“The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity. … you’ll be surprised to find how like hate is to love.” – George Bernard Shaw, “The Devil’s Disciple (1897)”
I recently finished reading Sarah Vowell’s “Unfamiliar Fishes,” a nonfiction account of the American annexation of Hawaii in 1898 with the aid of a little imperialist manifest destiny. It reads like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in slow motion, with rich white settlers slowly supplanting native Hawaiians with the help of American Christian missionaries. The words of Liliuokalani, the last queen of Hawaii, are particularly moving; she abdicated to prevent bloodshed in “the certainty which I feel that you [President Harrison] and your government will right whatever wrongs may have been inflicted on us in the premises.”
On Aug. 27, I was at the Roseville City Hall as the council considered adoption of the Roseville Human Rights Commission’s resolution opposing the proposed state constitutional marriage amendment. It was a larger assembly than usual, with the majority there to voice their opposition to the amendment. A number of amendment supporters also shared their thoughts, including one man who, among other baffling things, claimed gay men have to wear diapers. (My eyebrows have since returned to my forehead.)
What struck me was that every amendment supporter invariably said something to the effect of: “I don’t have anything against gay people, but …” This phrase is a trope now, and it’s that “but” that intrigues me. As a gay man, I often hear variants of this prelude whenever the subject of my sexuality comes up: “I’m not here to judge you, but …”
Do I think those who want to bar me from attaining the right to ever marry my boyfriend in this state and in this country are simply homophobic? Hateful? Evil? It would be easy to paint them the monochromatic, rage-filled mob like the one that demonstrated the 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High School. As a gay man, I almost feel entitled to — but that would be disingenuous.
Equally troubling: indifference
There are those who seem genuinely to hate LGBT individuals, such as Charles Worley, the pastor who called for a gay holocaust, complete with concentration camps. However, this seems an exception, as most same-sex marriage opponents lack that brand of animus. Well-meant and ingratiating as they may be, however, their determined opposition indicates something equally troubling — indifference to human hardship. That’s not to say that they don’t feel sorry for what they see as “the way things are,” which is why they seem compelled to begin their explanations with an apology. But neither are they compelled to do anything about it.
There are 515 laws in Minnesota and more than 1,138 federal laws that discriminate against same-sex couples. Things like being compelled to testify against your partner because he’s not your legal spouse. Having to carry legal documents on a flash drive in case need arises to prove to hospital staff that you hold the medical directive for your comatose wife. Or the government revoking your husband’s visa because the government doesn’t recognize your relationship. These are policies that degrade and demean human beings, and there’s no justification to adequately follow a “but.”
They may not hate us, but neither do they love us
Supporters of this amendment may not hate homosexuals, but neither do they love us, in stark contrast to commands in their holy book. “Owe no one anything except to love each other” and “bear one another’s burdens,” wrote the apostle Paul. The words of Christ are even clearer: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The impetus here is not to force acceptance of homosexuality. We ask merely to be accepted, and to be treated impartially, and to pass an amendment that permanently bans same-sex marriage in Minnesota is to place religious belief above the affirmation of human dignity. It is to tell gay and lesbian soldiers that they are good enough to fight and die for their country, but not good enough to marry the person they love. It is to turn away from the indignity of being denied the right to make decisions about a spouse’s remains. It is, in essence, to not care — a failure to look your neighbor in the eye and recognize our kinship in the human race.
It’s not something I do; it’s who I am
It is to deny my fundamental personhood, because homosexuality isn’t something I do: It’s who I am. And my love for my boyfriend shouldn’t be viewed as inferior because of the arbitrary chromosomal circumstances of our birth.
Like Queen Liliuokalani, I look at what’s happening to our country and at those working to turn it into a place where I and my fellow gay brothers and sisters are no longer welcome, and wonder who will “right whatever wrongs may have been inflicted on us in the premises.”
David Philip Norris is a writer and musician from St. Paul.
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