My mother told me that before she entered college, her mother pulled her aside and reminded her that they lived in a small Kansas town and that she would be confronted by things in college that she might not understand. “Mary Helen,” my grandmother told my mom, “if you hear anything that you don’t understand, you come home and ask me.”
Months later, Mom came home for a weekend break and sat down with my grandmother. “What’s a homosexual?” my mother asked my grandmother.
“What have you heard?” asked my grandmother in response.
My mother faltered a bit. “Well, it’s if a woman likes another woman, or if a man likes another man,” she said and waited for my grandmother’s pending life lesson.
“Hmm.” said my grandmother. “I don’t think they had those when I was your age.”
I’ve always loved that story, not only because of my grandmother’s naivete, but also because at no point in her answer did she condemn that that she did not understand. And even in retelling it while she was still alive, she maintained her innocence. And never judged.
I clearly was born into a family of wide-eyed females. When I giggled during my mother’s telling of the “facts of life”, she walked out of my room and said, “I guess you’re not mature enough to hear this yet,” to cover the fact that she was not ready to discuss details. Because people’s private lives were difficult to discuss and the intimate details were fiercely protected.
In my over fifty years of learning, I’ve come into many of my beliefs slowly. When I served my first term on our Town Board, we were challenged on what defined a “family” for membership purposes at our fitness and aquatics center. A same-sex couple who had adopted handicapped children and children born to an AIDS mom, wanted to use our community facility to give their children aquatics therapy, but would have a difficult time paying a higher membership fee. Although some of our board members saw these women as lesbians, I saw them as women who adopted children that other people would not have embraced. I believed that they loved these children just as much, or perhaps more, than some children in traditional families. And when my daughter started kindergarten with an adopted boy from Guatemala who had two moms, my life became richer simply from knowing such wonderful, giving women, who loved their son (and older daughter) fiercely. They struggled with school choices, spent time volunteering, came to every class event, greeted the bus every afternoon, baked homemade bread and shared it with us and opened their hearts to my daughter.
Quite honestly, I am uncomfortable debating the word “marriage”, because I tend to agree that the word means different things to different people. But there is no debating love and no debating what constitutes a family and there is no doubt in my mind that a child who is loved will grow up healthier than a child who is not. Period.
The vote on North Carolina’s Amendment One is over, but I believe it has set the stage for a more hopeful future for our children. It took two generations for my family to become personally acquainted with a “homosexual”. I hope that it won’t take that long for the younger generation to understand that sexual preference has no bearing on our capability to love others unconditionally and that there is so much more to same-sex relationships than, well, sex. There is often a deep friendship, a dedication to serving others, a path of introspection that many people cannot grasp. With a society that has non-traditional families, with step-siblings and half-siblings and single parents and deadbeat dads and working mothers with stay-at-home dads and test tube babies and octomoms, how can we possibly say that one segment of our population is more “right” than another?
After all, we share so much as citizens of our society…in a sense, we, too, are a family. We’ve really got to love each other, imperfections, differing beliefs and all.