Ginger Rutland

Ginger Rutland: Like the president’s, my views on same-sex marriage have evolved

Published: Sunday, May. 13, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6E
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:17 pm

Whether sincere or crass political calculation, President Barack Obama's explanation on how he came to support gay marriage resonated with me. It tracks closely with my own evolution on the issue.

I'm older than the president. I grew up in the sexually repressed 1950s. Of course, we didn't know it was repressed at the time. My father and mother were no prudes. TV couples like Lucy and Desi Arnaz may have slept in twin beds. My parents slept in the same bed, in the nude, and they were not particularly modest.

But sex was not something discussed in our household. Homosexuality, to the extent it came up at all, was couched in derogatory but joking terms. When my teenage brother wore too much cologne while going out on a date, my father would tease him: "Son, you smell like a Harlem sissy!"

Homosexuality, as a political issue, didn't really breach my consciousness until I started working as a journalist in the early 1970s.

Year after year, legendary Assembly Speaker Willie Brown would introduce his consenting-adults bill, the measure that decriminalized homosexual acts. My sister, who worked for Brown at the time, staffed the bill. The stories of gay men going to jail and losing professional licenses or their jobs for having sex with other men appalled me. I celebrated when then-Gov. Jerry Brown finally signed the measure in 1975, 28 years before the U.S. Supreme Court made Willie Brown's landmark legislation the law of the land.

Then the AIDS crisis hit. I was working for a San Francisco TV station. The disease ravaged that city's gay community. Close colleagues of mine died.

But I was troubled by the dangerous politization of the disease. This included the resistance by some gay activists to closing bath houses and their opposition to tracking sex partners of HIV-infected individuals – the normal protocol for other sexually transmitted diseases.

Opponents argued, unpersuasively, I thought, that because there was then no cure for AIDS and there was such an ugly stigma attached to the disease, tracing sex partners would lead to discrimination. I was concerned about the growing number of women, particularly black women, contracting the disease unknowingly from their bisexual partners and then spreading it. I still am.

The health crisis spawned the push for civil unions – gay marriage-lite.

Like Obama, initially I thought it was a reasonable accommodation, a practical way for gay couples to claim their partners for health insurance purposes. Although I also thought, and still think, that committed relationships involving non-gay unmarried partners – two sisters, for example, or two brothers or a brother and a sister – should be able to claim their significant others on their insurance forms, too. (Of course, a better solution is universal health care for everybody in this country, but that's another story).

Like Obama's daughters, my daughter helped educate me on the issue. One of her college roommates was a lesbian. The other was an evangelical Christian. They all got along. For her generation, gay marriage seemed to be a non-issue. Her response to my squeamishness – a roll of the eyes and "Get over it, Mom."

Then over the years, friends have come out. Sons and daughters of friends have come out. Relatives have come out. The daughter of the vice president of the United States came out. The list goes on and on.

Still, I held out against gay marriage.

What was wrong with civil unions, I asked my gay friends. Society in general has an interest in marriage between a man and a woman because those partnerships can produce children and there is an urgent societal need to protect and nurture children. Two men can't produce a child.

Even though I was skeptical about the need for gay marriage, I voted against Proposition 8. For me, the measure had morphed into a referendum on gays and their lifestyle, period. I wanted no part of that.

But my deeper transformation came at church. I grew up a Congregationalist.

United Church of Christ, as it is called today, is one of the old mainline Protestant denominations. As an adult I attended sporadically. I started going regularly only when my father died in 2005. The church I chose was Pioneer Congregational at 27th and L streets in midtown Sacramento. It bills itself as open and affirming – a euphemism for gay-friendly, I soon learned. I didn't know when I started going to Pioneer that a good percentage of the congregation was gay.

Over the years I've watched my fellow worshippers bring their children and grandchildren to church. I became friends with the men and women, many of them middle-aged and beyond, who have been together for years. They were growing old together, as I was with my husband. When their partners got sick, they cared for them, as my husband and I care for each other – an incalculable benefit to the larger society. My fellow worshippers are gay and straight. They share my values, my Christian faith, my concern about the community, particularly the poor and the disenfranchised.

Through them, I came to see committed relationships as a good thing, whether between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and a man.

Society is healthier and people are healthier and happier when they love each other.

And if they love each other, as the president said, "gays should be allowed to marry."

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Read more articles by Ginger Rutland, Associate editor

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