I remember the day Constitutional Amendment 36 passed, limiting marriage in Oregon to one man and one woman. I was on I-5. A man in a white sedan zipped past my car and gestured. Ever the optimist, I thought it must be a friend who had recognized me on the road, but he was waving the “L” for loser and pointing at my bumper stickers.
That day in class, I looked at my students and I thought, which one of you voted against me. I rarely think that way. I usually view all my students with the same mild affection regardless of their political beliefs. I’m a teacher, not a politician. But a vote for 36 was a vote against the very possibility of equality. Who does that?
And who launches a campaign to stall the US District Judge’s ruling on Measure 36 after states like Texas and Utah have already struck down similar bans?
As a writer, human motivation interests me as much as politics. There are many reasons people oppose gay marriage. For a while it was simply the cultural norm. For some, it is a religious issue. For some, “anti-gay” is just a platform to stand on while they advance other political or personal goals. But I also think that among the last anti-gay hold-outs are a subset of the population who hate gays because their own heterosexuality is so unfulfilling.
Let’s face it. Heterosexuality, for many people, is a losing proposition.
I am not talking about the happy young couple who shares household chores and plans their pregnancies. Nor am I talking about marriages, like my parents’, wherein a chivalrous, hardworking man supports a loving and intelligent wife.
I am talking about the grim side of heterosexuality I see on my rare excursions to Wal-Mart. I am talking about the woman dragging five children behind her while her man judges every item she puts in the grocery cart. I am talking about the young man—just a teenager really—dressed in a countrified version of urban sag, yelling at his toddler to “stop crying, God damn it!” I am thinking about bars in which the men speak only to the men, while the women yell at them from across the room.
There are people in that barroom for whom not being a gay is a source of pride. In a life that has offered them dead end jobs, poor health care, limited education, unwanted children, and angry marriages, they can still say this: “At least I’m not a fag.”
Lack of real opportunities: this is the root of all hate groups.
At least I’m white.
At least I’m American.
At least I’m a man.
In the end, Amendment 36 will be struck down. I have no doubt. Then, all us happy, middle class gays can plan beautiful summer weddings. We deserve it. As Elizabeth Alexander writes in “Praise Song for the Day,” “Say it plain: that many have died for this day.” But let us remember, as we go forward, that the best way to fight hate is to improve the economic and cultural opportunities for all. Let us remember that so much of the animus against gays is not about homosexuality at all, it is about people clinging to the old status quo, because the new world offers them nothing. Let us strive for a wedding, like the wedding at Cana, where there is bounty enough for all.