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Compassion and Marriage Equality

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"A disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with loving-kindness, likewise the second, the third, and the fourth direction; so above, below and around; she dwells pervading the entire world everywhere and equally with her heart filled with loving-kindness; abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity and free from distress." -- The Buddha, Digha Nikaya 13

One of the essential practices on the Buddhist path is cultivating a sense of kindness and compassion for all beings.

Over the last number of years there has been a lot of debate around the issue of marriage equality around the world, sometimes known as same-sex marriage. Politics make strange bedfellows, as they say: this is an area where the political right and far left (including some gay people) oppose the same thing. Yet policy change can have far-reaching and compassionate effects on people's lives that are hard to ignore. And for the first time in the U.S. this November, after 32 consecutive defeats at the ballot box, initiatives around marriage equality passed by popular vote in Maryland, Maine and Washington State.

Some of my family members live in a state where marriage equality has been law for many years. They told me a story about a time when one of the kids (age 7) was arguing with her mother about how things were done in their house. After some back and forth, the exasperated mother finally said, "Listen, that's how we do things in our house, but when you grow up, you and your husband can decide how you want to do it in your house!" To which the child said, "But Mom, I could marry a girl, right?" Her mother was surprised by this response, but after she recovered; she had to agree that her daughter was right and told her so.

I reflected on this story with amazement: that this child knew her mother's assumption was wrong, even at age 7; that she felt confident enough to challenge her mother about this; and that the reason for this was because she had known marriage equality as a possibility all of her young life. She had friends with different kinds of families, all of whom she considered legitimate families, as they are in the eyes of the state. Also interesting is that her mother was also forced to agree, because the child was right and it is law, whatever the mother's feelings about it.

We don't know yet about this child's future, but she will either grow up to be an LGBT person who has known her whole life that her life is valid (thus being less susceptible to depression or suicide); or she will be a supportive heterosexual person, fully confident in the legitimacy of same-sex relationships and more accepting and compassionate (and less likely to bully anyone about it).

Both of these outcomes seem positive and compassionate, and the results of policy change in just a few short years. And there is a lot of work to be done in this area. Full marriage equality only exists in nine states in the United States. It is legal to be fired from your job because of your sexual orientation in 29 states in the country. You can be legally fired for your gender identity/expression in 35 states. Policy change in these areas, as well as housing and education, would help create a more compassionate and just society.

As we pervade each quarter of the country, and the world, with kindness and compassion, let us consider policy changes that will support the lives and well-being of all people. Let us choose kindness over fear. May all people live in health, safety and happiness.