[Photo by Tony Jilek via twitter]
[Photo by Mary Tuma, via The Austin Chronicle.]
Yesterday, as the pictures and stories from courthouses were piling up on social media, a picture from Austin caught my eye. “Holy crap! I know her,” I thought. Someone I know from growing up in Fort Worth was at the front of the line at the Travis County Clerk’s office. Her picture and quotes made it into several articles in the local media.
We went to different high schools, and it would be exaggerating to say Marti and I were friends, but I always liked her and we ran in the same circles. We started UT as undergrads at the same time, and on my first day on campus we ate together with a mutual friend at Kismet—still my favorite lunch spot on the Drag. Since moving back to Austin, I’ve seen her around town a few times, but never said hi. And there she was, gazing at a marriage license with her two children and her partner of fourteen years.
A little further down my Facebook feed, a family member had written: “God have mercy on this godless country.”
That’s where my words fail me. Right there, in the distance between my family member’s reaction to yesterday’s ruling and what I felt on seeing the joy on Marti’s face. I simply can’t understand the one in the light of the other.
I mean, I’ve tried. I think I’ve given it a fair shot on this blog. I’ve read everything I could about the Catholic Right’s reasoning. I understand the arguments pretty well, even if I don’t agree with them. Give me a Turing test about “natural law” or the Theology of the Body and I’ll pass. Believe it or not, I even get the psychological urge to resist same-sex marriage. I have a fairly conservative temperament myself: change makes me anxious, order makes me comfortable, and I like looking up to an authority I can trust.
But I don’t get it. I don’t get how you can look at the faces of the men and women getting married yesterday, and read their stories—and know their stories—and come up with a reaction like “God have mercy on this godless country.”
[Photo via independent.co.uk]
So far, I’ve mostly avoided the naysayers and frump-buggers. I’m in a celebratory mood, not really interested in schadenfreude or gloating or arguing. I did let myself scan the First Things“After Obergefell” online symposium: twenty-one writers gathered to bemoan the decision. Only one of them—only one—contemplated what I would say was the characteristic experience for most of America yesterday: joy. Only one writer thought about what it meant that joy that was rippling outward across the country, all day and all night, from gay couples who were finally able to wed. Most dismissed yesterday in terms of a “fantasy of autonomy and self-creation,” in Russell Moore’s words, a “me-centered ideology,” in Caitlin La Ruffa’s, or “the religion of Me and its perverse view of freedom,” as R.R. Reno put it. Only one of these writers—so opposed to selfishness—was able to offer any empathy for the people tearfully promising themselves to each other on courthouse steps across the country.
The exception was Wesley Hill, one of the “new homophiles,” who started his response with a consideration of Jonathan Rauch’s book Denial: My Twenty-Five Years Without a Soul. Hill writes:
When I read Rauch’s book, that last sentence left a lump in my throat. That receiving the word husband felt to Rauch like the relief of a negative biopsy—‘You’re not sick or twisted or crazy; you’re just hindered from giving and receiving love, and now the hindrance is removed’—goes a long way toward explaining the jubilation so many gay and lesbian people feel in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges SCOTUS ruling. Finally, their loves may be dignified not with the anemic moniker friend orpartner or the clinical epithet disordered or the disdainful slur pervert but rather with the venerable, ordinary, immediately recognizable words husband or wife.
That’s a respectful response. That’s someone with whom you can have a conversation. Why are responses like that so rare?