The number of states that allow same-sex marriages inched even closer to the number of states that allow you to marry your cousin. Marriage equality has come to Maryland, bringing to eight the number of states where it’s legal for LGBT residents to wed each other (it’s 25 for cousins).
There are many reasons for the slow rise in the passage of same-sex marriage laws, like generational shifts, societal prevalence and increased political pressure by advocacy organizations. All of that matters a great deal. But what will ultimately matter most as the fight for rights continues in more states, and eventually at the federal level, is simple exposure and communication.
As more and more legislatures take up the issue, and more and more witnesses come in to testify about their love for one another, it seems some lawmakers are beginning to realize this isn’t about some broad referendum on rights but rather a duty to read, research and discuss the issue with the people it affects most. It’s about actually meeting the people whose lives you’re legislating. It’s about life, not lifestyle.
Let’s take two recent examples. In Maryland, Republican Wade Kach came face-to-face with gay couples next to the witness table during a special joint committee before the key vote in the House of Delegates. What ultimately swayed his decision to vote against the majority of his party?
“I saw with so many of the gay couples, they were so devoted to another. I saw so much love,” he said. “When this hearing was over, I was a changed person in regard to this issue. I felt that I understood what same sex couples were looking for.”
A week later, Kach voted for the gay marriage bill on the floor of the House of Delegates, one of only two Republicans to do so. Their support proved vital, as the bill squeaked through the 141-member chamber on a 72–67 vote.
In New York last June, Senator Mark Grisanti was one of the four Republicans who voted with 29 of 30 Democrats in favor of the legislation. His speech about his evolution on the issue — “I simply opposed it in the Catholic sense of my upbringing,” he said — could (and should) be the modern GOP blueprint:
“I have never in the past four months researched an issue or met with so many people and groups on a single issue such as this,” he said on Vote Night. “I have struggled with this immensely, I can tell you that. I have read numerous documents, independent studies, talked with a lot of people on both sides of this issue. As a Catholic I was raised to believe that marriage was between a man and a woman. I’m not here however as a senator who is just Catholic. I’m also here with a background as an attorney, through which I look at things and I apply reason. … To those whose support I may lose, please know that in the past what I was telling you, and what I believed at that time was the truth. But by doing the research and ultimately doing what I believe to be the right thing, to me shows integrity.”
Imagine that — a worldview changed by venturing into unexplored worlds.
Ultimately, this isn’t about gay rights, or even gay people for that matter. It’s about exposing yourself to the unknown. The same could be said for our opinions about what it’s like for others to be poor, or black, or immigrants, or whatever group we currently don’t understand. This is about meeting people who enjoy different lives than yours, instead of relying on basic stereotypes and propaganda.
Go out and experience a world different from yours. Be the city slicker who sits down with the farmer. Be the Wall Street banker who sits down with the single mother that can’t pay her electric bill. Be the border restrictionist who sits down with the Ecuadorian landscaper whose entire family is waiting back home on his paycheck. Don’t just imagine what it’s like to put yourself in someone else’s shoes; go see what it’s like to put yourself in their lives, if even just for a moment, for a flicker of honest conversation.
It really could change the world.
Alright, schmaltzy sermon over. Pardon this hippie screed. I’m off to hump a rainbow.
Slade Sohmer is editor-in-chief of HyperVocal. Tweet him @SladeHV.
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