Let me tell you a bit about myself.
I'm male, Cuban-American, and grew up in the Washington Heights section of New York City. Although gentrifying now, at the time it was a rough neighborhood. The late 70s and early 80s was the time period when New York was at its lowest—broke, dysfunctional, a city about to come apart.
Needless to say, we felt it in the neighborhoods. And, being a largely Latino section of town, machismo was rampant as a response to an untenable situation.
Throwing around words like "fag", "faggot", and "queer" was second nature. None of us questioned it; of course not, as we were children. But that was the tenor of the time, and was reflected in the childish things we did. As children we copy our elders, and for most of Western history—definitely since the ascendancy of the Church—same sex love was something to be mocked, pilloried, and stamped out. Our childish taunts were just a reflection of the broader culture.
I think what started changing my thinking—if I even gave gays a serious thought, other than as a convenient insult—was the AIDS crisis of the early 80s. The tragedy I saw played out on the TV screen and in the newspapers affected me more than I thought at the time. My doctor—also Cuban, from the first generation of immigrants—had me in his office one day for an examination, and out of the blue said "You know, AIDS is a punishment from God. They deserve it." I said nothing, because you just don't talk back to an authority figure. But I was 16, and I was damned sure that a loving God wouldn't rain down death upon his children just for being who they were. That was my "aha" moment, my realization that we're all human beings on this earth, all trying to make the best lives we can, and the things that we cling to which separate us only separate us from our true selves. The "f" word may have slipped from me a few times after that, but bit by bit—especially after I started attending UCLA—it just didn't matter. It made no difference to me who or what you were, as long as you were a decent human being. That should be the sole criteria for judging another person.
I live with a woman I call my "wife", but we're not married. We've been together for almost 13 years, and couldn't imagine living our lives without each other. But we've never made it "official" for various reasons; mostly, we can get married whenever we want to, because we're a man and a woman. When the time is right, we'll do it.
That's a luxury my gay friends don't have. Those in committed relationships can't take marriage cavalierly in most of the country. They face condescension and hatred in most states for merely wanting to have their relationships recognized by law in the same manner that I and my partner's would be. Marriage is more than a piece of paper; it's a recognition by the community that your relationship is to be honored and respected like that of any heterosexual citizen; that your relationship isn't an aberration, an abomination, but an expression of love and commitment between two consenting adults. Marriage, contrary to what the Right would have you believe, is not defined by church, temple, or mosque; it's a civil institution, backed by the power of the state. And the state should not have the right to discriminate against a class of persons simply for being who they are. I no more chose to be straight than my gay friends chose their sexualities. They shouldn't be penalized for that.
In my last piece I said that gay marriage wasn't the most important issue in this election. I also said that I expected President Obama to make a statement in favor of same sex marriage before or during the convention. Well, he certainly blew me out of the water.
His statement changes nothing. And it changes everything. Amendment 1 still passed on Tuesday. And today, when I see my manager, and I ask her what she and her wife think, I will see a person who now knows that the most powerful man in the world views her as a fully formed human being, deserving of honor and respect for the life she's made with her wife and their son. When I see my friend who wept openly the night Proposition 8 passed, I will see a man who knows he's not alone. President Obama's statement changes nothing in law. And it changes everything in the hearts of every person who believes in the worth and dignity of every human being.
His 40 months in office have been the most eventful in my living memory. He has faced crisis after crisis, solving them in the face of an opposition that cares nothing for the welfare of the country, but only for blocking him at every turn. I thought the courage it took to order the killing of Osama bin Laden was the greatest example of bravery I've seen in my life. I think his interview ranks on the same level. The political ramifications are unknown. The GOP base will be riled up to stop him from making us all same-sex marry. But so will ours. At long last, a leader walks the way he talks.
And the thing is, President Obama probably sees his statement as just the right thing to do. Oh, I have no doubt that he took politics into consideration; he's the greatest politician to have graced the American stage since FDR. But for him, good policy makes good politics. And, again, more than that, it was simply the human thing to do.
Many people talk about Christ's message, without grasping its meaning. A few try to live it to the best of their ability. And a select few, a minority of a minority, embody it. President Obama tries to embody the gospel of love, tries to live out the Golden Rule in all his dealings with the people he was elected to serve. We may never see another like him. Savor it, and work to make sure that this day wasn't for naught.