The other night, I attended a meeting in my community of a group that I once served as the elected leader. Three terms of office later, I am pleased that the current Board and leadership are doing a good job carrying on my legacy. The group deals with matters related to planning, zoning, and transportation for an area of roughly 80 square miles in the heart of the sprawling suburban county where I grew up and have lived my entire life.
I greeted dozens of people in the room who I have known for a long time — neighbors, friends, colleagues in public advocacy. While we were waiting for the meeting to begin, I took a seat next to someone I had not met before. He was about my age. I introduced myself and he shook my hand and introduced himself to me. A new resident of the area — concerned with construction of a small housing development near him.
He began to chit-chat with me by discussing the news of the day, including (for whatever reason), that the U.S. Supreme Court is due to announce a decision on same-sex marriage once again. I just let him ramble, until…
…he said, “I sure hope the Court sees the light and bans homos from marrying.”
He said it loud enough that several people seated around us heard what he said, too. The others who heard it know me, know I am married to my man, and tensed up while waiting for me to respond.
I have never had a “poker face.” It was obvious that his statement made me angry. But rather than react vigorously — I have learned that replies of anger only make matters worse — I took a deep breath, silently counted to 10, then asked, “why?”
This guy babbled the same usual anti-gay mantra that you read or hear about from the political and religious right wingnuts — “marriage is only between a man and a woman,” “children deserve a mom and a dad,” and the zinger: “homos shouldn’t ‘redefine’ marriage as God has ordained it.”
There is no arguing with people who think this way, and I wasn’t there for that reason.
I just sighed and said, “well, here in Maryland, as our Governor has said, it is a matter of settled law. Same-sex marriage is legal. In our state, marriage is a civil institution and a civil right afforded to same-sex couples equally as to opposite-sex couples.”
This guy said, “well, I don’t like that and I hope it doesn’t spread.” Sheesh… he actually said, “spread?” Like a disease?
I had enough. I pointed to the ring on my left hand and said, “well, buddy, you might not want to sit next to me because my marriage to my HUSBAND (emphasis added) might “spread” to you!”
He reacted pretty much as I thought he would … he turned red and almost yelled, “you’re one of them?”
I simply said, “yep.”
He got up and backed away, like he actually was going to be infected with this same-sex homo thing I have going on.
My neighbors and friends filled the gap — they got up from their seats and fought with each other over who was going to stand closest to me. At least a dozen people crowded around me, stood next to me, behind me, and sneered at that man who said what he said.
I smiled and thanked my friends for their support. Then I said, “Thank you; this is why I love living among you as my neighbors and friends. Let’s silently pray for our new neighbor… and let’s move on to the business that brung us.”
To that, everyone smiled back and began a hugely wonky discussion of adjustments to zoning for side lot setback requirements for a new development.
Life is short: be who you are, defend who you are, but don’t pick a useless fight.