Simple Gifts

The story of the day remains President Obama finally saying out loud that he supports marriage equality. It is, as countless pundits and commentators have said, a breakthrough for civil and gay rights in America. And it is; a sitting American president has finally said he supports the right of same-sex couples to get married and share in the benefits and responsibilities of that state and contract.

And a lot of people—including myself—have said that it's about time. It is nice to hear it at long last. But in observing that it is long overdue, I do not wish to obscure the fact that compared to his predecessors—and those who would wish to replace him—President Obama's administration has done more for LGBTQI rights than all the previous presidents put together, and it is the actions, not the words, that really matter. And there have been a lot of actions.

There's another level to this. It is more than just the actions and the policies that matter to me. It is the simple assurance that, as an American who happens to be a member of the LGBTQI community, I can feel like my President is with me. In this cynical age (and trust me, I know from cynicism), where politics and partisanship and campaigning are paramount considerations, it is still important for me to hear it.

It may not matter as much to a white, cisgender, middle-aged guy like me who has been comfortable with being out of the closet since the Ford administration, but there are a lot of people for whom this statement of support will be life-changing, people who are still struggling with being out because of family or faith or social pressure to conform with the straight configuration of boys liking girls leading to marriage and kids and minivans. (By the way, you may have heard a lot of same-sex couples have kids and minivans, and a lot of straight couples don't. See also: Kate's post on upholding aspects of the kyriarchy even while dismantling others.)

There are kids who are too young to understand why they are more interested in being with someone of their own sex and wonder when they will grow out of it and know instinctively that they can't talk about it for fear of schoolyard taunts and being "different" at a stage when conformity is the lifeblood of social interaction. They hear the voices on TV railing against we radical homosexuals and our tawdry lives of debauchery, but do not understand why they feel like they're the target. They feel apart from their faith and practice because they know, deep in their hearts, that they do not measure up to the expectations of their church. And while the preachers and scolds are obsessed with sex, kids and adults who don't care one bit about what goes on in the bedroom cannot understand why they should be made to feel ashamed of what is for them a perfectly natural attraction in both a physical and intellectual way to someone of the same sex.

I was one of those kids once.

For the President of the United States—the most powerful person in the world—to calmly tell a TV interviewer in a casual conversation on a sunny May afternoon that he believes that same-sex couples should be able to get married may be a very big deal in the LGBTQI rights movement. It may be a big deal in the political arena as that president stands for re-election, and it will certainly bring the issue to the forefront for the next couple of news cycles, as it has since the vice president got out in front of it last Sunday. It is certainly a distraction from the issue of the economy and the lagging recovery, and if the cynics and the skeptics want to point out that Mr. Obama has provided an "oh look at the kitty" moment for his campaign, they are welcome to say so.

But I have to say that regardless of whatever the motive may be, it still stands as a potential gift of comfort and assurance—even to a white, cisgender, middle-aged guy like me who has been comfortable with being out of the closet since the Ford administration. I have waited to hear this simple statement of inclusion. Millions of us have waited for it. For me to hear it has been a gift.

This doesn't change things overnight. Today there will still be people fired from their jobs or denied a place to live or a couples-only vacation because they are gay. The schoolyard bullies will still be there with their taunts, the preachers will still be there with their obsessive and all-too-enthusiastic talk about sodomy, and teenagers will still be thrown into the streets by parents who tell them that no kid of theirs will be queer. But I believe a cog has shifted in the universe, and no matter what happens in an election in November, the simple fact is that we among you who happen to be gay and want, now or someday, to participate in the institution of marriage have been given the gift of encouragement to become part of us.

[Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.]

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