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.


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