My name is Jane Rave. I'm not anyone important, just an ordinary citizen, wife, mother of three and grandmother of six. More recently, some people have been adding another word before my name: author. I co-wrote a book with one of my kids who just so happens to be gay. It's called Conversations and Cosmopolitans: Awkward Moments, Mixed Drinks, And How a Mother and Son Finally Shared Who They Really Are. The book is not even out for another month, but I've already received emails of overwhelming support from those who read advance copies, thanking me for telling our story in an honest, heartfelt, and hopefully funny way. We've received some nice reviews and press mentions already, and it felt great. However, it wasn't the reason we wrote the book, and the success or failure of it will be what it will be. Our hope when we began writing the memoir was that our authentic experiences could inspire conversation and dialogue among families. We often underestimate people's ability for love once you reveal your truth. One thing I was reminded of while reading these encouraging messages is that everyone has a story to tell. Someone's story that I've been following lately is what some would categorize as an unlikely supporter of marriage equality, an 85-year-old, lifelong Republican from Minnesota. His name is Wheelock Whitney.
"I have a gay son and a gay grandson," Mr. Whitney said at a press conference. "I love them, I'm proud of them, and I don't like to see them discriminated against in any way." In November 2012 Minnesotans will vote on whether or not to add a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Proponents of the amendment, like the National Organization for Marriage, argue that it's the people's right to vote on this issue. On Oct. 7, I celebrated my 44th wedding anniversary, and one thing I can tell you for certain is that I never needed to join a group claiming to be the "organization for marriage" to validate my own. Secondly, I certainly didn't have my marriage to my husband put up for a vote by the people. When I got married, I was pregnant, and because I lived in a small town, it was considered to be scandalous. If my marriage were to be voted on then, it's unlikely that the "people" would have allowed it. The irony is that those who sat in judgment of me have been married and divorced many times, and yet here I am still married to the same man.
Mr. Whitney also went on to say that this issue isn't a generational one. "There's nothing, absolutely nothing, in my value system that supports bans for our constitution," he said. I'm a Christian woman, and for some that brings up many different ideas or images, both positive and negative. It seems, lately, that many have tried to co-opt religion to serve their own purpose. My God is love, plain and simple. What greater expression of that is there than marriage? Why should it matter if it's between a man and a woman, two women, or two men? To use the old cliché, "love is love." If they are truly people of "faith," they know in the end that they are not the true judge. Also, maybe because it's been quite a number of years (more than I care to admit) since I was in the classroom, but I wonder: what does the government have to do with an individual's right to get married if they are gay? You'll have to excuse me for sounding a bit Pollyannaish, but I thought we had freedoms in this country, not the government dictating who can and cannot get married. Both politically and religiously, gay marriage only seems to bother those who have nothing else to do except get involved in things that really have not a single thing to do with them. Is that what we want our politicians to be focusing on during these horrible economic times, actively discriminating against two people who love one another? I don't think so.
My son works hard, pays his taxes and is an asset to this world of ours. My hope is that one day he meets the man of his dreams and is able to get married, because this old lady isn't getting any younger. I'm incredibly proud of him and have stood by him since his coming out nearly 16 years ago. Many gays and lesbians are harassed, bullied, and threatened nearly every day. However, when someone like Mr. Wheelock Whitney speaks up on behalf of his gay son and grandson, it sends a clear message to those who choose to discriminate that it's not OK. It also breaks a lot of stereotypes -- no one would've guessed that an 85-year-old Republican from the Midwest would be an advocate for gay marriage, and that's exactly why I continue to have faith in the world.
I am going to continue to speak out as much as possible. I am only one mother who will defend her son and try to get my point across to those who will listen. I will speak out for gay youth because when states continue to pass constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, it reaffirms the message that being gay is still not OK. I will speak out because I don't want to see another person commit suicide because they are gay. Like I said, I'm not anyone important, just an ordinary citizen, wife, mother of three and grandmother of six, but I will speak out.
I hope Mr. Whitney gets to see his family live without discrimination. I applaud him loudly.
Jane Rave is the co-author of Conversations and Cosmopolitans: Awkward Moments, Mixed Drinks, And How a Mother and Son Finally Shared Who They Really Are.