It’s so good to know that people change and evolve over time.
In my graduate classes, we talk often about the capacity to change and grow. That’s a tenet of social work, that people can reach self-actualization – their full potential. We have to believe that people can do this for society to move forward.
But it’s one thing to read about it in a textbook and another thing entirely to see it in yourself or someone really close to you.
For the past few days, most discerning eyes and ears in this country have been riveted to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the nine justices have been hearing arguments on two cases regarding who has the ability legally to get married in this country. On Tuesday, the justices heard arguments about the California law, Proposition 8, that disallows gays and lesbians from marrying. On Wednesday, it was the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, a 1990s-era law that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Talk of this case is everywhere you turn – newspapers, broadcast news, magazines, sitcoms, dramas, movies, the salon, the teachers’ lounge. You can’t get away from it.
So on Tuesday, as my 10-year-old was eating breakfast, he watched as talking heads on the Today show discussed what might or might not happen at the Supreme Court.
“That’s so dumb,” he said between bites of his Nutella waffle. “People should be able to get married.”
“Yep,” I said. “I think people should be able to marry whomever they fall in love with, just like your dad and I did.”
But as I said those words, it hit me that I hadn’t always held such a clear-cut opinion on the matter. For years, I just didn’t think about it one way or the other.
I can so clearly see myself at about 4, following my pregnant mother through the short aisles of a little family-owned grocery in my hometown. I don’t know what possessed me, but as we neared the butcher counter at the back of the store, I asked really loudly, “Mom, can two girls get married to each other?”
My mom froze, then continued walking and said, “No.” She said it in such a tone that I knew better than to ask why. So I didn’t.
And truthfully, I didn’t think about it again until I was an adult – and then only because of DOMA.
Yet that piece of legislation, flawed as it is, opened my eyes to those around me who couldn’t lawfully marry their true loves because they happened to be the same gender – a reporter at my newspaper, a photographer I knew, a shoestring relative, a neighbor.
Each time I learned another person I knew was enduring this systemic discrimination, my view of marriage came into sharper focus, like my worldview was being refracted.
I wonder if that’s how it happened for my dad.
See, on Tuesday night, he and I sat next to each other at a concert at my kids’ high school. As the orchestra left the stage and the choir prepared to take it, we made idle conversation. In time, of course, it turned to the topic before the Supreme Court.
My 73-year-old dad said the arguments against allowing gay people to marry are unfounded.
“It’s just cultural,” he said. “They say marriage is between one man and one woman. But in other countries, you can have one man and four women. “
He’s got a point. And he made another cogent one when he said that many of those who oppose same-sex marriage are basing their logic on the Bible and religious teachings, nothing else. They need to be honest about it, he said.
But what a difference 25 years makes. My dad, while never homophobic, didn’t exactly preach marriage for all when he was raising his kids. I’m not sure he personally knew anyone who was out of the closet until he was in his 40s or 50s.
Attitudes change when the abstract becomes concrete, though. It’s easy to dismiss people en masse but less so when you work with them and go to church with them and sit on the sidelines of soccer games with them.
These days, almost every heterosexual I know has a homosexual friend or family member who is out of the closet. The times are changing.
And my dad’s viewpoint has changed, too. A few weeks back, he and my mom met an old friend one Sunday at a funky Kansas City brunch joint. Their friend was in town visiting her son and his partner, who live around the corner from the restaurant. Mom and Dad told me all about the son’s gorgeous old rehabbed house, his success as a teacher, the ginormous dogs he and his partner have.
They might as well have been talking about meeting anyone for lunch, which is as it should be. The times are changing. And they’re changing fast.
That’s what dad said as the lights went down before the choir took the stage for its performance.
“The main reason these guys give for not allowing gays and lesbians to marry is that it’s a change that’s happening too quickly,” he said. “But doesn’t that define conservatism – not wanting any change to happen?
“It’s happening,” he said.
It’s about time.