Friday, June 24, 2005

The bumper sticker

We live in a condo complex, on the very last street in the development. Every day on my way home, I pass this white pickup truck parked on the corner, and every day it annoys me. On the rear bumper is a sticker that says "Marriage =" and then a little figure of a man and a woman with a plus sign between. One day I was walking past the owner's condo, and they had their second vehicle parked in their driveway, sporting the same sticker.

Every time I see it, I feel this flare of irritation. The "Bush/Cheney" sticker right above it probably does contribute to that feeling a little bit, but mostly it's the marriage sticker that does it.

So I’ve been trying to analyze why it irritates me. First of all, I'm curious why the owners of those vehicles picked that particular topic as the topic they want to share their opinion about with the world. Out of a hundred current topics, why gay marriage?

Well, first of all, I imagine that the truck owners believe homosexuality is a sin. That’s the foundation of the issue for most people who share their convictions.

I grew up in a fairly evangelical church, and I went to school at an extremely evangelical private school. And I honestly don't remember homosexuality being discussed. I vividly remember being told in Bible class that it was a sin to masturbate, but homosexuality...nah. Maybe it never crossed anyone's mind that a Christian kid would even have such thoughts and yearnings, I don't know.

As a result, I never had a strong opinion about homosexuality one way or another. Until I had a friend in my early adult years who was finally addressing the feelings he’d had all his life. His fear and self-hatred were incredibly painful. Accepting who he really was deep down came very hard for him. Watching him go through this process, it became clear to me that sin is a choice…and homosexuality is not a choice. I can’t accept that it’s a sin to be gay.

The next conclusion I see the truck owners making is that allowing gay people to marry somehow cheapens or demeans marriage as an institution. Or, from a Christian standpoint, if being gay is a sin, then a relationship based in sin can’t be part of the sacrament and covenant of marriage. But if love comes from God, as Christians also believe, then isn’t a love commitment holy?

When gay marriage was a hot topic on the news last fall, the stories would always feature footage of two men, or two women, finishing their vows and smiling and kissing each other. It never failed to make me teary-eyed. How often do you get to see two people of any sort experiencing a moment of pure joy? Especially on CNN? It always made me think of my own wedding and how happy I was at the end of that ceremony, and how happy I have been for 13 years with my husband. Seeing someone else—anyone else—make that commitment and experience that joy and hope…that could never diminish the legitimacy of my marriage. On the contrary, it actually reinforces my own memories of my vows and the way I try to live up to them. That, to me, is a beautiful thing.

The final thought I attribute to the truck owners is that gay marriage not only diminishes the institution of marriage, but is also a threat to society at large. It goes against the natural order of things, they might say. This, to me, is the most disturbing argument. I am a fairly conservative person, and I don’t like change. I don’t like the idea of our society losing its way. But of all the things that I think could bring us down, gay marriage isn’t one of them. War, poverty, casual theft, deception at all levels of government and finance, dishonesty, child abuse, bad parenting—yes. Gay marriage, no.

When people invoke the “endangered society” argument, the very first thing that springs to my mind is the uproar that took place years ago (and still takes place here and there, let’s be honest) at the idea of a black person and a white person getting married. People, plenty of them Christians, had lots of good reasons why that should never happen, why it was sinful and went against the proper order. Now we look back and see how wrong that was. I believe that our society should still be striving for all its citizens to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

So the bumper sticker bothers me. It feels ugly to me, like it would if a neighbor had a racist bumper sticker or an anti-feminist bumper sticker. It’s an ugly thing to have to look at every day. And again, I just keep wondering what is it that has made this particular issue so important to the truck owners. If I spot them outside someday, maybe I’ll ask them. Or better yet, maybe they’ll move.