Last month U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) reversed his stance on gay marriage, largely because his son is gay, and although I felt like I should have been happy about it, it left a bad taste in my mouth. Of course, I'm happy that there is another senator willing to support the civil rights of all U.S. citizens, but my knee-jerk reaction was, "Oh, you support gay marriage now because it directly affects your family? Well, guess what, Mr. Senator: The rest of our kids matter too." I know that that thought was not generous, and I'm not proud of it, but my frustration is real, and the problem of homophobia is real.
Then U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) made his own announcement. It turns out that he has a gay son too, but his opposition to marriage equality is not going to change. He also made a point to say that he loves his son. A few days later his son did an interview in which he spoke about how his father loves him and is incredibly tolerant. Now I wasn't frustrated; I was furious. I was furious at this father for putting his politics before the rights of his kid, and I was furious that his child felt the need to defend his father when his father sure as hell isn't defending him.
But when I let my temper simmer down and took a step back, I saw that this is an issue that goes far beyond two GOP politicians and their kids.
I've been fortunate enough to hear from gay kids all across the country. A lot of them don't have supportive families, but some do. I cherish the good stories, but there's often a moment in those good stories that makes my heart hurt: when they tell me how happy they are that their parents "still" love them -- because all those kids knew that not loving them was an option.
With politicians there is a lot talk of "acceptance" and "tolerance" when it comes to homosexuality, and I can't help but think that those are the wrong words. I accept the fact that I have to pay taxes. I tolerate the fact that I have to go to the dentist. Why should either of those words apply to how a parent feels about their child?
Parenting is one of the true choices that we have; it's something that we all choose intentionally. Sure, people can become pregnant when that wasn't their plan, but carrying that child to term is a choice. Parenting the child once he or she is born is a choice. No one has to do it. And with parenting come obligations, and the number-one job of any parent is to love their child. Period.
Hate is also a choice. People choose to hate what they don't understand, what scares them and what their religion tells them is wrong. (And speaking of religion, that's a choice too.) Nothing about hate is inherent. And it is always a tragedy when anyone chooses to let their hate make their decisions for them.
But what is not a choice? Being gay. I once had a girl write to me saying that she prays every night to be made straight, because then her family could be happy again. Anyone who thinks that a child would make the choice to be gay is obtuse and not worth engaging in a discussion of the issue.
Gay people happen. That means that gay children happen, and gay children can be born to anyone or adopted into any family. If someone is not prepared to love a gay child, then what business do they have parenting children at all? After all, they can't perform the number-one job.
Some may feel that it is possible to love a person and not accept that he or she is gay. I don't think so. Loving a person means loving a whole person. We don't get to pick and choose the parts. Sure, we can hate the fact that someone is always 20 minutes late, or be infuriated about a 15-year-old's new nose ring. But those aren't defining characteristics. Our orientation is a fundamental part of who we are. Loving someone but hating the fact that he or she is gay would be like loving someone but hating the fact that he or she has arms or legs.
And what about those parents who do "accept" and "tolerate" their gay children? I guess that's better than it could be. They're better parents than those who throw their children out of the house or abuse them for being gay. But does any kid deserve to settle for mere acceptance or tolerance from his or her parents? Words like "accept" and "tolerate" do not indicate good things; in the context of homosexuality, they imply that there is something wrong with being gay that parents have to put up with. That is not a good message.
Every child deserves to be loved for exactly who they are, so I think it's about time that we change how we talk about our gay children. Let's abolish the words "accept" and "tolerate" and replace them with "cherish" and "celebrate." When we cherish and celebrate who our children are, then maybe the scared gay kids in this country will stop worrying about whether their parents will "still" love them and will simply know they are loved unconditionally.