Friends like these

By Christopher Rice

Originally published on Advocate.com October 24 2005 12:00 AM ET

Before the battle
for marriage rights was thrust onto the national stage,
I maintained several fulfilling friendships with
conservative Republicans who espoused a set of
political beliefs that were vastly different from my
own. My job as a novelist demands that I be open to a wide
variety of opinions, and I saw these friendships as a
wonderful opportunity to combat the hostile
divisiveness the right-wing media spends millions of
dollars introducing into every home across the country. But
as soon as my civil rights were turned into a
political football, it became clear that most of my
conservative friends expected me to respect their opinion
that I should be relegated to second-class
citizenship. I chose to exercise a different option. I
walked away.

I wasn’t
the only one. A close friend of mine told a childhood friend
that she could not stay in his home with him and his partner
after she expressed her belief that same-sex marriage
was a “special right.” Almost all of my
gay friends have had to ask family members to stop
forwarding them conservative e-mails, often resulting
in vicious, tearful fights. In the gay-friendly
Clinton years, many gays and lesbians developed close
relationships with their political opposites. Now those
friendships are being placed next to the fire, and
many of them are going up in smoke.

It was not an
easy decision. Did I do it to prove a point? Absolutely.
Gay activists who came before me had increased my
community’s acceptance and visibility to such a
degree that I was able to form friendships with people
who were allegedly my oppressors. Along the way I discovered
they were flesh-and-blood human beings who sometimes
provoked me to look at things in a different way. Now
I hope my former friends will be able to recognize
that our ruined friendship and the sense of loss that
accompanies it are the only measurable results that would
come from a nationwide ban on marriage equality.

I was taken aback
when many of them accused me of choosing politics over
friendship. They were convinced that their beliefs simply
protected a status quo that truly benefited everyone,
including me. Surely I didn’t want their
version of marriage. Surely we gays would come up with some
alternative that was so fabulous that it wouldn’t
need any pesky legal recognition. They fail to
comprehend that all I truly want is for gay people to
be the only ones who decide whether gay people are going to
get married.

Recently
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom I did not
vote for but endorsed as a hopeful alternative to the
radical conservatives in his party, decided to hand
off the civil rights of California’s gays and
lesbians to “the will of the people.” In other
words, the future of gays and lesbians will be decided
by a majority that does not love as we do and does not
face the challenges we do. This is the fate of children and
felons. The fact that it has been thrust on fully grown
contributing members of society is appalling. My
conservative friends refuse to accept this, regardless
of the contributions that I, a gay man, may have made to
their lives. So for me the debate is over.

A hallmark of
emotional maturity is being able to detach from those who
refuse to recognize how conditional and limited their love
for you truly is. My right to legalized recognition
may be in danger, but my right to free and spirited
debate with those who feel I do not deserve equal
protection under the law has already been taken from me.

Sadly, my former
friends think I’m punishing them. Unfortunately,
they’ve got the wrong guy.