What I Learned When I Opened My Mouth About Gay Rights

In all my 17 years in Mississippi, I never heard anyone say they were gay. A year ago I moved to Vermont where unmarried couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, live together without shame. The word "partner" has entered my vocabulary. I see adopted children with two mothers or two fathers.

As I awkwardly discern how to ask new friends about their lives and families, Vermont may become the first state to adopt a domestic partnership law giving same-sex couples the benefits, rights, and responsibilities of marriage. Letters pro and con fill my Burlington Free Press. Public radio aired emotional testimony on the subject from packed statehouse chambers. In our small-town church, several people walked out of a Sunday School classroom when a mother shared about her gay son and that she had testified in favor of the law.

I decided to write about Vermont's debate on homosexuality and domestic partnership in "Grace Matters." Before submitting it to the editors, I e-mailed the first draft to 200 friends, asking for critique.

The next evening 57 e-mails greeted me. Slapped me in the face, actually. And they kept coming-eventually I had more than 70 pages of responses printed in 10-point, tightly squeezed type. Old friends came out of the woodwork to offer emotional three-page opinions.

These are all friends I dearly love. All people of sincere faith. And they are deeply divided. I went to bed heartbroken.

I HAVE SPENT 20 years working on an issue-race-where those who try to be bridges get walked on from both sides. Attempt that same approach with homosexuality and the bridge gets detonated.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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