THE BLOG
04/05/2013 11:39 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Is Congressman Matt Salmon Really Loving His Gay Son While Working Against His Son's Rights?

My head is going to explode if I hear someone say one more time that a parent can unconditionally "love" his or her child while still not "accepting" the fact that the child is gay, and can even oppose rights for the child. Yesterday several callers to my radio program accused me of being unreasonable, and even hateful, for saying that we are now well past the time when such thinking is acceptable. If you're working against rights for your own children in the name of your religious faith, even while claiming that you love those children, then you are selfish and pathetic, actually loving yourself and your beliefs more than you love your own kids.

The discussion was sparked by an "It Gets Better" video by Matt R. Salmon, a young gay man who expressed deep pain and sadness over the fact that his father, Rep. Matt J. Salmon (R-Ariz.), a devout Mormon, does not support marriage equality despite telling an Arizona TV interviewer that he loves his son "more than I can say." The congressman not only said that he doesn't support "the gay marriage" but has voted anti-gay, including voting for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which he still supports. Meanwhile, in 2006, his wife, Nancy Salmon, actually headed a group that spearheaded the hateful campaign in Arizona to pass a ballot measure that would have banned gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships. (That campaign failed, but a narrower amendment to the Arizona constitution defining marriage as "a union of one man and one woman" passed two years later.)

One woman from Georgia called my program to say that the son was being a "drama queen" and should get over it, that it is fine for them to disagree. Another caller, a gay man with parents who do not accept that he is gay, said that there is clearly "a lot of love" between the father and son and slammed me for being too hard on the father.

I can only imagine what it would be like if my parents weren't just upset, concerned and confused upon learning of my homosexuality but were actually working in the political world to attack gay people and restrict their rights. Fortunately, my own parents, like millions across the country and around the world, including, most recently, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), came around after their initial shock and reconciled their support for me with their faith. How do such parents do it? Often by actually drawing on that faith itself. They realize that their children's well-being is paramount. Raising children is a life-changing, transformational experience in which people are challenged in so many areas to rethink deep-seated beliefs. And this is one of them.

Those parents who do not move on the issue, who reject their children, either by literally throwing them out of their homes or by saying, "I love you, but I don't accept your 'lifestyle,'" are putting themselves above their children. For young people in that situation, living as second-class citizens in their own families and fooling themselves into thinking that their parents love them (because they so much want that love from their parents) while allowing their parents to quietly condemn them each and every day, even as they grow into adulthood, the rejection eats away at their self-esteem.

Another caller said that his family has never accepted the fact that he's gay but still professes to love him, but now that he's getting married to his partner in New York, the family has said that they just cannot attend the wedding. He's now contemplating cutting them off completely, and, as painful as that may be, it is something that he absolutely must do. His parents have been enabled in their bigotry and coddled in their bias, not challenged to grow. His parents may never change, and they may stew in their selfishness for the rest of their lives, sadly. But he realizes that the only way that they're going to change now is if he makes the issue much more uncomfortable for them. And he knows that if they don't change, he just can't continue to live in that humiliating way.

Matt R. Salmon is nowhere near that point right now. In an interview with Michael Lavers in the Washington Blade, Salmon, who headed the Arizona chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, defended his father against what he called an "incredibly intolerant" response from the LGBT community. "My father loves me very much and he supports me and he respects me," he said, almost seeming to be trying to convince himself.

The sappy media stories paint the Salmons as a loving family where even "differences" over gay marriage can't come between them. The congressman is being enabled, allowed to comfortably advocate against equal rights for his child and everyone like him while claiming to love him. Young Matt can't allow that to stand, for his own well-being. And the rest of us, too, can't allow it to stand if we're truly intent on attaining full civil rights for LGBT people.

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