Washington state is poised to become the seventh state in the nation to grant same-sex marriage rights to its citizens. Now that Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed the bill into law, those supporting its passage are preparing for a contentious battle by those opposed to it. Those claiming to be on the right side of history seem to have very little regard for the damage their hateful and irresponsible words are inflicting upon thousands of families in Washington state, not to mention the millions of families watching us from around the world.
I had the occasion to testify for the Washington House Judiciary Committee before the marriage-equality vote was to then to go to the House for the final passage.
The testimony of Pastor Ken Hutchinson of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, Wash., was by far the most egregious testimony that anyone should have had to endure, not to mention the fact that he was completely out of order toward Rep. Jaime Peterson, who chaired the committee. Had Peterson dressed him down for his misconduct and being out of order, there would've been a backlash that Hutchinson was being censored and, dare I say, he knew that as well.
I grew up in New Orleans, hearing offensive words that I knew at a very young age would break people. I was ashamed of the struggle in our country some endured because of the color of their skin. I witnessed the damage of bigotry and hatred that many were guilty of as well, but not all.
Civil-rights history in the United States has left quite a scar on our country. Hutchinson spoke at the Washington House Judiciary Committee as if every single white person in the United States was guilty of discrimination against him. He literally said, "The reason I played football was so that I could hurt white people." When asked in an interview recently about "my situation" when my wife died he said, "I know about her, and sin is sin."
This is a moment where I am trying to understand the content of his character. This is the pastor of a churcha man who says he is on the right side of God. This is a man who shows no remorse for his bigotry and yet he sits and speaks with a self-important tone that only he knows what is right and wrong for others.
Self-reflection and growth are very powerfulif not essential partsof a man's life. My own personal growth has come with my own reconciliation and re-evaluation of behaviors in my past and an understanding that sometimes we make decisions based on our surroundings and influences and not what we feel in our heart. It is with soul-searching that we come to realize who we authentically are and sometimes results in awakenings and changes in our lives.
Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of peace, forgiveness and equality. He said, "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity." It was not just Black men and women who walked hand in hand with him and fought for civil rights in this country; many white men and women sacrificed to work for the equality of Black individuals. Why? Because they saw the damage of inequality and they knew they needed to stand shoulder to shoulder against those opposing change. They believed it was the right thing to do. They were on the right side of history.
The laws in the United States must be considered and altered when they no longer meet the needs of the citizens. This is a moment where LGBT people need to be heard. It is ludicrous to think that our stories are not needed and are of no importance, as Hutchinson alluded. We need to hear of the harm, pain and conflict placed on the lives of others in order for us to truly have an understanding and apply the necessary changes to laws that affect our brothers and sisters.
When I chose to testify in 2006 regarding the death of my partner, I needed to be heard. I needed to be understood. I needed for someone to make sense of the insensible. I did it for no other reasonnot to get my name in the paper or to have anyone tell me that I was a hero. I did it because I loved. I did it because I shared a commitment with my spouse who gave me a beautiful 10 years of life. I also knew that I was not alone and that many had suffered the indignities of the inequality I was facing. I chose to speak simply for my late wife and myself and, in doing so, it had an effect I could've never imagined. My story of pain and loss helped change laws in Washington State that have since affected all of us … but I was just telling my story.
Being gay is not the new blackit is a civil rights issue. The federal Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) defends no one, and only serves to discriminate and create hardship for millions of Americans. It was originally put in place under pressure by the Republican right to yet again put a nail in the coffin of equality.
Standing in opposition to another group's human rights fight is a painful reminder that perhaps we as a country have a very short memory span. The destructive words and actions that deny another's life, liberty and happiness is not the right side of history. As Malcolm X said, "Truth is on the side of the oppressed."
And it is that truth that will speak of equality for all.
Charlene Strong is a public speaker and the subject of an award-winning documentary film. She serves as a human rights commissioner for Washington State and is the co-editor of The Seattle Lesbian ( www.theseattlelesbian.com ) .