Last week I had an amazing discussion with my dear friend, Todd Johnson. During that conversation we spoke of how easy it is to become polarized, to see people who are on the opposing side of any given issue as “them”–separate from us and not worthy of compassion. Todd spoke eloquently about how healing work is done in the breaches between opposing sides. It’s easy to stand on one side and condemn the other, much harder to climb into the breach and try to engage with an open and compassionate heart.
Todd really put his money where his mouth is in his response to last week’s passage of Amendment One in North Carolina. Here is a copy of the letter he wrote to the Charlotte Observer. Read it, and you will see what a gracious and generous soul Mr. Johnson is:
To the Editor,
I don’t live in North Carolina, but North Carolina is my home. I was born in Raleigh, grew up in Charlotte, and went to college in Chapel Hill. North Carolina is the single place that has formed me more than any other, and it is also the place I visit every day at my desk as a fiction writer. In fact, I am so proud to be a North Carolinian that I’ve often said boastfully that our state would emerge as the leader of the future South in terms of education, culture, business opportunities, and until yesterday, civil rights.
This past September, my partner of fifteen years and I were married near our home in Connecticut, where same-sex marriage is recognized and protected under the law. Following our civil service, performed by a justice of the peace in a nearby village, we celebrated our marriage in our local Episcopal church with the blessing of the Bishop of Connecticut. One of my Chapel Hill fraternity brothers, a priest on loan to us from the Diocese of New York, performed the service. We gathered in a wooden shingled chapel, formerly Mark Twain’s parish, and sought the blessing of God on our union, surrounded by both of our families as well as beloved friends who traveled from several countries to be our witnesses. It was one of the most wonderful days of my life. It was also typical of most weddings I’ve attended. The toilets broke an hour before the ceremony. Someone showed up drunk at the rehearsal. A couple crashed the reception dinner. One wandering guest got burned by a tiki torch. And all “my” Southerners complained about the cold in New England even though it was in the mid-60s. The next day, linens, tables, and chairs came down, tents were struck, trucks loaded, and everyone scattered to their respective airports. Life returned to normal, an almost painfully banal sort of normal. And now, all these months later, it still looks the same. All around us, as in other states were same-sex marriage is legal, parents are raising their children, people are working to pay their bills, teenagers are going on dates, and we all grow older, one day at a time. If marriage between a man and a woman has been threatened or compromised, the evidence is scant. And as for the religious debate over homosexuality in general, I believe we step on a slippery slope whenever a majority claims authority from God, and I need not quote history to prove my point.
Like most family law experts, I’m not clear about what Amendment One does. It is so broadly written that only time will tell. But I am certain about what it doesn’t do. It does not stop North Carolinians like me from living my life in the belief that things will change for the better for all people. It does not mean that a North Carolina teenager like I once was who realizes that he or she is different need live in fear, but may instead look for support among the multitude of voices of justice and compassion that have risen up in every corner of our state over the past weeks, crossing lines of gender, age, race, religion, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. And for those in other parts of the country who might wag the finger of shame at our state, Amendment One certainly does not mean that North Carolina has a monopoly on bigotry – ignorance and intolerance do not play geographical favorites. But most of all, it does not mean that those of us who are committed to the equality of all people will be silenced by a political agenda masquerading as a call to morality.
I can already imagine the day when Amendment One will be as obsolete as the individuals who created it. And I know that on that day, though North Carolina may not lead, it will surely heed the call of freedom.