Saturday, May 20, 2006

The 'Defense' Rests

I received my first marriage proposal at the age of eighteen. My fiancé, a year older than I, was a real catch. A Tom Hanks look-alike, he was tall and lanky, with curly brown hair and a sweet, slightly loopy smile. Kenny was smart, funny, athletic, a gifted actor and a talented saxophone player who helped me get a full-tuition music scholarship at the community college he attended a year ahead of me. His mom had been my first piano teacher, and we had been friends ever since I was in the eighth grade. We bonded in high school, both of us being theater geeks, band nerds - not terribly popular but cool with being 'on the fringe'. Music and drama helped us both to find our own place in the spinning vortex that is high school.

Kenny was a college sophomore and I was a freshman when he proposed. We were both music majors, and both had jobs as well - I was playing keyboards in local bands at night, and he was the night manager of a convenience store. Unlike most of my other male friends, Kenny was already planning for a home and family. Hard-working and thrifty, he was putting away money for a down payment on a house. I adored him. We had so much in common - including the fact that we both liked guys.

Yep, Kenny was gay. It was not a 'lifestyle choice'; it was not a 'sexual preference', like 'preferring' tea to coffee. Believe me, Kenny did not just wake up one fine morning and say, "I think I'll alienate my family, exclude myself from the social mainstream, jeopardize my ability to choose where I live and what I do, and lay myself open to rejection, discrimination, violence, hate, and fear." Folks, I'm afraid he was born that way. Take it from someone who grew up with him.

As close as we were in high school, we never talked about it. He had a 'girlfriend', a sax player at another high school, and we both pretended that he was in love with her long enough for him to have a prom date. It wasn't until after I graduated in the late '70s and disco was king that Kenny opened up to me about being gay. He introduced me to the gay subculture in our town, and I went with him to the gay bars and the all-night discos. He would have crushes on guy after guy, always so sure that this one was 'the one', but somehow it never seemed to work out. Although finally free to 'be himself' with other people who felt the way he did, the long-term relationship and stability that he wanted so much was at odds with the hedonistic excesses of the era, and there was no social framework in place to support him.

This was where I came in. As we saw it, our getting married could solve a lot of difficulties (Your Honor, I plead the ignorance of eighteen). Kenny's mom knew me and liked me; she would be happy that I would give Kenny social validity; Kenny could have the home and family he wanted - well, at least the home and the appearance of a family. I could have my cake and eat it, too - a partner who would be there for me financially and emotionally without asking for sexual fidelity, who would give me a home and not care what time I came back to it!

Well, as it turned out, we didn't get married after all; there was that pesky detail of 'being in love' that we knew, as young and nutty as we were, was the real reason for getting married. As much as we loved each other as friends, there would never be a marriage in our hearts. We went our separate ways; I went on the road and he stayed in our home town, still working, still saving, still waiting and hoping for the dream to come true. We still kept in touch, and when I came home to visit my family, we'd get together and catch up on each others' lives. Kenny eventually got the home, but the life partner to share it with never came along.

After a few years, I moved to California and my visits were spaced farther and farther apart. Sometimes I saw him, sometimes I didn't, but there was always 'next time'. I got married (for real) and after the birth of my first child, I flew back home with my husband and new son, eager to introduce them to my family and friends. I couldn't catch up with Kenny; I left messages on his machine, but in the whirlwind of activity surrounding the new baby, I put Kenny on my 'next time' list.

Two weeks after I went back to California, my sister called me to tell me that Kenny had died of AIDS.

When I hear people talking about the "Defense of Marriage", it just makes me want to spit. I believe that if Kenny had been allowed to marry, if there had been a social structure in place at that time that encouraged and rewarded commitment in gay people as well as straight, that Kenny would most likely be alive today.

Just who are they 'defending' marriage from? Is there some straight woman that won't be able to find a mate because the gay boys 'got' all the men? The arguments that the staunch 'Knights of Matrimony' throw out don't hold water to me.

Jan LaRue, a member of the Concerned Women of America ('concerned' with getting all up in other peoples' private lives!) - a lawyer, for gosh sakes - talks about why gay marriage is so very wrong...
Granting a marriage license to homosexuals because they engage in sex is as illogical as granting a medical license to a barber because he wears a white coat or a law license to a salesman because he carries a briefcase. Real doctors, lawyers and the public would suffer as a result of licensing the unqualified and granting them rights, benefits and responsibilities as if they were qualified.

Qualified? Qualified?!?

Yes, I guess the lovely and talented Lyle Menendez is 'qualified' to get married. No doubt the devilishly handsome Scott Peterson, with his boyish charm, will be married before you know it, taking his pick of jailhouse proposals from the coterie of killer-hags that are inundating him with marriage offers. After all, he is single!

point: A child should have a mother and a father.

counterpoint: First off, I think it pretty much goes without saying that in today's society, reproduction is not the only reason to be married. I don't remember the 'Fertility Test' when my husband and I were applying for our marriage license. There are straight couples who (gasp!) choose not to have children! And how about the couples who just can't and decide to live with it? Should their licenses be revoked? What about parents who have lost a partner to divorce or death? Should their children be taken away from them?

Then, of course, what about the straight couples who have absolutely no business having children, and have them any old way? Abusive parents, neglectful parents, parents who, in their heart of hearts, don't want children but have them because of outside pressure? Am I to believe that a loving, committed gay couple would be worse for the emotional health of a kid than parents like these? Apparently so. That's right along with the "Murphy Brown" school of condemnation - those awful, selfish women who want a child so badly that they choose to have one without being married. Selfish? Most single (by choice or not) moms (and dads) I know have very little 'self' at all - they're too busy trying to raise their kids right in a two-income society. They're always at the bottom of the list. But I digress. Maybe we could force them to marry a gay man or woman. One of the opposite gender, naturally. Serve them all right.

No doubt about it, mothers and fathers are great. I am not suggesting that the mom-and-pop deal is just another family model choice. It's not. It is the dominant one, but just as no one in their right mind today would force a woman to stay with an abusive man 'for the sake of the children', the idea that any two heterosexuals (no matter how sick and dysfunctional) are better parent material than any two homosexuals (no matter how emotionally healthy and loving) is not an idea that I am prepared to accept. I am sure that there are bad gay parents out there. But I know there are bad straight parents, lots and lots of them, and no one is suggesting we abolish marriage for straight people because of that. I might even posit that, as a group, gay parents might have a higher percentage of good parenting because they often have to go to extraordinary lengths to have children, and in the face of strong opposition. It doesn't just 'happen', and I suspect the process would tend to weed out the less-motivated.

Gender role modeling? Maybe. But the overwhelming majority of gay people have (drum roll, please)… straight parents! What happened there with the 'gender modeling'? Good parents of any kind make sure their kids have positive models around them.

And then there's always the trump card - IMMORALITY! Who sez? God sez! Whose God? My God! Oh, my God. I'm not even going to bother to discuss the Bible quotes in Leviticus that are trotted out on a regular basis - smarter people than I have refuted the 'cherry-picking' of Levitical laws employed by those who feel that God Hates Fags. To these people, I say, "Fine. You're absolutely right. No one should force you to marry a gay person." Like any self-respecting queer would want to. Our country was founded by people who left their homeland and traveled thousands and thousands of miles to be free to worship as they pleased. And, yes, they were Christians. But the whole idea (and a radical one it was) was to build a country where everyone was free to worship as they pleased - not just Christian Puritans. Freedom of religion. Freedom NOT to worship if so inclined. Again, I'll leave the debating of the Constitution to my betters, but unless I'm way off the mark here, the United States of America is not a theocracy*. Isn't that exactly what we're trying to avoid setting up in that other place…what's it called again?…oh, yes - Iraq!

Well, folks, I'd better get out while the getting's good - I can see I'm heading into deep water here. But I'm still not convinced that there is any sort of justice in the fact that a mass murderer can marry and have children, if he or she chooses a partner of the opposite sex, but a law-abiding, upstanding member of society - if gay - cannot. To my mind, Your Honor, the 'Defense' doesn't have a leg to stand on.

(*note - I wrote this in 2004 - obviously that was a naïve and foolish statement.)


Sue said...

Moving story, and a stunning post. Thank you so much.

DivaJood said...

Alicia, I'm sorry about Kenny's needless death. There are so many reasons this topic infuriates me: not just because our government has ignored the catastrophe of Aids, but also because the right wing doesn't have a clue about what real parenting is about.

Aids is preventable. Let me say this again: AIDS IS PREVENTABLE. Protected sex; a clean needle program; but god forbid our (or any) government talks to people about safe sex or condones addicted people using clean needles. But because the so-called "Moral Majority" (god I hate that name) thinks that homosexuality and addiction are sins, their attitude is to let them all die. Remember when Aids was labled "The Gay Disease?"

Homosexuality is not a sin. It isn't a disease, and it isn't contagious. It isn't a life style choice. It exists in nature, always has, and always will.

Drug addiction is not a sin. It is a disease, as is alcoholism; it is a mental illness marked by an obsession of the mind and an alergy of the body.

And Parenting is not a genetic right. Parenting is work, diligence tempered by love, compassion and tenderness; guidance, teaching and kindness.

Marriage is not about sex, it is about family. Sex is about procreation in nature; marriage is about family. They are not the same things. Our "White-bread" concept of family is so narrow, and so misleading, that it makes me sick.

Look at any number of other cultures who have a much broader understanding of family. I have a friend in Australia -- a white fellow, who has been made part of an Aboriginal family. His youngest daughter is sister to an Aboriginal girl who was born the same day, same hospital -- the two girls share the same first name -- they aren't of the same parents, but they are sisters nonetheless.

The Right Wing is so short-sighted in their collective opinions about the way "things" should be. They create tragedies that they force upon the rest of us, and we need to give voice to change.

Yoga Korunta said...

Alicia, I was sorrowed to read of Kenny's death.

Bloggers, since Alicia is so much wiser than the damn fool cowboy, why isn't she President?

Alicia Morgan said...

Thanks, Sue, Jood and Yoga. You all would have loved Kenny. You're right on the money, Jood - sexual orientation is not about sex - plenty of people can 'swing either way', but about love. Who you fall in love with. Who you want to spend your ;life with. Who you want to build a family with.

My dad has been married 3 times, and I have sisters, brothers, step-sisters, step-brothers, two step-moms and a half sister. As far as I'm concerned, my siblings are all my sisters and brothers. And now that my dad has cancer, all three of his ex-wives are there for him - not because they want to marry him again, but because we're family. That's how my family works, and I couldn't be prouder.

LA Progressive said...

Oh Alicia,

You say it all so well. This message needs to be posted far and wide. For Kenny for Leopold and for the hundreds of thousands (if not millions like them) we have to change our culture and our laws.

My heart goes out to you, my friend. It's all so senseless, the way we alienate and harm, it's all so senseless.

Sharon Kyle

Redwood said...

You just tweeted this, Alicia, and I just have one thing to add to the above regarding the "kids need a mom and pop" thing.

Homophobes love to trot out studies saying that the mother-and-father model provides the best results for the kids. The thing is, when you actually look at those studies, they are invariably comparing mother-and-father vs. single-parent - there is never a gay couple involved anywhere in the study.

Studies which actually compare straight couples raising children against gay couples raising children find no difference - the children grow up to be equally stable and well-adjusted.

So, as usual, this excuse from the homophobe crowd turns out to be complete BS.

Alicia Morgan said...

So, as usual, this excuse from the homophobe crowd turns out to be complete BS

That's exactly it, Red. Always.