Marriage Myths, Pt. 3: Wait. We’re not ready.

I had a call from John Edwards’ campaign yesterday, asking for money, which reminded me that I never finished this series on the top 3 excuses Democrats use to deny marriage equality. In the previous two, I’ve quoted Clinton on the states’ rights argument and Obama on religion. The voice of the final, third excuse is Edwards’ famous quote, “I’m not there yet.”

I suspect that this is the real reason behind the other two, that religion and states’ rights are just used as a less personal justification for Edwards’ painfully honest confession, “I’m not there yet.”

Part of me respects Edwards for his frankness, for talking about the internal struggle he has with overcoming his upbringing, his religion, his culture to come to grips with something that he seems to recognize is not only inevitable but right.

Part of me wants to say, “Get over yourself.” Or, “So you’re personally not there yet. So what?”

He’s received a lot of praise from progressives for this answer. I wonder if they would be so understanding if he used his religion as a reason to not support divorce laws, or if he used his cultural upbringing as an excuse for racism.

I think of the three arguments, this one bothers me the most. The other two are more academic. They’re based on false or misleading representations of basic fact. They can be disproven with simple evidence and argument. They’re evasive attempts to avoid admitting prejudice. They’re frustrating because they gloss over the truth and allow people to squirm out of saying how they really feel, laying it all on the doorstep of religious freedom or states rights.

This last excuse is the hardest to deal with precisely because it is honest and personal. I know that Edwards is saying what many people feel, but maybe aren’t ready to say aloud as he did.

I know, because I’ve heard it. From my family. Years before Edwards said, “I’m not there yet,” the people who brought me into this world, who loved me more than anyone, said, “We love you, but…” “We’re not there yet…” “You can’t expect us to accept…”

It took a while to realize I can and should expect them to accept me, to love me, to recognize that they have no right to hold their bigotry against me, that it is their problem, not mine, if they’re not there yet.

I feel the same way about John Edwards. As much as I can admire his honesty, I have to ask why I should postpone my equality to wait for him to catch up. Why does he think his own personal comfort should take precedence over the equal rights of millions of citizens?

I’m not picking only on Edwards. As I said, I think he’s only saying what many others feel. Read any progressive blog, including the one on Edwards’ site, and you’ll see comments about how gay people should shut up about marriage equality because it will alienate voters who aren’t there yet. They say we should wait until more people are comfortable with the idea of equality.

When exactly will that be? What will make it come about?

Change is never comfortable. Progress is never comfortable. If we as a country had waited until everyone was comfortable with the idea of racial equality before passing civil rights legislation, well, we’d still be waiting today because look around. There are still plenty of Americans who aren’t comfortable with it.

Surveys show that Americans are slowly growing more comfortable with LGBT equality, but what has brought that about? Making them uncomfortable. People can argue that it was wrong to push for marriage equality in some states, that that provoked the far right, but gaining some semblance of equality in places like Massachusetts has eventually led to greater acceptance. Doing something that originally made a lot of people uncomfortable led to greater comfort. Do we think that acceptance of LGBT relationships in Massachusetts would be as high today if marriage hadn’t been legalized there? Without minority groups pushing for equality, what motivation does the majority ever have for recognizing them?

I can understand that people have to struggle with the prejudices they were raised with. We all do. You can’t grow up in a racist society without being affected by it. We should all struggle with it every day and own it, take responsibility for it, face truths that aren’t comfortable and things we’re not ready for. That’s not what Edwards and the rest are doing. They’re telling other people to put their rights on hold until they’re ready to grant them. How much of a struggle is that?

If Edwards or any of the candidates wants my respect, they can say, “I’ve struggled with this personally because my religion and my culture have brought me up to think differently, but as President I know that I have to see beyond the limits of my own upbringing and do what is right. I know that equality is right, so even though I struggle with this internally and need to work through it, and even though I know this may not be easy for some to accept, I will support full marriage equality because it is right.”

Would that really be that hard?


1 Comment

  1. October 15, 2007 at 11:39 am

    […] Go to Part 3.  […]

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