Growing up in the desert farmlands of Southern Arizona, the story of civil rights in America was told primarily by TV sets and the advent of the VCR. I only knew what I saw on the screen, that in a distant, forgotten time there had been injustice in the world and it had been based on something as trivial as the color of a person’s skin.
I was born in 1971, and despite my ignorance the civil rights movement was still going strong, and it was not confined solely to persons of color, but to other facets of the community that I had yet to comprehend. I was in a bubble of shared silence. Both of my parents worked, many of our neighbors were an ethnicity other than white, and I had never once considered the possibility that homosexuality existed. I didn’t ask, and nobody told. We were going to church, getting by financially, and all that I knew was normal to me. We were all different and we were all the same.
By the time I was in grade school I had already overheard the quiet rumblings of racism and antisemitism that seemed to hang just outside earshot of polite conversation, but the whispers were covered in laughs, which, I was assured, acted like a blanket of justification over such cold talk. Besides, blatant hatred and offensive attacks usually came from those I deemed too old to change or too dumb to matter, and yet there were times that I would laugh right along with them, each chuckle pushing tightly against the comfort and confines of my own white skin.
Hollywood continued to mirror our society and I watched it reflect nightly in my living room. It was in that smudge-stained glass, three channels wide and many decades deep that I began to see the world for how it really was and wondered how I fit within it.
“If I had lived then,” I thought, “I would fight on the right side of decency. I would be on the right side of history.”
It baffled me that people had been so adamant against commonsense as to let their unfounded fears and personal prejudices guide them. I could not, still cannot, understand how people could believe that the color of a person’s skin made them any more or less than those of another.
I slept soundly knowing that I would have done the right thing, and I convinced myself that my work, which had been mostly theory and within a no-block radius, was done.
But it wasn’t done. Years later, long after my small town eduction had grown to include the real experiences of life and travel, I found myself knee-deep in the world of parenting, and I set out to ensure that my children would be endowed with the compassion and empathy that I had been made to earn. I promised that their choices would be based more on understanding than from a lack of it.
We may live in a world of end zone politics, but our lives are played upon the field. It is not black and white, or all green grass and other sides, but rather swirls of color and shades of gray.
However, that is not the case with same-sex marriage. The right for all people, in this case, all tax-paying citizens of the United States, to marry the person of their choosing is such an obvious thing that to fight against it is well beyond the bounds of politics and commonsense. To suggest otherwise is to declare an ignorance of history and to put oneself squarely on the wrong side of it.
All people deserve the rights and assurances afforded by marriage should they so desire to enter into it. Denying that is to deny, in their purest forms, love and honesty, and those are two things that we cannot afford to put asunder. They are in dreadful short supply.
Someday my children will watch a television screen much bigger than those I had known, and it will have channels that run rampant in every direction, but when the reflections of society leap and jump from it, I want my boys to know exactly where I stood on sides of decency. I want them to be baffled by those that let their prejudices guide them.
Compassion and empathy. Love and honesty. Understanding.
“I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
It is a simple sentence of sincerity and substance, the putting of words behind support and action. It is a sentence reinforcing the beliefs and character ingrained in my children.
They are the words of President Barack Obama, said today (May 9, 2012) clear and official, and they are a step in the right direction.
This post first appeared on The Honea Express