I was a big-time partisan nerd in my youth. I used to watch the Rush Limbaugh show at night in the eighth grade — if you can believe it — and would often end up debating adults over things I really had no true knowledge of, from tax policy to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” (God, that must have been annoying.)
I was a junior at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, N.Y. when I mentioned to my friend Kevin that I was against gay marriage.
His response: “So you’re saying if my cousin Brian was gay, you would be against him getting married?”
It was a two-second exchange. And I was embarrassed by it. I remember it so clearly because it was likely the first time I had actually thought about the circumstances of a real human being when it came to the talking points I had been repeating from conservative TV or radio shows.
The conversation got my young mind thinking along these lines: If I was against gay marriage, I would at some point have to tell a gay person, like, say, Brian, to his face that I was against his marrying. I wasn’t ready to do that; I really liked and admired Brian (who is not gay).
I then reasoned that if I didn’t have the guts to tell someone who was gay that I was against gay marriage, then I probably shouldn’t hold such beliefs, because that would make me a coward. It was that simple. From then on I considered the matter closed. Much of high school was about toughness for me, and being a coward is the opposite of being tough. I remained pretty partisan and right-wing for a while, but not on social issues such as gay marriage.
Although there’s something to be said about my teenage logic, nowadays my belief is that whomever someone wants to marry is nobody else’s business except for family — least of all our state or federal government’s. I’m surprised a lot of libertarian-minded Republicans haven’t taken the same tack, but then again, political parties often seem to choose sides on big issues based not on a governing philosophy but on political expediency.
Either way, in the years since my mid-1990s high school career, more and more New Yorkers have come to recognize that denying two adults the right to marry is, well, married to the reality that those people are being denied rights and privileges enjoyed by the rest of society. Civil unions have proven to be well-documented failures as far as extending such rights and privileges to gay and lesbian couples.
So congratulations to those who have for years and decades felt like second-class citizens, yet fought to do something about it against what must have felt like insurmountable odds. Some of you are my neighbors. I just found this out after several gay pride flags went up in the neighborhood on the day the Marriage Equality Act passed in the New York State Senate.
And many of you have been friends.
I’m happily married. And I don’t deserve anything over you.
Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-298-3200, ext. 152.