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Civil rights in ’64, gay marriage now: The difference a law can make to a child, a culture

MinnPost photo by James Nord
Last week's final Senate vote and the governor signing gay-marriage into law were historic events. Right up there with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 1968, my family moved from New Jersey to Dallas, Texas. Fast forward to 1971 and I was being bused to the south side to go to school with African-American kids. To this day, it was the best educational, if not life, experience that I have ever had — an experience for which I am truly grateful.

daklin
Carrie Daklin

But it was one whose impact only became evident with time and maturity. I was going to school with black kids. This was a very big deal. At 10, I did not know why.

Forty years later, I do. The effects of the civil-rights laws were in their infancy. It had no bearing on me that the kids I was going to school with were a different race than I was – until the grown-ups brought it up.

Curious about differences, but found few

Was I curious that we were different? Of course. I had had a couple of encounters with people of other races, but they were not a frequent thing at that time.

What had more of an impact on me was the fact that their lifestyle seemed so different from  mine: I lived in a middle-class household that belonged to a country club. A lot of the kids’ parents didn’t even have cars.

This was confusing to me. Why were things so different in North Dallas from what they were in South?

Children have a unique ability to look past the subterfuge of adults and see the real thing: kids. Yeah, our hair was different, our skin was ashy or it wasn’t, and most kids at my school had brown eyes when I had blue.

That’s about the sum total of what I remember being different.

I have a grandchild who is a little over a year old. Last week’s final Senate vote and the governor signing gay-marriage into law were historic events. Right up there with the Civil Rights Act of  1964.

Marriage licenses available to same-sex couples will become legal on Aug. 1, 2013. By the time my grandson starts kindergarten, he will no doubt be surrounded by kids whose same-sex parents are legally married.

In a few years, a commonplace thing

To him it will be a normal occurrence – an everyday, commonplace thing. It will, no doubt, take a generation before the remarks or glances subside. Culturally, some things are hard to let go.

What will his life be like? He certainly won’t be bused to “the gay side of town.” It won’t be that explicit, and because of that I wonder how he will reconcile what is at once normal and undoubtedly sometimes castigated, in the mind of a 5-year-old.

The responsibility to prevent that confusion lies with us.

As we move forward, regardless of your views, this is this law. Will you join in celebrating the democracy in which we live, or will you – even silently, most effectively silently – undermine its strength?

Carrie Daklin is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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