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What Ping the Duck, Duck Dynasty, Same-Sex Marriage in Utah, and Most of the Rest of Us Have in Common

01/08/2014 11:38 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Since the Duck Dynasty controversy surfaced, I've been keeping my distance.

Even though I've never seen the show -- or heard of it before the controversy -- I found the whole thing, well, distasteful. I've been a lapsed vegetarian for years -- and still avoid red meat and pork. And the few times that I've eaten duck, I found it not too my liking. It's too greasy for starters. And it tastes like an old friend from my childhood.

The Story About Ping was one my favorite childhood books. Written in 1933 by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Kurt Wiese, the story chronicles the life of Ping, a duck, who lived on the Yangtze River with his sisters and brothers and his extended family on a "wise-eyed" house boat.

I mentioned The Story About Ping in my memoir Tea Leaves in the context of reading The Magic Mountain, to my dying mother, a classic book and 700-page tome by Thomas Mann, and one of her favorites that she had read start to finish years before I was born "just because," she told me, "I wanted to."

Reading to my mother about the protagonist's (Hans Castorp) experience in a tuberculosis sanitarium in the Swiss Alps provided us with some closure -- she was returning to a world that she once inhabited in a book and I was, in a way, returning to the pages of my childhood.

As I read, my voice grew low and sleepy. Reading out loud to my mother recalled my childhood, her voice lulling me to sleep, weaving through the worlds of Treasure Island, Anne of Green Gables and, my favorite, The Story About Ping. Now it was she who was wide awake remembering the world of this book that she once inhabited as she jumped ahead, telling me about Hans and the other patients sitting outside every afternoon taking "the cure," wrapped in blankets, inhaling the cold air, attended to by nurses who must have been wondering if they were going to be next.

Books have always enriched my life. I am a thinking person and, as such, also find reality TV rather distasteful. Or, as I have long been fond of saying, "I am not a big fan of reality."

Some notable exceptions have been the Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? reality show (loved the "lesbian episode") and RuPaul's Drag Race.

The fact is I rather enjoy not being in the American mainstream -- and, for the most part, being oblivious to it. But when Jessie Jackson released his statement saying that the Duck Dynasty "Patriarch's" comments on race being "more offensive than the bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama, more than 59 years ago," I took notice. I remembered shaking Jackson's hand in 1984. I remembered that I was part of his rainbow coalition.

Part of what I find distasteful about the Duck Dynasty controversy is that it proves the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity -- even when it comes to racist and homophobic comments. Sales of the shows products have skyrocketed.

Then I read about the comments that this same Duck Dynasty "Patriarch" made at a Christian conference in 2009 advocating that men marry teenage girls. (In most states this is against the law.)

What the Duck Dynasty controversy illustrates most strongly is that we are more alike than different. Racism and homophobia and sexism all have things in common. In addition to offending African-Americans, the LGBT community, and women, his comments also offend those who love women which, one can assume, includes most straight men. In a just world, the man who made the comments would be fired from his job.

In a just world, the LGBT community would not have to fight for the legal right to marry. When I heard the news about the Supreme Court putting the brakes of same-sex marriages in Utah -- at least until
"a federal appeals court more fully considers the issue" -- I was not, in fact, outraged. But then, I am an old-school lesbian feminist activist who has seen a lot of history and know that change happens slowly.

I have met queer college students who are angry. One college-aged lesbian I met in Atlanta said to me, "I thought that the whole gay marriage thing should be a non-issue by now. It should have been taken care of before I was born."

Amusing as her comment was (especially since this young woman had grown up in the deep South), I had to admit that she was right.

Last summer, I was married during the short window of time when Montgomery County, Pa. Register of Wills, Bruce D. Hanes began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. My partner and I have been together for 30 years and deserve the same legal recognition as any opposite sex married couple.

But after, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court upheld the state's ban on same-sex marriage (a decision that Bruce Haines has filed an argument against). As a result, my partner and I, along with 173 other same-sex couples who were issued licenses in Pennsylvania, are not sure if we are still legally married.

It's a similar situation to the 900 gay and lesbian couples who were legally married in Utah.

If I were a quarter of a century younger, I might be outraged.

But I'm fortifying myself for the long fight -- we still have work to do.

You can learn more about Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here.

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