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Bishop Larry Silva’s recent letter was really painful to read – not because he disagrees with me, but because I know first hand how much damage his arguments will cause to people living today in the Aloha state.
I offer my own life as a reply to his defense of discrimination. As someone who has been raised Catholic, who is a working professional who has been married for the past 5 years to a wonderful man — who has also been previously married to a woman — and who is currently waiting to adopt a child with my husband, I feel like I have something to say to the bishop and his supporters.
As a married gay man residing in Hawaii, I have been keenly focused on the recent Federal and State debates on extending full marriage rights to same sex couples. Before today I mostly just watched (with excitement) the debate in the Hawaii Legislature.
Bishop Silva’s letter claims certain kinds of discrimination are justifiable. He compares heterosexual marriages and their “less than marriage” homosexual equivalents to distinctions between parents and children or adults and minors; and other types of discrimination of groups that are societally superior to those that are inferior.
Despite the bishop’s attempt to disguise the word’s true modern day intent; most of us recognize discrimination by a more common definition, “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different groups, especially on the basis of race, sex, age, etc.” This is the definition that applies to the marriage equality debate.
I personally find this veiled “discrimination is okay” argument hurtful and insulting. It should offend anyone who has suffered discrimination first hand. During my life I have had insults and rocks thrown at me for simply “looking” gay or for giving a male friend a hug in public. I have been in places where it is not safe to “be out” or hold my spouse’s hand in public. Sadly this is how some people make “distinctions” or “discriminate” between me and a “normal” heterosexual man.
Bishop Silva then goes on to explain how allowing gays to marry will cause a cascade of ills that will eventually threaten the very fabric of society and civilization as we know it. This claim was often made before interracial marriages were legalized last century. The arguments Bishop Silva offers would be laughable, if they weren’t so offensive to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual people alike.
The bishop says that if we allow two consensual adults who happen to be of the same gender to commit to each other, then next we will have to allow for relationships based on incest or pedophilia to be called marriages; implying that same-sex relationships are just as perverted and vile.
He warns of schools being forced to include homosexuality in their curriculum, religious freedoms being curtailed and even suggests that homosexual attraction will become so much the new “norm” that people will be persecuted and labeled bigots for encouraging their sons to like girls or their daughters to like boys.
Such claims are meant to do one thing only: to use irrational and unsubstantiated fear to control an argument. To my knowledge, none of the many countries worldwide, including Canada, the Netherlands, or Spain, that now allow same sex marriages have devolved into the immoral hell that the bishop paints.
I believe parts of the “new normal” standard that the bishop says would be set by allowing and affirming gay marriage are things that would end some suffering and societal woes, particularly among LGBT youth; who suffer significantly high emotional and psychological problems and suicidal tendencies because of the impression that they are outcasts who are NOT perceived as “normal” by society and who are persecuted by their peers. And because many of their families do not support them once they “come out.”
At one point, the bishop warns that if gay marriage is affirmed, a boy would feel like he had the CHOICE of asking a girl or another boy to a school dance. Part of the reason my own necessary and inevitable coming-out process was so delayed and so painful for me — and some of those I loved — was because when I was an adolescent, I did not feel like I did have this kind of CHOICE.
My community, my family and my church (the Catholic Church) told me again and again that homosexuality was wrong and homosexuals were perverted and immoral. I can’t tell you what a weight that is on a teenage boy who is born, the way God created him, attracted to the same sex. I can tell you I would have had a much healthier adolescence if I did have the CHOICE of asking a boy to a dance.
I’d also have spared myself and others a lot of pain if I had not been made to feel that society as a whole would see me as less of a full person if I were gay — let alone have a spouse who was the same gender as I was.
I had a very close, wonderful relationship with my parents when I was growing up and I have always known since I was very little that I wanted to be a Dad. I would feel cheated of a core life experience if I didn’t get to be a father.
One of the most hurtful claims for me personally in the letter is when the bishop claims that in cases where children are not being raised in a family with both biological heterosexual parents present, “there will be more poverty, more social ills, more juvenile suicides and more problems than we can imagine.” To place the blame for “more problems than we can imagine” on the backs of hardworking and loving single parents, divorced parents, gay parents, and adoptive parents, among others is in my opinion, unconscionable.
In reality many scientific studies, including the world’s largest study on gay parenting, from Melbourne University, have found that children raised by same sex parents are equal compared to those raised by heterosexual parents with regard to self esteem, emotional and psychological health and may even fair better in terms of overall health and assessments of family closeness.
As a potential gay parent who is waiting to adopt, I can tell you that I have invested more emotionally and financially than most parents I know in becoming a parent. I have undergone many hours of parenting training, medical exams, background check, fingerprinting and the like. Gay parents are some of the most scrutinized, most committed, and best qualified parents on the planet!
At the end of his letter, Bishop Silva seeks to vilify legislative and other supporters of gay marriage by saying that their words are akin to the snake whispering to Eve in the Garden of Eden; essentially comparing those who support marriage equality to the Devil. It is disappointing to see someone in Bishop Silva’s position use the weapons of fear, intolerance and vilification of those who differ with your opinion to advance an agenda. They are, unfortunately, tactics that some in the Catholic Church have used many times in the past, and it is part of what drove me from the Church many years ago.
Marriage has been defined as “the state of being united to a person as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.” As someone who has been married to someone of the same and of the opposite gender, I can say that there is NO reason to discriminate between my marriage then and my marriage now based solely on the gender of the person I love and have committed my life to.
My spouse and I love each other. We swore vows of lifelong commitment to one another. We laughed together when our friends and families joined to help us celebrate our commitment to one another as spouses. We cried together when my mother passed away recently. We work hard every day to build our home and our lives together and come home every night to share the story of our day over dinner, we struggle with finances, have serious disagreements that we must resolve together, we share household chores, walk our dogs together, and dream of starting a family and growing old together.
In every way that matters to people of good and fair conscience, our relationship deserves the rights and respect that comes with marriage.
The bishop says that God is love. On that point, I agree with him. And in knowing that, I know that God is on the right side of this debate; the right side of history. During the 1950s and 1960s many religious leaders came down on the side of segregation and discrimination. They were vocal in their defense and made some of the same arguments that Bishop Silva made last week.
History and the God who works through history judged them wrong. And they have had to live with the shame of that wrong for many years. But it is not too late to change minds and hearts and I would welcome Bishop Silva to step out of the darkness of fear and division, and join us in the light.
About the author: Frank Lassise Jr. is a veterinarian on Maui who has been outspoken on homophobia and discrimination-related issues. He lives with his spouse, Jonathan.
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