comments deleted, and they may have been threats of violence, I don’t know. Without screen shots, we’ll never know.

    Anyway, I very much agree with you that calling for violence is exactly the wrong response.

    BTW – severql people in the comments section believe that this woman is her mother.

  • Drakk

    Do we know that Sarah is doing this of her own accord?

  • Rich C

    That was a powerful and well-written piece. I loved it. I do have a suggestion for a change though. In the section on polygamy, you mention a stretch of time from the 5th century to the 12th century, and say that it’s more than 1000 years. It could only be a maximum of 799 years (400 to 1199).

    I’ve been involved in debates where someone who is opposed to gay marriage threw out the “change the definition of marriage” argument. My response is that the “traditional marriage” crowd is the one trying to change the definition, from a legal contract to a strictly Christian religious ceremony. I’ll accept marriage as being between only one man and one woman as soon as all legal rights, privileges, and responsibilities are removed from all marriages.

    • JT Eberhard

      Good call on the 700 years! Changed.

  • opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces

    Very well said, JT. Considerate, incredibly gentle considering what she did, and showing the true courtesy of not talking down.

    I suspect this is what actual loving kindness looks like.

  • fastlane

    You missed what I consider a big point that is, apparently, a blind spot with the anti-gay bigots when they make comments like this:

    “I really don’t want to grow up in a world where marriage isn’t such a special thing anymore.”

    It’s far too late. Most states made it easy to get a divorce. But that’s not what they mean. For some reason, the ‘special’ part of marriage doesn’t have anything to do with trying to get it right, it only has to do with lording it over those who mostly can’t legally get married.

    • Forbidden Snowflake

      “I really don’t want to grow up in a world where marriagestraight privilege isn’t such a special thing anymore.”

      This is what it really means. Marriage is only special when it’s a privilege straight people have over gay people, you see.

  • One Furious Llama

    Garg! The frustration is too much for me. And I can’t even properly blame the idiot girl since it’s her parents fault she’s so miserably misguided.

  • Ronnie Kellogg

    Praise be to you for such a wonderful post, JT.

  • Stacey C.

    Incredibly eloquent. Thank you for this.

    As a white woman married to a black man I feel really strongly about the parallels between the fight against inter-racial marriage and gay marriage. They are both arguing that the majority should be able to dictate the rights and actions of the minority. And they are both arguing that there can only be one definition of love that is determined by the majority.

    Except they’re not just claiming the right to define these things…they’re saying that they get to *dictate* what is considered an acceptable kind of love. They seek active punishments against those who dare to love outside of these boundaries. And that’s what makes it so vicious and spiteful. They’re really acknowledging that there are other ways to love…but that they consider them unacceptable and therefore subject to suppression.

  • Adam

    Are the right wingers clamoring about this? I remember that kid that said something to Bachmann about his gay mom and right wingers on forums went nuts over “using kids for the parent’s political gains” or something like that.

  • Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

    This is because a long time ago the Hebrews looked at marriage as a way to manage property and financial issues.

    No, not the Hebrews especially. This has actually been the norm in patriarchal societies generally.

    In the 12th century the troubadors introduced the concept of romantic love to the notion of marriage

    To be more specific, the concept of romantic love was originally (i.e. in the 12th and 13th centuries) an extra-marital ideal. It took a few more centuries for the concept of a love-marriage to take hold as the norm–and that usually only within one’s social class, including religious denomination, economic status, ethnic background etc. It was only in the twentieth century when those barriers were broken and the notion of marriage as a partnership of equals joining their lives out of love really came into its own.

    In a “traditional marriage” Sarah would be chattel.

  • Amber

    Frankly, the government should have nothing to do with marriage. The government should only recognize a civil union contract a couple signs and has witnessed by a lawyer or judge or whatever, and that’s all you need for your rights and privileges as a legally recognized couple. On top of that you can have any ceremony, religious or otherwise, you want, or none at all, and it’s none of the government’s or anyone else’s business. Gay couple denied by a church? Fine, their religious freedom. Church down the street happy to marry you? Also fine, it’s their religious freedom and the government stays out of it unless one church tries to interfere with the other. One government civil contract recognized for all couples of competent, consenting adults. Marriage ceremonies the private business of the couple, full stop.

    • Rory

      Yes. This exactly.

  • Jake

    The people who are now strongly against same-sex marriage were the ones who were strongly against slavery. So much for the truth of the cartoon.

    I ask:

    What has homosexuality contributed to society?
    - complete self-indulgence in pursuit of sexual pleasure? Never self-correcting, never taking criticism.

    What has Christianity contributed to society?
    - elevation of women, support of orphans and widows, civil order, education of all, respect for all stations in life because all are made in the image of God and worthy of respect. Christianity self-corrects – sometimes from without but mostly from within.

    What is the highest expression of Homosexuality?
    - The Gay Pride Parade? The AIDS Quilt? The Village People?

    What is the highest expression of Chrisitianity?
    - The Declaration of Independence? IVY League Universities? Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and Boys Town? Hospitals? Orphanages? Old Age homes? Schools? Soup kitchens? Food banks?

    Gay pride is an oxymoron.
    Funny thing, Christian pride is an oxymoron, too (it’s in the Bible!)

    • Ubi Dubium

      What has Christianity contributed to society?
      - elevation degradation and oppression of women, support of orphans and widows wealthy clergymen, civil order war, education indoctrination of all, respect for condemnation of all stations in life other than your own because all are made in the image of God and worthy of respect eternal damnation. Christianity never self-corrects – sometimes from without but mostly from within in only gets dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era, and then takes credit for all accomplishing all those things that they once so fervently opposed.

      Fixed that for you.

  • writerJames

    The instinct to get frustrated and respond with anger to sentiments like Sarah’s might still be strong for a lot of people, but it’s worth remembering that people always deserve at least the chance of a sincere, gentle dialogue, especially when they’re a kid still learning things about the world. I hadn’t even considered the obvious comparison to the way people treated Jessica Ahlquist, but that ought to make it even clearer that it’s not okay to lash out at Sarah the way one might be inclined to against a lot of bigoted assholes.

    So yes, nicely done JT.

  • P Smith

    I looked at the link. To no surprise, the person is sort of coward who “moderates” comments by only posting those who agree with his narrow minded and dishonest view. If you disagree and challenge him to cite sources, your words won’t appear.

    Those who hurled insults and threats against Jessica Ahlquist were named in newspapers, not invented lies and unsourced claims like the imbecile’s claim of “threats” against Sarah Crank. The guy is a crank.


  • mugwort

    I for the most agree with the content of this letter. The part that is pro gay marriage. People should love whoever they love. OTOH hand marriage isn’t for everyone. I mean this as a personal choice. Many folks just live together. Some folks are not interested in a relationship. However I think its truly unfair to paint every Christian with the same brush. While its pretty much true ultraconservative, rightwing Christians dominate what many people are thinking , there are liberal ones. Liberal Christians are for equality, including marriage for Homosexuals, feminism, antiracism, the environment etc. My point is don’t assume each believer is a rightwinger. There are liberal groups in virtually every major Protestant denomination. Unsure re: Roman Catholics. Not enough knowledge.
    I am Jewish. I just don’t care for overgeneralization. On a personal note a male cousin is gay. Two of my women friends are lovers. That’s fine with me. I just don’t want any male actor I have the hots for to be homosexual.