July 28, 2004
By Clark Hansberger, Purcellville
This past fall, my family gathered for my sister’s wedding. She is the last of the siblings to tie the knot, and at 40, she is doing this long past the rest of us. My wife and I married 27 years ago and have grown children, including a son of marrying age himself.
We all gathered – grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, friends and neighbors – on the front yard of our family farm under the shade of an ancient sugar maple to witness the usual exchange of promises, the smiles and tears, the soft music, and the long table of good food and drink afterward. It was a lovely afternoon, a sacred few hours that will be dear in our hearts for many years, I’m sure.
The only thing that was unusual about it, I suppose, was that it was unsanctioned by both church and state. My sister, you see, married another woman.
Does it really matter in the long-run of life whether church and state recognizes their union? I can’t say. As lesbians, my sister and her partner have faced exclusion and adversity before. They certainly have the blessing of those closest to them.
And like a good family, we will stand by them till death do us all part, regardless of how loud and righteous the proclamations against them grow. They are the people we love, and though I still struggle at times understanding their homosexuality ““ have trouble walking entirely in their shoes — I know they are living, breathing miracles of this planet, as full of joy and anguish, hope, fear and love as the rest of us.
And, now that they are wife and wife, they are both kin — which from my part of West Virginia means as much as God and more than government anyway.
To understand my anger at people who rail against gay marriage, you’d have to meet my sister. She is a kind, thoughtful woman, who has spent much of her adult life working in a children’s museum, leading tours, teaching classes, repairing and building displays. She has a booming kindness. Her heart is monstrously large and she cries easily, which frightens me sometimes because this New America can be so cruel to homosexuals. I worry about her each time I hear the lightly veiled spite in the voices crying “love the sinner, hate the sin.”?
I wonder often where Christian conservatives learned such self-righteousness. Surely not from the Bible they claim so soundly to be defending. I’ve read the words of Christ over and over, and find– in lines like “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”? — mainly patience, tolerance and love.
In addition to her work in the museum, my sister serves as an animal rescue volunteer. When my children were young, on our rides to visit her, we would make a game of guessing the type of pets she’d have when we’d arrive. The door to her home would open, and my kids would rush in to find baby opossums, fawns and other surprises. She taught them how to feed and handle the gentle, broken animals, lessons that helped them become the kind young adults they are now.
My children see homosexuality as a fact of this life. When they were old enough to realize that something was different about their aunt, they asked questions and we answered them. They accepted her difference and moved on to the next questions.
Do I fear my children were somehow warped by this? Not a bit. They seem already to have better commonsense, more patience and more humanity than many of the folks now ringing their hands about the sinners in America.
Do I worry that by being exposed to homosexuality, my children will decide to become homosexuals? No, because I know homosexuality is more complex than that. As far as the best research shows, it may be a genetic disposition, an unavoidable state in most homosexuals. I find few rational adults who truly believe that homosexuals choose to live in the embarrassment and fear and alienation because they want to. It is an absurd argument, one countered by physicians and psychiatrists and scientists across the globe.
In her spare time, my sister also volunteers with the Special Olympics and makes a few dollars in the evenings running the scoreboard for local softball leagues. She was a spectacular athlete until she broke her leg in a slide 10 years ago, had trouble healing and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that has left her more and more debilitated. And more in need of loving care.
Her partner, now her wife, is another gentle woman who has been caring for her the past few years. We’ve watched them settle into what appears to be a comfortable domestic life, as secure and ideal as most I see these days. I would guess they will last together a good while. Long marriages are the norm in my family, and I suppose my sister has the same inclinations.
My mother is thankful, for she worried about my sister being alone, as any mother does. In fact, because we could find no local minister to marry them, my mother handled the rites. She was quite good, in fact. During the reception, she joked with other gay couples in attendance, announcing that, for a small fee, she would marry them, too.
I am sure this sounds appalling to readers afraid of the idea of gay marriage. I’m sure it sounds odd, even perverse. But what I want these readers to realize is that, in the end, my sister’s marriage is nothing to fear.
I know the arguments well: “We must, as a nation, protect the sanctity of traditional marriages”? and all that. I’ve heard the platitudes before: “Don’t take it personal. No one is against your sister, per say, just against her ‘choices.'”?
The truth is, I don’t think many people opposed to gay marriage truly really want to deny my sister this sacred institution. What they would like is for my sister to renounce her homosexuality and marry a man. And I’m sure this crossed her mind many times during the past 20 years since she accepted that she was gay. In fact, I know she tried to have relationships with men. And tried abstinence and therapy and beat herself half to death with guilt and shame, trying hard to escape what she eventually came to accept.
But now she is a grown up, a woman of 40, and she wanted to get married, and I can’t see why this should be anybody’s business.
Those against gay marriage may end up pushing through a constitutional amendment, but it will be a foolish one, one doomed to be repealed eventually when this bigotry fades away, and kinder minds and saner hearts prevail again — when folks afraid of homosexuality realize that the world is a large and baffling place, full of variety and mystery and things we may not like, but must learn to tolerate, even love, and certainly try to understand.