With the possible exception of vaccination, no conversation has stirred passionate disagreement of such depth across the world than that of gay rights. Over the last ten years, these questions have gradually (and suddenly) taken center stage in the nation’s consciousness.
As half the country has embraced this as a positive, wonderful development – a large part of the country feels otherwise. The contrast has been striking. When Proposition 8 passed in 2008, conservative religious folks said things like: “Thank you God, for smiling down on America.” In the same moment, secular and liberal-leaning Americans said things like: “I cannot express enough how disappointed I am in the people of California. Shame on you!”
Several years later, when President Obama announced his support for gay marriage and the Supreme Court struck down a part of the Defense of Marriage Act, the celebration was flipped on its head – with conservatives now saying things like, “as Americans reject God’s ways, consequences are coming.” And liberal-leaning America saying: “Tears of joy streaming down my face…I am so proud of this country!” and “It’s history in the making…I feel Harvey Milk smiling down on the scene from heaven.”
What a divide! An area of such sensitive and intimate disagreements surely calls for the most generous and good-hearted efforts. And yet, this profound cultural division has too often been approached more by sound-bites, stereotypes and slurs than by exchange that is substantive and rich. We create stories about the other side – insisting that we ‘see them clearly’ – searching out news outlets that make sure to tell us we’re right. All this leaves people ever more certain that they know what the other side thinks and even more clear than ever that it’s a waste of time to talk to “those people.”
That’s not what I believe. A decade of my own life experience offers abundant proof to the contrary. My life is fuller, richer and more joyful because of conversations, relationships and friendships I’ve had with “those people.”
And I’m convinced the quality of public conversation has real consequences for all of us. Unchecked, a growing number of Americans believe our current socio-political “climate” may prove disastrous down the road. As Phil Neisser, at State University of New York, has argued – Americans seem to be “losing their capacity to disagree in healthy ways.” My own research confirms a profound bafflement among many Americans as to how anyone could possibly disagree with ME about [fill in the blank]!
Honestly, I never say that anymore. By sitting down with my own political opposites on numerous occasions, not only has my understanding of others’ experiences grown – my appreciation and affection for these newfound friends has virtually evaporated my own fear and anger. Rather than “those liberals,” it is Phil, and Arthur, Nicole, Elaine, Wendy, Dave and Joan – who have taught me so much.
As a result of knowing (and loving) these life-long friends, it’s no longer hard to see how someone could disagree with me. For anyone who experiences this work for himself/herself, it’s simply impossible not to appreciate the nuance inherent in our richly diverse world.
And the curiosity only grows…So are you ready to start flirting?
The purpose of this blog will be to help invite deeper engagement on these questions arising between the LGBT and religious conservative communities – what one lawyer termed, “a cultural clash of unprecedented proportions.” So hey, if we can dialogue in these areas, we can talk about just about anything!