By: Shannon Ralph
I do not watch a lot of television. As a matter of fact, I watch very little television. Most nights, I simply sit in the living room and soak in the silence after I get my three children tucked into bed. Occasionally, however, I will flip on the TV. For background noise, if nothing else. I haven’t really watched Gray’s Anatomy in years. However, I have friends who watch it religiously, and—with a lesbian couple on the show—it is on my radar. I know Callie and Arizona are a couple. I know there is a baby. Beyond that, however, I do not have a clue what is happening on the show. As luck would have it, I recently turned on the television right as the Callie/Arizona wedding episode came on and I decided to catch up. I was impressed by how the show juxtaposed the wedding of Callie and Arizona with Meredith and McDreamy (whose name escapes me at the moment). The girls’ wedding was a gorgeous affair. The other wedding was a quick exchange of vows in a county courthouse. The girls’ wedding came after months of planning. The other wedding happened on a whim. The girls’ wedding was attended by friends and family who supported and loved them. The other wedding was attended by no one but a judge. Callie’s and Arizona’s wedding was fraught with emotion, as they struggled to come to terms with the inability to marry in a church, the lack of legality for their union, and the rejection of a beloved parent. Meredith and Derek’s (that’s his name!) wedding was a quickie that lacked any real emotional gravity, but one that would be instantly accepted by society. Any two people off the street could have strolled into that country courthouse and—immediately and without question—their union would be legitimate in the eyes of the law and society. Though the episode was one of celebration—a celebration of the love between Callie and Arizona—I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad when it was all said and done.
As I write this, the Republican-led Minnesota legislature (words I never thought I would hear used in the state of Minnesota) just passed a bill to put a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on the ballot in 2012. I never expected this to happen in Minnesota. Since first coming out as a lesbian many years ago, I have been an incredibly blessed person. Never once since that time have I been subjected to any sort of blatant discrimination based upon my sexual orientation. Yes, of course there is systemic discrimination. But I have never had someone say anything to me directly that has been in the least bit derogatory. I realize this is not the norm. I realize how truly lucky I am. I have a parent who has always accepted me and supported me. I have siblings who cheer me on. I have an extended family who loves me. I have coworkers and neighbors and friends who adore my children and do not question our validity as a family. I am afraid, however, that the happy little gay-friendly cocoon I live in is about to change. The ultra conservative wing of the Republican party has money to burn—and they are not opposed to using their money to fight against basic human rights for me and my family. I imagine this issue will become quite ugly before all is said and done. There will be signs popping up in yards around the Twin Cities. There will be spiteful rhetoric. There will be television commercials aired on my television in the comfort of my living room spewing hatred for my children to see and hear.
How do I explain something like this to my children? How do I explain that there are people who do not know their moms, but still do not like us? People who have never even met us—people who have not taken the time to get to know us—who think we are less worthy of basic human rights than they are. They believe in our “less-than” status enough to throw their money and their power and their venom into changing the constitution to make sure we remain second-class citizens. How do you explain this to an eight-year-old and two four-year-olds? I have always tried to teach my children that people are basically good. We are all different. But it is diversity that brings richness and beauty to our world. I can’t even count how many times I have said to my children, “If we were all the same, we would live in an incredibly boring world, wouldn’t we?” Up to now, my kids have believed me. My children, living in their own little cocoon, have never experienced anything to the contrary. I am scared to my very core that this is about to change. As I write this, I find myself trying very hard not to cry. The people who are pushing this constitutional amendment are not just messing with me. They are not just attacking gay and lesbian people. They are coming after our families. Adults are not the only people affected by this amendment. By attacking the validity of our families, they are targeting our children as well. Do they not realize what they are doing? Can they not see what a destructive force they are unleashing in the interest of partisan politics? Do they not care?
In the coming weeks and months, I plan on clinging to my family. Protecting my children as best I can from the ugliness of the upcoming onslaught. Their innocence, effortless acceptance of differences, and ability to love unconditionally give me hope. They are my hope for a better tomorrow. Times are changing. I have to believe that my fellow citizens will one day soon see through the political wrangling and come to a just conclusion. Despite the hateful rhetoric, the day will come when righteousness and justice win out over bigotry and oppression. I believe that those of us doing the rigorous work of parenting right now—those of us in the trenches, giving of our blood, sweat, and tears with little to no recognition every single day—are raising the generation that will change our world. The generation that will one day overcome the barriers of inequality and prejudice and make this world a better place for us all. I have to believe that. I have to have hope in a better future. And my children are the ones who give me that hope. Every day. In a multitude of ways.
They are are my optimism. My expectation. My promise of a better tomorrow.