I was raised in very political evangelical home. As a small child, I attended a rally against Hilary’s healthcare proposals in the early 1990s, sitting atop my father’s shoulders. Before I was ten, I was a pro at working the polls, and would spend all day every election day working a table for the Republicans. Election night, 1994, is one of my most formative early memories. As an older teen I once tried to count how many candidates I had campaigned for, and lost track as the number went into the dozens.
It would be all well and good if I was simply along for the ride, but I wasn’t. I had siblings who found our family’s heavy political activism a bore, but I didn’t. I found it exciting. And so, as a teenage girl ten years ago, I was more than happy to participate in an anti-gay rally in my state’s capital. Technically the rally was in favor of a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, but the effect was the same. Republican leaders and pastors dressed the huge crowd, and I watched as someone tried to raise a banner in support of marriage equality only to have it blocked by signs in support of “traditional marriage.”
I cringe now at that term, “traditional marriage.” I am married today, and many people would likely see my marriage as a “traditional marriage,” but it’s not. You see, my husband and I approach each other as equals, and work together as partners. We can also divorce, for any reason or no reason at all, if we so chose to, and if we did we would almost certainly receive joint custody. None of this has anything at all to do with “traditional marriage,” which was primarily a property exchange, and in which the wife had almost no rights. Heck, laws against marital rape upset “traditional marriage.”
Our society left “traditional marriage” behind decades ago—and I couldn’t be happier.
But that is how I feel now, not how I felt then. Ten years ago Iw as proud to be a part of that crowd, proud to cheer alongside everyone else. And maybe you are thinking, but Libby, you were a teenager. You were raised in an evangelical home, and you were homeschooled using Christian curriculum, you didn’t know any better. Perhaps. But I did make a choice.
I also spoke to reporters, and was quoted in newspapers. I was no mere child dragged to a political rally by her parents. I was on board with the message 100%. I was willing to work to limit the rights of people I had never met based on my parents’ and my pastor’s word alone. I didn’t feel the need to verify. I wasn’t a little kid, I was a teenager.
I felt the same elation so many others felt after Friday’s ruling. I’ve been a supporter of marriage equality since college, when I left home for the first time and realized that the world is so much bigger than I had had any idea of. And so I sat there thinking about the long road I have traveled in the past decade. Ten years ago I cheered as politicians denounced gay marriage. Ten years ago I spoke to reporters, explaining my support for “traditional marriage.” And here I am, ten years later, crying tears of joy that marriage equality is now the law of the land in all fifty states.
My daughter Sally has been a supporter of marriage equality since she first became aware of it several years ago. She initially thought it was strange that boys might want to marry boys and girls might want to marry girls, but her innate sense of fairness kicked in immediately. She was incensed that anyone would want to stop someone from marrying the person they love. Yes, I realize that her position was shaped by the way I introduced the issue—I didn’t present gays and lesbians as deviant the way my parents did—but Sally also has a very strong sense of justice, and I think that played a role as well.
Several months ago, Sally told me out of the blue that I should become a “judging person” when I grow up. Confused, I asked her what she meant. She explained as follows:
“If you grow up to be a judging person you can make the other states change their laws so that boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls. Because if I grow up and find a girl I really like, I want to be able marry her without having to move to another state or something.”
And so I think Sally was taken aback, several days ago, when I told her that as a teenager I had participated in rallies in opposition to allowing same-sex couples to marry. “You did a wrong thing, mom!” she exclaimed, obviously shocked. “You did a wrong thing!” Her eyes were wide and her attention was undivided. “Yes I did,” I told her. “But then I got older and changed my mind.” And of course, she wanted to know why. So I explained:
“When I went to college I made a friend I really liked, who was really kind to everyone and everyone loved him, and then he came out as gay. It made me realize that gay people are just like everyone else.”
And she accepted that. I don’t think she was actually upset with me or anything, I think she was just surprised that her mother, who encourages her to treat everyone with kindness, would have opposed marriage equality. But perhaps, in that moment, she got a better understanding of he journey I have traveled. As children we often think of our parents as static. My life so far has been anything but.
Of course, I’m far from the only one to have changed my mind over the past decade. Nate Silverman wrote about the pace of change on this issue several days ago. He discussed it as follows:
Some of it is generational; older voters have gradually been replaced in the electorate by younger ones who are more likely to support gay marriage.
However, many people have also changed their minds. In the next chart, I’ve estimated support for gay marriage by age based on the versions of the General Social Survey conducted in 2004 (when 31 percent of respondents supported gay marriage overall in the poll) and 2014 (when 57 percent did). The rise in support far exceeds what can be explained by generational turnover alone. For example, someone (like me) born in 1978 would have a 45 percent chance of supporting gay marriage as a 26-year-old in 2004. As a 36-year-old in 2014, they’d have a 63 percent chance of supporting it. Probably one-half to two-thirds of the rise in support for gay marriage has been a result of people changing their minds on the issue.
There’s a lot of talk about how knowing gay people often results in people changing their position on marriage equality, and that is indeed what happened in my case. But what I can’t help but feel is that it shouldn’t take that. We support the rights of people we’ve never seen or known all the time. And it’s a good thing, too! Indeed, that should be our default. Why, then, has it been different for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals? (This goes far beyond marriage equality; it’s about ensuring equal rights in every area for each of these groups.) Why have so many needed to know a member of these groups before supporting their rights?
Sally didn’t have to know a gay person before becoming a supporter of gay rights. All she had to know was that they are human. Indeed, when I queried her yesterday, she told me she doesn’t know any gay or lesbian individuals. The thing is, she does, she just doesn’t realize it. And how would she, really? I started mentioning gay friends of ours that she knows, and she just hadn’t realized they were gay, because we don’t exactly introduce them like that. And I mean, who does? “This is Derek, he’s gay.” Yeah, not usually. I also told Sally that some of her friends may be gay, and indeed that she might be too, but that people don’t usually find that out until they go through puberty.
My point, of course, is that one should not have to know gay people to support gay rights. I think the issue is the misinformation. Many people, especially older people but also younger people raised in evangelical or conservative homes, have been given lies and stereotypes about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Gay men are promiscuous and will never settle down, lesbians just hate men, bisexuals will never be satisfied with one sexual partner at a time, and transgender people are a threat to children—there is so very much misinformation out there.
What’s unfortunate is that so many people have believed the misinformation rather than taking the time to actually meet a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person before making a judgement or forming a position. And that, I think, is what I still feel bad about. Yes, I was given misinformation. Yes, I was lied to. But I never took the time to verify any of it before opposing equal rights for an entire group of people, and that was wrong. But in Sally and in other children like her I see our future, and it is a bright future indeed.