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VOL. 39 | NO. 28 | Friday, July 10, 2015

Antidote found for same-sex marriage bias

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Mark Jones and Michael Fields are married July 1 on the observation deck in Nashville’s Public Square, five days after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in Tennessee. Officiating is Councilman Sean McGuire.

My smartphone was beeping out severe weather warnings as I drove to Mark Jones and Michael Fields’ second wedding – to each other. I wrung out the hem of my dress as we waited for the happy couple.

It was July 1 in Nashville’s Public Square. Their tiny wedding party took shelter under the walkway connecting two observation towers. Mark and Michael showed up a few minutes before 1 p.m. in matching blue shirts with French cuffs – Mark’s damp with nervous sweat.

Michael reached for his hand. “See?” he said. “I told you everything would be fine.”

And it was. The Davidson County Clerk courteously and efficiently issued their marriage license. The rain let up a bit as they climbed to the observation deck. A smiling Metro Councilman Sean McGuire led them through their vows and pronounced them husband and husband.

Michael and Mark invited me because they were the first gay, married couple in Middle Tennessee willing to be interviewed for a news story that ran in Nashville’s daily newspaper in May 2012. I’d been turned down by several couples before I found them.

Mark and Michael traveled to Vermont in 2008 for their first wedding ceremony because Tennessee double-banned their marriage – in state statute and the state Constitution – until last month’s Supreme Court ruling overturning those. They illustrated how the Defense of Marriage Act case heading to the Supreme Court could instantly give such out-of-state unions legal recognition in Tennessee, or at least open the door to future lawsuits that could.

Of course, the latter is what happened.

My article ran on a Sunday front page with a large picture of Michael and Mark standing close together, holding their Vermont civil union certificate up to the camera.

By Monday, my voicemail was full of hateful messages accusing me of turning children gay. (“Did you hear her? She even SOUNDS like a lesbian!” one man grumbled to someone as he hung up.) The online comments section was predictably foul.

I understand all that – not the fact that they’d say mean things, but the fact that they oppose same-sex marriage.

I was raised in a very conservative faith that shunned members who admitted they were gay. Gay marriages were out of the question.

In covering the issue of marriage equality over the years, I thought about my family and making sure they saw their views on same-sex marriage represented in the news pages.

My own feelings started changing in 2001 the same way ideas usually change – by knowing someone directly affected by your point of view. A gay friend of mine asked what I thought same-sex marriage, and I hurt his feelings.

“I don’t understand the point,” I said. “That’s not a marriage.”

He shot back: “Good thing YOUR opinion can’t change MY civil rights.”

But opinions like the one I used to hold did change his rights for 14 years after that conversation. Over those years, I thought about him many times.

I also thought about the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia, because my husband is a black man from St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., and I’m a white woman from Missouri.

Virginia authorities arrested the Lovings – an interracial couple who traveled to Washington, D.C., to wed – for cohabitation because their marriage was not recognized in their home state.

The judge who handled the Lovings’ “miscegenation” case ruled, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

And while many intelligent people who oppose same-sex marriage know that “because the Bible tells me so” doesn’t fly too well as a legal argument these days, their beliefs about what God wants is informing their opinion just as it did that judge’s. If it weren’t, we’d be hearing from more non-religious people presenting arguments about societal structure and child rearing.

(Let’s remember that individual religious freedom got very strong protection from the Supreme Court in last year’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling over employers providing coverage for certain types of birth control.)

I still love and respect people who oppose same-sex marriage. They are my friends and relatives.

But now that the issue is decided, I’ll come out and say we parted ways awhile back on it.

Today, I believe it’s a good thing their opinion can’t change other people’s civil rights. Because that’s America, folks.

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