This post is a tangent from the usual fare I put here. But my feelings on the issue of gay marriage have only been made more clear in the light of Barack Obama's election to the U.S. presidency and his own comments on the subject.
The hand-written letter went into the mail this past Friday. My best guess was to send it to his current senatorial office, and I wrote "Please forward" on the envelope.
I sent a typed copy of the letter to my folks, too: while they didn't sign our wedding certificate, my father did write a letter a few years later to a U.S. senator, explaining his views on why there mustn't be a constitutional amendment that would limit the rights and freedoms of any Americans, including two people who wish to marry each other.
Federal Office Building
230 South Dearborn St.
Suite 3900 (39th floor)
Chicago, Illinois 60604
November 7, 2008
Dear Barack Obama:
I tend not to write these kind of letters, the kind that goes to a president, let alone to a president-elect.
I find myself in a whirl of conflicting emotions as the news of your being elected to serve as president of the United States sinks in.
On the one hand, I am thrilled that a man who lives such a principled life, even during such crazy times as running a presidential campaign--how old were Malia and Sasha when this all began in Iowa...?!--has advanced to an office, a station that one would think would also require a principled and moral life.
Our lives are a testament of our principles that guide us, and I tell you: I am ready to have as president an individual who will ask us to do as he does, to act as he acts, to serve as he serves.
On the other hand, even as radio reports, television news broadcasts, blogs on the Internet, and individual accounts from around the world affirm the message of this moment in time--that someone other than a White man can reach for and be elected into the presidency of the United States; even as you declare that "This is our moment. This is our time"; even as you say, "Nowhere else in the world is my story even possible"; even as you say, "Change is coming," my heart catches in my throat:
I can indeed affirm, "Your story is possible. Your achievement is historic." I can affirm, "Anyone, ANYone can be president!"
But I cannot yet affirm, "Anyone, ANYone can marry."
I tell you, Barack, this breaks my spirit.
While it's true that your story as an African American in this country is much longer than my story as a woman in this country who loves another woman, I cannot yet affirm, "Anyone, ANYone can marry."
Instead, I must tell my seven-year-old niece that I can't marry because... Because not even the man who will become president of the United States says I can.
A White American man who knows "enough" about the Civil Rights Movement and about Women's Lib can say, "Of course an African American, a woman could become president." But African Americans, American women are the ones who can testify directly to just how possible it really is. Or wasn't.
A straight American who knows "enough" about gay rights can say, "Of course a committed same-sex couple can enjoy the same freedoms and protections as a straight, married couple can." But gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans in those relationships are the ones who can testify directly to just how possible it really is. Or isn't.
It's not the same to be told that there will be certain freedoms and protections in place, just as it isn't enough for there to be certain laws in place to protect disabled Americans, young Americans, elderly Americans, and foreign-born Americans. Discrimination in their day-to-day encounters with average Americans still happens.
It's not about whether or not my partner and I can receive the same ownership rights in property, the same visitation rights in hospitals, and the same inheritance rights in death as my straight counterparts do.
It's about whether or not my partner and I can receive the same legal status, the same automatic respect, the same cultural opportunity, the same institutionalized access, the same inalienable rights, the same ineffable JOY that straight couples receive when, at their mosque, synagogue, church, or courthouse, they say, "I do."
I humbly and respectfully ask you to reconsider your views on gay marriage, on the change of the institution of marriage over the decades, and on who is or isn't served, who is or isn't lifted up--legally, financially, emotionally, and spiritually--in marriage.